If you’re reading this, you know the rest of the story so far. George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in late 2012, and Disney immediately announced that it would milk the Star Wars franchise for all its worth, including making the fabled Episodes VII-IX. As of this writing, we still don’t know the whole story, but I hope you’ll allow me a small measure of conjecture.
My guess is that the Star Wars bug had bit George Lucas again, hard. But a few things stood in his way. First was his age. He was getting older, and while some of his contemporaries are still working feverishly, I wouldn’t blame him for worrying about his health. Especially since making these movies are notoriously stressful to him. The fact that a vocal minority of the fanbase completely turned on him and poisoned the public conversation probably didn’t help matters. He’d be understandably fed-up. But it’s still his baby in the end, and he’s fought hard to maintain the ability to make his movies his way. While he’s been determined to say his role in VII-IX is minimal, I would be very surprised if he takes such a big backseat.
That being said, VII-IX have a lot riding against them. As we’ve seen, each of the movies have had mixed reviews, so it potentially faces this. Secondly, it’s got even more unreasonable expectations to meet than even I-III had. If it tries to be a good Star Wars film, it’ll further the hate machine for not erasing the parts of the Saga they dislike. If it tries to cater to the vocal minority, it’ll alienate those of us who identity as true Saga fans. These movies will break the base further than it has been broken already no matter how they turn out, and that is a fact.
Still, as much as every announcement from Disney makes my heart sink more and more, I remain cautiously optimistic about VII-IX. It’s still George Lucas’ story. In my mind, they will be worthy additions to the Saga as long as three things happen:
1. They draw upon everything that came before, I-VI, while still giving us plenty of new worlds, species, and ideas to take in.
2. It keeps a sense of fun and whimsy no matter how dark things get.
3. Somebody, somewhere, says something along the lines of “I have a bad feeling about this…”
Aside from this, I’m ready to be surprised and thrilled.
What we have to do is not fall into the same mistake people fell into with I-III. Those of us who grew up with any parts of the Saga need to remember that the Saga will not grow with us. While adult themes and philosophical depth permeate every second of all six films, the Saga is still primarily aimed at 7-12-year-olds (and the young at heart).
I love Star Wars. I love every second of every film. Even with the flaws I mentioned in my reviews, every episode is perfect in my eyes. More than that, as far as films go, they are each and every one fantastically made. Not perfect, but what is? Especially when most of the techniques and effects were being created just for these films!
Don’t let my 1-6 rating scales fool you. That was just relative to each other. On a true critical scale, on terms of filmmaking, they all get top marks. Five stars, though Jedi might get four and a half. No, that’s too low, four and three quarters. Anyone who tries to tell you any different is focusing way too much on inconsequential details.
Star Wars is high fantasy in sci-fi’s clothing. It’s Beowulf, Tolkien, Homer, but with laser beams. It’s a morality tale, and a very effective one if you really let the full story into your heart. George Lucas has described it as poetry, and I see that. There is a certain rhyme to the two sets of films, even in how they’re structured. Phantom and Hope are fun thrill rides whose depth is more visible when looked through the lens of the following films; Clones and Empire introduce more adult themes while weaving two seemingly different storylines together; Sith and Jedi are the emotional powerhouses, whose first acts could be their own films!
So then the big question remains: how to show these films to someone who has never seen them before? Do you do it in the order they were released, like most of us did? Then you run the risk of not giving the middle episodes of Jedi and Phantom their due on first watch. Do you do Lucas’ intended order of internal chronology? It works a little better, but it robs the wham lines in Empire of their power, and that’s a moment we should deny no one.
There are many different points of view, but the one I kind of like the best places I-III as an extended flashback between Empire and Jedi. The reasons I think this is a favorable first-time order are as follows: First off, with New Hope seeming increasingly dated compared to the others, leading with it gives a viewer a better chance of judging it favorably by comparison (plus, everyone’s first scene of Star Wars should be the Blockade Runner). Secondly, it keeps the reveals in Empire under wraps. Third, it allows one to watch Phantom, Clones, and Sith without knowing for sure if Vader was telling the truth in Empire, so that’s still up in the air and creating tension. Fourth, the revelation of the Twins works much better as a twist in Sith than in Jedi, so it won’t completely seem like an orifice-pull. Finally, seeing Anakin’s tale in I-III and the full nature of the Sith really ramps up Jedi’s tension to unbearable levels and just makes it a ten times better film. Now you KNOW what the stakes are, you KNOW what Palpatine’s plan for Luke is, you BELIEVE he could have co-opted the Rebel Attack on the second Death Star and turned it into a trap. Most of all, knowing that Anakin has returned, and finally learned his lesson really hits home more. And his final act of revolt against his Sith master is much more cathartic. Plus, you HAVE to end with the victory celebration in the Ewok village. There’s no other way.
This is the only reason why I have to agree when someone says that I-III would not have made Star Wars as huge of a hit if they had come out first instead of IV-VI. The ending of Revenge of the Sith is so depressing that average moviegoers would feel cheated. Ironically, however, I feel they would have been far more venerated on their own merits than they are now. More people would see the inherit brilliance in I-III and they would develop a strong cult following and become good obscure reference fodder.
Becoming a Star Wars fan was a seminal moment in my life, as was seeing each film on the big screen (especially Phantom). I can’t wait to have kids so I can share this with them when they are ready (but not a second before). My spirit is firmly planted forever in that galaxy far, far away...
That was May the 4th. I’ll be taking a small Jedi News sabbatical next week to prepare for my next round of articles. In the meantime, check out Jar Jar June already in progress. For those of you hoping I’d cover the spin-offs, I say: Hey, I need something to talk about next year…
Oh, and I almost forgot: May the Force be with you…Always.
[[Postscript: It occurs to me that we're always mixing "May the Force be With You" and "The Force will be with you...Always..."]]