Star Wars is one of the most important Sci-fi brands to me along with Star Trek and Babylon 5 its is the pinnacle of what I hold dear. We have recently entered an era of new Star Wars but does this new era reflect the one that spawned it, and does that matter?
Star Wars was born from the mind of George Lucas in 1977. The story was a classic battle between good and evil and the two sequels it spawned created a trilogy narrative that charted Lukes rise as a Jedi, Vader’s redemption and Han Solo rehabilitation from rogue to general. All well and good, the three movies had a coherent arc that created memorable characters and a universe rich and diverse. At the conclusion of the story, myself, like many were eager to know more and a carefully controlled canon output of novels created an expanded universe. I loved the fact that the background characters all had a background story and across novel, after novel, the universe was delved into in greater and greater depth. Star Wars was a living universe filled with hope and this I think is the key point.
In the late 90’s I absorbed each book series as they came out from the ‘Thrawn Trilogy’, through the ‘Black Fleet Crisis’ and the ‘Jedi Academy’. The books had an excellent blend of action and adventure, then came the prequels. I was delighted to hear that three new movies were incoming. I always understood there were three prequels, Star Wars was obviously episode 4 but how they would be treated left me with some trepidation.
I enjoyed ‘The Phantom Menace’, who cannot be knocked over by the generator room duel of the fates fight, but overall the film was unsettling. Lucas had already meddled with the original films in ways that didn’t really bother me but the inclusion of Midichlorians was, to me, too left field and didn’t fit with the established narrative. The following two films charting Anakin’s fall to the dark side was unsatisfactory. Do not get me wrong – I loved the Jedi packed arena fight in ‘Attack of the Clones’ and Yoda’s struggle with Palpatine was great but it missed something. Anakin’s love story with Padme came across as weird and stalkerish and his ultimate fall to the dark side seemed more like the petulant tantrums of a child rather than the chilling slow corruption of a persons soul.
I was able to accept the prequels for what they were, as new expanded universe books kept coming with the great ‘New Jedi Order’ series. I devoured these books and waited in eager anticipation for them to be released. Many did not approve of the Yuuzhaan Vong War but it, along with the following series, ‘Legacy of the Force’ and the ‘Fate of the Jedi ‘helped to fill in the role of a modern Jedi. It gave the idea of the force form and greater nuance. More so than the prequels did or the latest trilogy to date.
The Star Wars stories next evolution were now in animation with the ‘Clone Wars’ and ‘Rebels’. Although more child orientated both series handled heavy topics with often a light and delicate touch. ‘Clone Wars’ helped to expand on the prequel era and tried to tie up some of ‘Attack of the Clones’ loose ends. It was both fun and entertaining. Likewise, Rebels helped fill in the early days of the rebellion, with humour, drama and tragedy in equal measure.
This leads us neatly to what I would call the modern era of Star Wars. This new era was the result of the sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney whose first foray was ‘Rebels’ and led to the new Trilogy and the line of anthology movies. So far we have had two of the new trilogy ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’ and two of the anthologies, ‘Rogue One’ and ‘Han Solo’. Each of these films taken independently were fun even despite the backlash from ‘The Last Jedi’. The thing is, they each feel fundamentally different from the original trilogy even more so than the prequel trilogy.
I place the blame on one of the first actions of Disney, to wipe clean the slate of what was considered canon, in essence, the removal all the novels of the Expanded Universe. The richness and complexity that Star Wars once had were now gone leaving a hollow shell. I fully understand Disney’s reasoning. The expanded universe had established a narrative for 30 years following the original trilogy, this is very restrictive in terms of creating new stories to engage a new audience. As longtime fans, of course, we wanted to see Thrawn on the big screen and Mara Jade, I personally wanted Kyle Katarn but this would never fly with the execs in the office. I think the removal of the Expanded Universe would have been easier to take if the new range of novels were of the same calibre, but they are not, they lack the depth and the richness of the earlier books.
So, has Star Wars changed? Yes, it had to it spans 40 years, different people have grown up with different films. Each set the original, prequel and sequel trilogies each speak to the generation that grew up with them. Star Trek is somewhat the same, each new series reflects the era in which it was made in for the audience of that time, not the one from the past. Good writers and directors try to blend the new with the old, to pay homage to that which has come before.
With more films and animated series planned the real fear of fatigue is possible, but Star Wars is a cash cow and its hard not to understand why execs want to milk the franchise for every penny Hollywood is a business not an art form and perhaps it is this that is more to blame. The commercialisation of cinema is what has really changed and affected Star Wars, and how are responsible for commercialisation, well we are. By going to the cinema and spending money on blockbusters we are fuelling the cash cow. We need to take some responsibility for our choices.
I do not think Star Wars has changed for the worst… well not completely I am willing to reserve judgement until the final sequel film is released. For now, I am content to enjoy the films as individual films rather than the epic saga it could be. It is good Star Wars is around, it is good it is still in the consciousness, something must be right to have survived 40 years, can it do another 40 years, the jury is out.
NB I will write a separate piece about the new novels and The Last Jedi, so look out for them in weeks to come.