In revisiting films for my blog, I sometimes come across interesting trends or connections. If I’ve learned anything from studying these films over the past week, it is clear that Star Wars is best when George Lucas isn’t in control. He’s not a very good writer, he’s good at writings stories but when it comes to characters, he comes up short. The best of Star Wars came when he put the pen down. Much of the original trilogy was written by his co-writers. The Expanded Universe was written only from his original inspiration, as were both Clone Wars series and Rebels. The worst of Star Wars, the prequels, was written solely by him.
Lessons learned from the public outcry over the Star Wars prequels are evident in The Force Awakens, a movie that distances itself from that trilogy in a number of ways. For one thing Lucas had nothing to do with it; Disney essentially paid him $4,000,000,000 to stay out of the project. Was the movie better for it? Possibly. If you study the vast difference between how the Original Trilogy was made and how the Prequel was made (by the prequels, the time when anyone could say ‘no’ to George had passed) it would be hard to disagree.
Which much of the Star Wars cannon post-Jedi has drawn inspiration from the template of The Expanded Universe, The Force Awakens is drawn much more from the spirit of The Original Trilogy. There are very faint echoes of the prequels, but they aren’t very close to the surface. Why? For one thing, this was a movie made by fans, not just J.J. Abrams but a whole group of people who were kids when the movie came out and, like me, fell in love with Lucas’ original inspiration. Plus, they were fun, freed from the need to head toward plugging into a movie we’ve already seen, there was an heir of unpredictability about it.
What’s interesting about this movie is how it follows the logical steps in following a generation after Return of the Jedi. Those being the logical step that Luke would want to train the next generation, to raise the Jedi from the ashes and correct the mistakes of the past. But the past is often a merciless bastard and we find that one cannot have light without darkness. The equilibrium of The Force is always in flux and rises and falls on human imperfection.
One thing that always puzzles me about this series is that hindsight is not a top priority. A New Hope takes place just 20 years after Revenge of the Sith, and yet history seems to have fallen into the realms of myth and legend. The Jedi, the Sith and the properties of The Force seem to be a faint rumor except by those who few who were actually there. The same is true in The Force Awakens which takes place 32 years after Jedi and yet few believe that The Jedi actually existed. How? Doesn’t this universe have history books?
The nature of The Force is only explored in fits and starts here. That could be because the only Jedi in the movie is onscreen for about 40 seconds. The powers of The Sith haven’t changed though we get to see Kylo Ren drawn facts and memories out of someone’s brain – something that we never saw Vader do. Yet, one new element that is added here is that an object can contain mythical properties. That’s new to this series. I refer to the moment when Rey touches Luke’s old lightsaber and is taken on a journey through the past and through the future. How was this possible? What has been learned? Is this something that Luke has acquired in the past three decades?
Much about The Force Awakens is difficult to explore when seeing the series as a whole since the other two entries are still to come. We see that this is a universe that forgets it’s past and that may be one of the reasons that we see history repeating itself. The Jedi have risen and then fallen, they’ve gone into seclusion, the Empire has risen, and one light in the galaxy is plucked out obscurity to extinguish it. Writing the future to correct the measures of the past would be the most logical direction for Episodes VII and IX to take. We’ll have to wait and see.
To look into Star Wars is to look into the reasons that I fell in love with the movies in the first place.
he movie that changed my life was actually the second movie that I ever saw. I was six years old, the year that Star Wars was dropped into American culture and, for whatever reason, this movie just grabbed me as no film at that time really had. It may have had something to do with the films that I was exposed to. Most of the films I attended with my parents were Disney pictures, mostly comedies: Gus, The Love Bug, Pete’s Dragon, Hot Lead and Cold Feet and, the first movie I ever saw in my life, The Rescuers.
Star Wars was, for me, something special, something extraordinary. Those characters opened my mind and my imagination to the idea of the future, the idea of great storytelling, the idea of that a movie could create entirely made-up worlds and, most importantly, the idea of what a movie could be.
Of course, it would take years and many more viewings to really understand all that Star Wars meant to me. In a way, I’ve been chasing this movie my whole life, looking for that kind of grandeur and pure joy again. In the 39 years since, thousands of movies have come my way, many have meant so much to me, but none has ever grabbed onto me like Star Wars. As a kid, I wanted to see a movie, something, anything. It didn’t matter what. When I got older and was a teenager in high school, I began taking movies seriously, crawling underneath them to see what made them tick. Today, I am aspiring to be a film critic and it is possible that I have Star Wars to thank for that motivation.