I was born in 1977, the year that the first Star Wars movie was released in theaters. I (half) jokingly like to say that I was born with Star Wars in my blood. Some of my fondest and earliest memories revolve around Star Wars.
I remember endlessly watching The Empire Strikes Back on VHS tape. (For those of you that aren’t dinosaurs, that’s how we used to watch movies before they could be streamed over the Internet. No, before DVDs, too. Yes, I’m old.) In fact, I think I might have worn out VHS copy that we had, to the point that my mother had to make sure to re-record it the next time it aired on TV.
So during my Junior year in High School, the announcement that George Lucas would be returning to “a galaxy far, far away” to show us the origin of Anakin Skywalker and how he would eventually evolve into Darth Vader made me giddy beyond belief. One of my courses was a yearbook/journalism course, with a semi-regular assignment to bring in a newspaper article (good grief, I’m old) that was in some way ‘controversial’.
I brought in the first article I could find about the announcement the Lucas was working on a new Star Wars trilogy. There was nothing controversial about the article at all. I was just so excited that I completely forgot that aspect of the assignment.
Saying that I’m a fan might be understating things a little bit, which, as one might expect and like many other Star Wars fans out there, means that I had certain expectations about the prequel trilogy, expectations that were essentially shattered upon meeting the cold hard reality that is the prequel trilogy and the seemingly constant re-editing of the original trilogy.
Now I (only half) jokingly say that George Lucas both created and destroyed my childhood.
Ten years after the release of Revenge of the Sith, I find myself in the same position again. A part of me is almost excited beyond words at having a new trilogy of Star Wars movies in my future. But I still have certain bare minimum expectations for what that new trilogy should be like, and I remember how badly I was burned before. So let’s talk about that for a minute.
Why don’t I just relax and forget about my expectations?
Well, first off, that’s just not who I am. I’ve got a really good memory for a lot of things, including my favorite books, television shows, movies, etc. I used to try and play a game with my mom where we would try to have entire conversations using only movie quotes to see who could keep it going the longest.
More importantly, the film industry doesn’t work like that. In fact, they’re banking on your, and my, expectations. Look at the movies that are produced these days, especially the ones that are blockbusters or expected to be. The vast majority of them are adaptations, reimaginings, reboots, or sequels to existing properties. They’re relying on your familiarity (aka expectations) of an existing property to entice you into paying the price of admission to the theater to see the next big thing.
What happened the last time we were here?
The offenses of which the prequel trilogy is guilty are terrifyingly numerous, and it’s not particularly difficult to find lists of those offenses. For me, the most important parts of a really good movie is the strength of the characters and the integrity (the structural kind) of the story. This is where things started to break down for me. Since I imagine it’s possible for me to ramble on for quite a while about these various transgressions, I’ll stick with just describing my top two:
Motherhood and Memories
Leia: Luke, what’s wrong?
Luke: Leia, do you remember your mother? Your real mother?
Leia: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.
Luke: What do you remember?
Leia: Just… images really. Feelings.
Luke: Tell me.
Leia: She was… very beautiful. Kind, but sad. Why are you asking me this?
Luke: I have no memory of my mother. I never knew her.
Yet, when they were born in Revenge of the Sith, there is literally no chance that Leia develops any kind of memory of her real mother that Luke somehow would not have. Because she dies shortly after they are born. What’s supposed to be one of the most powerful and emotional moments of the movie, and maybe even the trilogy, where Luke reveals to Leia her true heritage and what she may be called upon to face if he fails, is supposed to be a powerful moment. But all the power of that moment seems to ebb away, for me at least, because what Leia says and what we witness as an audience do not connect together in any kind of reasonable way.
Quick digression: I’m sure there will be people that suggest perhaps Leia was raised by Bail Organa’s first wife, and that she passed away when Leia was young, and that’s who Leia is referring to. To this I respond that, first, that’s not the emotional intent of the conversation and, second, even if that’s true this is where we hit the limitations of movies. And this is one of the big points of this post. For movies, the audience can only follow along with what is presented ON SCREEN. If it doesn’t happen on screen, at best with the audience actually seeing it happen or at worst with a character telling us what happened off camera, then it might as well not have happened at all.
For two decades I expected that Leia did indeed know her real mother before she ultimately passed away. Pulling the rug out from under that particular expectation was really bad for me, but nowhere near as bad as…
Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, and his family
I came out of the theater after seeing Attack of the Clones feeling rather dejected. It hadn’t been a great movie, and I feared for what might come as part of the third movie in the prequel trilogy. I imagined that the odds were high that the majority of the movie would continue to be disappointing, but I thought as long as they got one particular thing right to finish the trilogy, I’d be happy with it.
That one particular thing was establishing why Vader would finally turn on the Emperor in order to save Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi. In my mind it needed to play out like this: despite all of the evil that Anakin had perpetrated over the course of two decades, his love for his family needed to remain untarnished by the Dark Side. That would give it the weight and power needed to finally urge Anakin to act, instead of Vader, for the salvation of his son.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Anakin’s slaughtering of the Sand People in Attack of the Clones, but I was willing to accept it. It was violent and angry, but it was an act meant to avenge the death of his mother. So it fit what I hoped would be established. How hard could it be for the trilogy to end with Anakin falling to the Dark Side without harming Padme?
Finally, Revenge of the Sith was released and I was once again disappointed. Anakin uses the Force to Choke his pregnant wife. He’s been haunted by ‘visions’ of her death the entire movie, and now he’s attacking her.
For me, that destroyed any ability to believe that Darth Vader would turn against the Emperor to save Luke. Anakin doesn’t know Luke, didn’t raise him, was never there to care for him or teach him, or do any of the things that would make him a father. Padme, however, was his wife. The woman he swore to love and cherish and protect above all else. If he was willing to attack his own wife that way, I just didn’t believe that he’d sacrifice himself to save a son he barely even knew.
How am I going to be disappointed this time?
For the upcoming The Force Awakens and its sequels, the original trilogy will obviously serve as the base upon which the films are built, with 30 years of history and changes separating them. This is the first thing that worries me. Remember what I said before about how things need to happen ON SCREEN or they might as well not have happened at all? There’s a LOT of room for things to go wrong here.
So here are the things I’m already worried about, given the limited information about the upcoming movie.
Han Solo and Leia Organa not-Solo
The last time we saw these two crazy kids, what were they doing? Snuggling by the Ewok bonfire, warm in the glow of their newly professed love for each other. With that as the last thing we see of those characters, where do you imagine they end up 30 years later? Happily married with kids is where I think is the most reasonable place to go from there, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe (I’m sorry, Star Wars Legends) novels took the relationship in that direction to great effect. It’s one of the things I liked most about those novels, despite how annoying the children turned out to be. But from what little information we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t look like Han and Leia manage to maintain a relationship following the Battle of Endor. From the information available so far, they’ve gone completely separate ways.
In the EU novels, within a few years of the Battle of Endor, Luke has begun training other Force Sensitive individuals he has encountered to become a new generation of Jedi Knights to protect the New Republic. For the new trilogy, that appears to distinctly not be the case from the extreme lack of any lightsabers shown so far outside of Kylo Ren and Finn. Some articles I’ve read seem to suggest that Luke is mostly in hiding, as he fears even his own power. I can’t find any confirmation of that particular line of thinking right now, but I desperately hope it is not true.
Names are Important, but I’m not telling what they are
Finn and Rey are two of the new characters being introduced in The Force Awakens. But unlike nearly all of the other characters being introduced in this movie, they only have first names. According to J.J. Abrams, “It is completely intentional that their last names aren’t public record.”
Remember, before Star Trek Into Darkness was released, how Abrams said that John Harrison is DEFINITELY NOT KHAN…except he totally turned out to be Khan? This feels like that. At least this time he’s not lying to our faces. I can’t help but feel that the deliberate withholding of that kind of information is an incredibly cheap method of suspense for a story. It’s a cheap trick to try and keep the audience guessing (not in a good way) and be confused. And if those are the tactics you have to resort to, it makes me worry that the rest of the story you’re telling isn’t going to stand up very well on its own.
Now we wait…
Thankfully, the bar has been set really low with the prequel trilogy. I’m cautiously optimistic, despite my reservations and seemingly already dashed expectations, because whatever The Force Awakens does, it just needs to be better than Episodes I – III. How hard can that be? Right?
Do you think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to crash and burn? Or do you think it’s going to be incredible? Do you agree about the prequels? Let us know in the comments.