There is only ONE event I associate the year 1977 with: the birth of Star Wars. Filmmaker George Lucas’ visionary space saga heralded a paradigm shift in the way we write, treat, and make a space saga. The now 9-film-strong series was not just another omnibus of humanoid space nomads fighting alien invaders. Instead, Lucas told the tale of Luke Skywalker and his family, taking inspiration from myth expert John Campbell and drawing out the same archetypes that traditional myths had. It was a tale about the eternal moral struggle of man, told against a backdrop of space dogfights, spectacular lightsaber duels, ancient philosophies, and strange new worlds and beings. It became a global religion.
So strong was its influence that the story continued outside of the movies. Novels, fan films, computer games, and other storytelling media, began to be licensed. They came together to create something that legions of fans across the world would affectionately call the Expanded Universe. It comprised a vast network, delicately inter-connected, that didn’t just take the story forward in time after Return of the Jedi, but backwards as well, going back thousands of years before the events of The Phantom Menace.
“I have a bad feeling about this…”
Then, in 2012, Lucasfilm’s announcement shook the world. They were being sold to Disney. George Lucas would be handing over directorial reins to fresh minds. A new movie trilogy, with the first film being directed, ironically, by Star Trek director JJ Abrams, was met with mixed emotions. Meanwhile, new president Kathleen Kennedy announced a complete overhaul of the Expanded Universe. Fans who had been waiting for the opportunity to see how the Skywalker-Solo progeny would play out on the big screen, had to come to terms with years of familiar characters, plots, and worlds being swallowed by the black hole of capitalism.
Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens released to packed, sold-out shows worldwide. The hype surrounding this film was electrifying. But less than a week into its release, people noticed the glaring fact that it was a plot-by-plot remake of Episode IV: A New Hope. Rey was the new Luke Skywalker, abandoned on yet another desert planet, thrust into a life of adventure after meeting another droid (BB-8). The Empire looked exactly like it did in the OT, with the only difference being Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke filling the roles that Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine used to have. Mirrored side characters, plot elements, and story tracks made the recycling even more obvious.
A New Hope Strikes Back
Speculations exploded about the future of the franchise. While the prequel trilogy had already divided fans, the sequel trilogy divided them further. A new set of miffed enthusiasts felt that Disney was cashing in on fan service through lazy writing. And cash-in they did, with a whopping $2.06 billion worldwide gross, becoming the 3rd highest-grossing Hollywood movie of all time (at the time of this post being published). Instead of reinventing the wheel, Disney just polished the same wheel and made it bigger. The only reason these fans would watch the next movie would be to see what the enigmatic return of Luke Skywalker would lead to.
Fast forward to December 2017. People across the board waited to see what director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick, The Brothers Gloom) would do with Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Divided fanbases declared an uneasy ceasefire on their keyboard wars. Cinema halls were packed. This was a make-or-break moment for Star Wars. But was it pronounced guilty or innocent? The judgement is now even more complex.
The Last Jedi did what no other Star Wars film had ever done before: it broke its own rules. Force users could now project themselves across light-years. People thrown into space could fly back into their destroyed ships and save themselves from being crushed by vacuum and unimaginably low temperatures. The kind, caring, positive soul of Luke Skywalker was now replaced by a cynical, dishevelled hermit who wanted nothing to do with The Force. This was the first Star Wars movie without a single lightsaber duel.
It almost felt like a movie that did not care about fans and all their excited speculations between movies. In his effort to not create a remake of The Empire Strikes Back (which he didn’t entirely succeed at either), Rian Johnson overcompensated by trivialising many of the mysteries left unsolved after The Force Awakens. Many characters were absolutely wasted. Many fans didn’t just feel let down. They felt rejected. This became even more glaring in the discrepancy between the critic and fan ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.
As far as I am concerned, Star Wars needs rescuing. At least, the main storyline does. The bright side of Disney’s capitalist approach are the spin-offs. 2016’s Rogue One felt like a true war film and a true Star Wars film at the same time. It didn’t fall flat with fan service and yet wasn’t irreverent to its own lore.
Speaking of lore, I personally still feel an emotion quite close to anger when I think of the years of books and computer games I went through, only to realise that Luke Skywalker will never marry Mara Jade, there will never be a Jacen Solo who turns into Darth Caedus nor will we ever see the construction of the Darksaber as a superweapon. Instead, the revised canon has a Darksaber alright, but it is literally a dark lightsaber. Darth Maul, who died such a gruesome yet well-fought death in Episode 1, has been brought back to life. After Disney’s buyout, I have yet to bother delving into the revised EU. And, if JJ Abrams does not manage to create an honest, balanced Episode IX, I will probably feel less inclined to even delve into the franchise as a whole.
Cover image credits: Wallpaper UP website/BelleDeesse