Star Wars Then and Now
The year was 1977. A wide-eyed young boy, all of six years old, sat restlessly in his seat waiting for what he thought would be just another movie. Oh, he was excited, don’t get my wrong, yet he didn’t even have the slightest inkling that what he was about to witness was not just another movie. What would unfold before his eyes would be an epic tale of legend that would start a movement, some would argue even rival major religions. This young boy had no idea that what he was about to witness would change his life and become a major part of him forever. As the lights dimmed and the screen went black, as the bold words, Star Wars, suddenly appeared on the screen, accompanied by the blaring opening notes of the movie’s theme song, his young mind was captivated. He had just taken his first step into a larger world.
The years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back would seem like an eternity, so I filled them as best I could with countless hours of playing with my Star Wars action figures and starships. I would make my own stories, using the characters from the movie I had already seen a couple of times. If I had had my own finances and means to do so, I would have probably been in that movie theater every weekend watching A New Hope yet again. Once the next movie finally arrived, the excitement and anticipation as I sat in that theater was electric, for now I knew what I was in for. How could this sequel top or even be as good as the first one? Surely, I would be in for a big disappointment. Not at all. The Empire Strikes Back delivered, going above and beyond my hopes, and becoming, in my opinion, and in the opinion of several fans, the greatest installment in the entire saga. Empire had everything, humor, drama, exciting space battles, the baddest villain you could hope for, and much much more. I don’t think there was a single character I disliked. The bar had been set, and it had been set very high.
The only problem the second movie created for the franchise was that there was only one place to go from there, yep, you guessed it. Now, the decline wasn’t a chute that you found yourself rapidly sliding down into a murky pool of garbage, no it was like being slowly lowered into a carbonite chamber, all the while looking at the person you loved, until that final moment of shock when the gas suddenly enveloped you, yanking you out of your fantasy life, but we’ll talk about the Phantom Menace a little bit later on.
I remember where I was in the year 1983 when I encountered my first spoiler, and a major one it was. Unfortunately, there were kids on my bus that had seen Return of the Jedi the moment it came out. So there I was, minding my own business, heading off to middle school for another dreary day of learning, when I heard those words that hit me like a light saber through Han Solo’s chest; “Darth Vader is dead.” Those four words sent me into an emotional state equivalent to the five stages of death, denial being the first one, with the last stage, acceptance, actually not coming about until I finally witnessed the event for myself. Now, Return of the Jedi was a great movie, and my few grievances with the film might seem petty. I will never forgive Lucas for catering to the kiddies by replacing fearsome, arm rendering Wookies with cute, adorable, little Ewoks that somehow managed to take out a legion of the Emperor’s best troops. I guess sticks and stones break more than bones. All in all, the ROTJ wrapped up the trilogy very nicely, and although I was sad to see it end, I was satisfied with the way in which it reached its finale.
The year 1999 brought about something Star Wars fans thought they’d never see again. After several years of drought, along came The Phantom Menace, which was unarguably the most anticipated movie in the history of movies, and also probably the biggest let down in the history of let downs. The story itself was good, it was just that something was lost in the conversion from idea to script. Hayden Christensen’s horrific performance as Anakin Skywalker, seemed to even bring his co-star, Natalie Portman down to his level of low talent acting. Well, at least Lucas couldn’t make something worse than the Ewoks to cater to the kiddies. George Lucas: “Hold my beer,” and Jar Jar binks was born. Then we had to suffer through the “Roger Roger” battle droids. Those laughable, zaney droids that had a knack of falling all over themselves, kind of like the three stooges only not funny. Darth Maul, the only really cool villain, was snuffed out too soon, which left us all in all with a big pile of steaming Bantha poodoo. This movie was a letdown of legendary proportions. The following installment in the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones, was worse, if that were even possible, yet somehow Lucas was able to manage that feat. At least we kind of already knew what we were in for, having bathed in the cesspool of the Phantom Menace. The only bright spots in these two movies were Ewan Mcgregor as Obi-Wan, and Liam Neeson as Qui gon Jinn, yet even they could not save these two movies. By the time the third prequel rolled out, I really wasn’t expecting a whole lot. Not sure if I was in a stockholm syndrome relationship with the prequels at this point or what, yet like an abused captive I went back for more. I was also not sure if it was because there was no possible way you could make something worse than AOTC or that other factors were involved, yet I found myself actually enjoying moments of Revenge of the Sith, and I came out of the theater thinking, “Hey that wasn’t so bad.” In fact, looking back on it, I do like this movie, and find myself pulling out the DVD from time to time to rewatch it.
So, yet again, we delve into several years devoid of Star Wars movies. At this point I am thinking, perhaps it is better this way. Maybe the Star Wars movies should have retired after the original trilogy, and shouldn’t have tried to make a comeback like they were the Brett Favre of the movie industry. Perhaps it would be better to just leave the rest of the saga to various authors of the Star Wars universe books. Well, the mouse had different plans. After selling his baby to Disney, Lucas gave up control, and things were about to get interesting again.
The Force Awakens came along, which was a refreshing departure from the mostly dismal prequels, or was it? In my opinion, TFA was much better than the prequels, yet not quite up to par with the original trilogy. The movie seemed to try and bring us back to those nostalgic days of the 70’s and 80’s Star Wars, yet somehow it fell short of this goal. In some aspects, I feel it tried too hard to do so, and ended up rehashing major plot lines from episodes 4, 5, and 6. The bad guys are after a droid that contains vital information, and there is another battle station that can blow up planets. “Wait a minute,” you say. Starkiller base was a whole planet that could destroy multiple planets at a time! I would say, alright, so it’s bigger, and badder, still the same idea. Personal preferences aside concerning Han and Leia’s relationship; which is a discussion for another time, I feel like we were thrust into an all too familiar scenario with no explanation of how we got here and who these new villains were. I was like, “Wait a minute, didn’t we blow up the second death star, kill the emperor, vanquish the empire, and restore the republic? How did we get here again? What is this first order and why are they so powerful?” I think the true Star Wars fans were looking for that nostalgic feeling and hoping they would relive the old times once more with that good ole’ Star Wars feeling. Sadly, that just didn’t seem to be there. We were looking for a new Darth Vader, and what we got was a lot less intimidating Vader wannabe, who threw temper tantrums like a spoiled teenager. A villain who wore a mask, not out of necessity, but because he wanted to look like a badass. We wanted a Darth Vader, what we got was far less than that. Kylo Ren was the villain we got, but not the villain we deserved. Still, I held out hope that he would mature, and grow into something maybe a bit more intimidating. My hope for that is fading. I did, however, like the way TFA ended leaving you with questions, such as Rey’s and Snoke’s origins. This aspect kept me looking to the stars for the next movie in the saga. What happened next, was a surprise, however, what happened next was exactly what hardcore Star Wars fans had been yearning for, that return to Star Wars of old, the magic of being a six year old boy once more, and it came wrapped in a gift named Rogue One.
Rogue One did not open with the familiar crawl that has become synonymous with the other movies, yet it had that nostalgic Star Wars feel I had all but given up on. Rogue One had well developed characters with distinct personalities that you actually cared about. The story was fresh while still being able to maintain the feel of the original trilogy. The movie had just the right amount of humor thrown into it, without any hokey Jar Jars or Ewoks, it was also a little dark. Like a perfect gourmet meal, it had just the right amount of herbs and spices to satisfy the palate. Throw in a pinch of Darth Vader, Tarkin, Leia, and some other old familiar faces and this was a huge success. I came out of the theater feeling like I had been rejuvenated, Star Wars had been rejuvenated. I was that little boy again, full of wonder and hope for what was yet to come.
What came next was the most controversial Star Wars movie to date. The trailer for The Last Jedi had a line in it where Luke says,”This is not going to go the way you think.” Truer words had never been spoken. From the very start of the movie when Luke reverently takes his old lightsaber from Rey’s hands and for a breathtaking moment I was thinking, “Yes! This is what I’ve been waiting for! Luke will come back in a firestorm of force and make things right again!” As I watched him toss the sacred relic over his shoulder and off the cliff, I will admit I chuckled along with the rest of the moviegoers, though a part of me was saying, “Uh oh, this isn’t what I thought I was signing up for.” A lot of Star Wars fans were asking for a different plot. Stop rebuilding the death star already. Boy, like it or not, we got what we asked for. Don’t get me wrong, The Last Jedi was a good time, and if it had been a stand alone movie it would have been great, but unfairly or not, each movie is judged by the previous ones, and this was no exception. I could just picture, instead of Luke tossing his old lightsaber off the cliff, it was in fact Rian Johnson standing there with the scripts from all the past Star Wars movies, throwing them off into the ocean. I have to admit I was scared. I will also admit that I was entertained by TLJ, and it had some very cool moments. I really enjoyed the conflicts in space between the FO and the resistance. What I didn’t enjoy was Leia floating through space. It looked really cheesy, and cinematically I think it could have been done a lot better, maybe even eased the cringe factor somewhat. I found myself waiting for the casino scene to end so we could get back to the main story. I am not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that I work at a casino or not. I could be biased on this one. Kylo Ren never really developed from the last movie. He seemed like the same old spoiled brat he was in TFA. Yet, I would have to say, the biggest disappointment was the ease at which Snoke was killed, and with no explanation of who or what he was. Rian did the same thing with Rey’s origin. The last movie left us thinking that there was a big, “I am your father,” type of situation going on with her, only to be told, “oh by the way, your parents were nobodies, forget I said anything.” Really? Thanks for nothing Mr. Johnson. I will concede that the scene where Luke projects his image to confront Kylo was masterful, and took me by surprise, but even then, that was screwed up by meaninglessly killing off Luke from exhaustion. By the end of the movie I didn’t care about Snoke, Rey, or any of the remaining heroes or what might happen to them in the next installment. Perhaps using a different writer for each movie is not the way to go. It can only serve to jerk us in another direction so fast we are left wondering, “Wait, what happened?” Finally at the very end of the movie, a young boy uses the force to grab a broom. Perhaps this is that little boy who, a long time ago in a theater far far away, sat waiting for all of this all to unfold. Maybe that little boy, with broom in hand, wishes to clean some of this up.