A long time ago in a studio far, far away….
The Star Wars franchise is like no other in film history. Conceived by visionary filmmaker George Lucas, the very first entry faced numerous production troubles, and had no guarantee of being a financial success for its then distributor 20th Century Fox. To everyone’s surprise, including Lucas’, the series exploded into a cultural phenomenon that not only defined, but transcended sci-fi adventure for generations to come. What The Lord of the Rings would later do for fantasy, Star Wars did for Science-Fiction. After an incredible original trilogy, overwhelmingly strong marketing and merchandizing, and re-release after re-release, the series was on top of the world, building Lucas an empire of his own (which then spawned series such as the classic Indiana Jones movies that Steven Spielberg directed), and shooting its young cast (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford) to superstardom overnight. To this day, its fans (myself included) continue to be nothing but passionate about it, and countless up and coming filmmakers are inspired by it to this day. Personally speaking, as someone who did a James Bond retrospective a couple years ago, few things in pop culture mean more to me than 007, and Star Wars is one of them. Everything from its imaginative universe, endearing characters, thrilling action and emotional scope, its Odyssey influenced philosophy, as well as its timeless visuals and sound, has made it a deserved staple of cinema.
However, the series wasn’t always at such a high point as that. As Lucas’ empire grew, the hunger as a filmmaker that brought us not only Star Wars, but other classics such as American Graffiti and the Indiana Jones films, have made him less invested as a filmmaker. Nowadays, Lucas is notorious for being a stronger producer and ideas man than as a director and screenwriter, whose “Faster and More Intense” way of thinking has become the thing of infamy, none the least of which was highlighted by his fascination with digital effects artistry that seem to trump genuine storytelling. This especially came to light in his 1997 Special Edition theatrical remasterings of the original trilogy, where non-negligible changes were made to the original films, including CGI effects that cluttered the screen, and even tinkering with the audio in order to tell his “true vision” of Star Wars. This wouldn’t be a problem if these were just alternate cuts that Lucas would give the viewer the option to watch - similar to Steven Spielberg's 20th anniversary re-edit of E.T., but what makes it unforgivable is that, to this day, Lucas has stubbornly refused to allow the original uncut, untampered films to be released to the public, and with every subsequent re-release, Lucas has made further changes.
But the more notorious example came with the release of his highly anticipated prequel trilogy, beginning with 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Until now with The Force Awakens, I can’t remember the last time a major studio release has been this hyped up, with audiences lining up to watch the film weeks in advance, and major news outlets covering every single detail of the film leading up to its unveiling. There was absolutely nothing like it before… and there’s never been anything like it since, because it was the ultimate in disappointment. Widely criticized for its over-reliance on CGI, its flat characterizations, its unsatisfying expansions and frustrating contradictions to previous Star Wars lore and mythology, but especially for the infamous Jar Jar Binks, the most die-hard fans of the series were left in a feeling of disbelief. If not because it was bad, then because of its thorough mediocrity. For many viewers, its reception nowadays has been more or less kind, with some viewers defending its visual dazzle and thrilling action, while others loathe it’s plotting and dull characters. Things didn’t improve much with the sub-average Attack of the Clones, and by the time Revenge of the Sith rolled along, we were all ready to put this new trilogy to rest. It left a sour aftertaste for even the most forgiving Star Wars fans, and salt would only be poured in the wound for those of us looking for a worthy conclusion to the original films we grew up with, seemingly doomed to countless re-releases that further tinkered them beyond recognition.
That was until, in 2012, Lucasfilm was bought in its entirety by Walt Disney Pictures, who had also recently secured Marvel comics under their lavish turrets. It was quite obviously done as a way that would allow Disney to profit from the fandom of the series, but also giving the series a chance at a new start. Soon after, new films set within the saga (including main episode entries and spin-offs) were announced. The first of these will be the long-awaited The Force Awakens near Christmas, brought to us by Star Trek director JJ Abrams, followed by the first spin-off film Rogue One in 2016. Disney themselves look to be treating the franchise with all the respect that it deserves, and though there is potential for it to suffer the same backlash that Phantom Menace did, the outlook is far more optimistic. Regardless, Star Wars isn’t going away anytime soon, and these classic films, rightfully so, will still be passed down to generation after generation, inspiring filmmakers of all walks of life.
Well, with all that rambling done, before we return to that galaxy far, far away come December, I’ll be reviewing every main entry in the Star Wars saga every Saturday starting November 7th. I’ll review them each chronologically starting with The Phantom Menace, all leading up to my conclusion with The Force Awakens. It’s going to be an epic journey, and I cannot wait to embark on it.
Until then, farewell, and may the Force be with you….