Is Everything a Hot Button Topic?
In an age where raunchy comedies starring Seth Rogan and James Franco, female casted reboots of Ghostbusters, and villainous comic book clowns getting origin movies stir up a fuss among the masses; it appears as though everything is a controversy nowadays in regards to film. As it turns out within the last few years, Star Wars has also somehow become a controversial topic in the world of modern cinema. How? Why? I’m not sure. Something about Midi-Chlorians being the one truth in all of Star Wars mythology, Jar Jar Binks isn’t racist anymore, and The Last Jedi supposedly ruined the franchise because… Sure. Why not! All jokes aside (sort of) it appears that with the latest installments of the Star Wars series, there’s been a great divide amongst the fanbase. Seemingly half proclaiming to love and adore all the new possibilities being presented by Disney while the other side loathes it and accuses the new entries of being betrayals for what stood before. Personally, I don’t particularly stand on either side of the argument. At least not concretely, I do see (to an extent) where both sides of the dispute are coming from. With this article, I’d like to take a closer look at what’s going on presently in the Star Wars universe and the people who love/hate it. Meaning that I want to see what the franchise is doing in terms of its content nowadays, how the audiences are reacting to it and why, what direction we seem to be going with its future, and if there’s precedence for such controversy.
When you think of Star Wars, what is the first thought or image that comes to mind?
Lightsabers and X-Wings.
— Mr. Theron
Probably the Revenge of the Sith cover.
— Mr. Dylan
The poster for Return of the Jedi with Luke and Vader back to back.
— Mr. Colton
To Move Forward, Understand the Past.
A quick rundown on my perspective of how I feel about all things Star Wars; I’m a big fan. I love the original trilogy with all my heart and grew up with them in their theatrical and their special edition iterations. The original three are iconic sci-fi fantasies that are full of fun adventures, creative world building, mind blowing special effects, and unforgettable stories filled with classic characters. Darth Vader remains one of cinema’s most recognizable villains, Luke Skywalker carries a terrific character arc from starting as a headstrong and rambunctious kid to a total badass Jedi Master, the twists and turns in story helped change the landscape of film ever since, and they are an epic blast from beginning to end. There is a reason why they have stood the test of time and will continue to do so long after I’m dead to say the least. Out of the original three, Empire Strikes Back is easily my favorite. Yes, I know that’s the obvious choice. I don’t care. Empire is awesome. Nanna nanna, boo boo!
With that said, I also grew up with the prequel trilogy. At the time of childhood I definitely enjoyed them, now in my “adulthood” there are elements that I can still appreciate. For instance; Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi was absolute perfect casting, some of the fight choreographies were well done and thoroughly crafted certainly, the appearances of Darth Maul and Count Dooku were promising villains, a handful of visually interesting worlds, and some of the special effects were excellent. However the counter to all those positives were an abundance of issues pertaining to groan inducing dialog, stilted acting, over reliance of some truly horrendous CGI (even by their respective time’s standards), extremely abhorrent wasted potential in storytelling, comedy that utterly broke the tone of each prequel, and absolutely nothing in the way of character development or even charisma for the majority of screen time presented. They were definitely ambitious, but they lacked the spark and clear focus that the original trilogy so effortlessly maintained.
This latest “sequel trilogy”; Force Awakens, Last Jedi, and Rise of Skywalker, I will admit that I enjoy them even though I have some rather glaring qualms with each installment. They’re relatively fun space adventures that are reminiscent with the spirit of the original trilogy, there are colorful characters that are very likable, and the special effects have made a vast improvement on going somewhat back to basics into practical effects as opposed to strictly digital seen in the prequels. Not to mention, the inclusion of Kylo Ren played by Adam Driver is one of the best and most fleshed out villains to be seen from the entire franchise since Darth Vader. Ren is terrific with through and through an engaging character arc that I was constantly wondering what they would do with him next. That being said, my biggest criticism on all three of these sequels are how unambitiously safe their stories are written. Speaking specifically in terms of narrative; Force Awakens is no more than a retread of A New Hope, Last Jedi is a combination of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in disguise, and Rise of Skywalker is admittedly the most original… Until the last act where it turns into Return of the Jedi… Again.
So, while the newest trilogy has its fun moments and potential for exciting avenues to explore, they are ultimately tamed down rehashes of the original trilogy. Leaving out much of that infectious spark that we all hold so dear with Star Wars as a whole. At least, that is my point of view on the matter. Although that doesn’t seem to be exactly what others think necessarily. We’ll get to that later. I figured for the time being that it’s important to get my perspective revealed as soon as possible so that anyone reading can understand roughly where I am coming from on the subject at hand here.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was okay, but overrated. And Solo: A Star Wars Story is a lot of fun and underrated. Take that, internet!
What do you love/hate about Star Wars as a whole?
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Love: The awesome space battles! And who doesn’t like lightsaber battles?!
Hate: When Disney bought it. They ruined a good story with the last 3.
— Mr. Theron
Love: I just love the style of combat and uniqueness it brings to "guns vs swords".
Hate: Not much, if anything it's the creating of Jar Jar Binks.
— Mr. Dylan
Love: Each trilogy has been able to tailor the movies to fit the climate of the times. The O.T. has a very authoritative villain because that's the kind of bad guy you feared out of the cold war. The prequels showed a lot of corruption within governments, which became more apparent in the late 90s-early 00s. The new sequels have a villain that everyone's met. The angry guy, who almost everyone agrees should not be in charge, but his grandpa started the company & no one's willing to tell him
— Mr. Colton
A New & Hopeful World
From what I understand, George Lucas set out to write what was essentially an homage to the weekly sci-fi action serials akin to Flash Gordon; originally he was actually attempting to adapt a feature film of said property until it became apparent that Lucas would not be able to acquire the rights to the characters. Developing several scripts during the early 1970s until he finalized what would become 1977’s Star Wars, which was later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope on video. The end result was a blend of grand scaled idea science fiction, fantasies of noble knights and princesses amongst mysterious magic, old samurai tales, classic westerns, and a whole lot of optimism. There was nothing quite like Star Wars at the time, especially with so many contrasting genres incorporating some of the most innovative special effects ever displayed on the big screen, paving the way for what would eventually become the ideal example of what all a blockbuster would entail; a simple story with epic scenery and action that practically bursts through the screen.
Lucas himself even found it hard to believe that Star Wars would become so successful, as many artists who doubt their own work, George temporarily presumed the film to have not struck the right cord with audiences upon the initial test screenings. All of those worries were put to bed when the space opera debuted in theaters the following year to significant praise and acclaim. Not to mention over $500 million worldwide at the box office helped a bit. Why though? Why did this become such a giant hit with moviegoers at the time? When we think about all of the elements woven in, this sounds like it could wind up being an utter mess on film; it’s a knight in shining armor tale to save a damsel in distress and blow up a giant ball in outer space with a bunch of laser guns, wizards that wield swords made of light, and a giant bear that our protagonists can speak with. The basic premise of this world is relatively kooky. Somehow the movie managed to maintain focus on story and character while walking the line between reality and absurdity in its world building. Occasionally the writing of dialog is not what one would consider to be “master class” by any stretch, but because the characters are so charismatic and the action is absolutely thrilling inside this excitingly new cinematic experience that it’s difficult not to be roped into everything going on.
Famous Chicago Sun-times film critic, Roger Ebert, awarded the first Star Wars feature with four out of four stars in his review; stating that the strength of Star Wars was the purity of its journey told and I tend to agree. We as the audience are on this journey with the heroes just as much as Luke, Han, and the rest of the gang are. A specific scene that Ebert points out is the cantina sequence taking place on Tatooine, striking him as “quietly sophisticated storytelling.” At first glance of the scene, one might not think much of it. It’s basically an alien bar, alrighty then. What’s all the fuss about? For me, the scene represents everything the franchise would ultimately symbolize: A collection of wildly imaginative visuals that are grounded in a reality we can connect with yet is completely of its own world and radically unpredictable all at once. That, to me, is brilliance all packed within a mere few minutes of screen time and keeps making a huge impact over forty years later.
So, with all this high praise and surprising financial success. Where does one go from there? By making Empire Strikes Back of course! Known by cinephiles as not only one of the best sequels of all-time, but even one of the best films of all time. Period. Which its origins are somewhat humorous when it’s revealed that George Lucas planned the first Star Wars sequel to be nothing more than a low-budget adaptation of a proposed novelized sequel to his movie, then when it turned out Star Wars was such a major hit that small minded indie pictures was chucked right out the window! Although with this second outing, Lucas opted for someone else to take his place in the director’s chair as he had obtained the role of producer and preferred to oversee the special effects department of the picture instead. Another funny little fact about this is that when George Lucas had offered the position of director to his old film instructor, Irvin Kershner, Kershner actually originally declined in the belief that sequels never reach the quality of their predecessors. Well, how ironic when it turned out he would make this very sequel that is considered better than its predecessor.
To an extent, Kershner is correct in the opinions cited above. Many sequels go out of their way in an attempt to surpass the original with the mentality of “bigger, better, bolder, and more.” How is Empire any different? For all intents and purposes, Empire Strikes Back does adopt that type of mentality to achieve “more.” There are definitely grander scaled action set pieces, the special effects are even more ambitious, the worlds created are far more varied, the story encapsulates a more epic status and the was lore delved deeper than before, shocking twists that change the viewer’s perspective of everything learned prior, and the incest is off the charts! That last tidbit is just a joke for certain readers, but in all seriousness, Empire seemingly does what the majority of sequels try to do. Yet miraculously surpasses expectations where most who attempt and fail.
Why is Empire the exception to the rule of sequels being subpar to their predecessors? What does this particular sequel do differently to help establish the franchise rather than falter like so many others? For a moment I would like to draw one of the easiest comparisons I’ve ever had to write, at least in terms of paralleling sequels. Irvin Kershner not only directed one sci-fi sequel to one beloved blockbuster, but two; in 1980 with Empire Strikes Back and again in 1990 with RoboCop 2. Both films share quite a few odd similarities when we really look; ambitions of crafting a wider scope for the characters who inhabit it, branching storylines as a result of a sinister corporation making efforts to thwart the heroes, more bombastic action with inspired practical effects, revelations of our protagonist’s family, and at the end of it all we conclude the narrative with a cliffhanger where the villains are prevailing over the heroes. All these similarities between the two science fiction sequels, yet Empire is a world renowned classic and RoboCop 2 is either forgotten in time or simply regarded as relatively inferior to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original. Again I ask, why?
Admittedly I do enjoy RoboCop 2 to an extent, however the quality between RoboCop 2 and Empire Strikes Back is quite vast. Maybe it’s because Star Wars for many years, including the production of Empire, there was mostly one artist in the form of Lucas who was guiding the narrative along with a more focused waypoint. While on the other end of the spectrum, RoboCop 2 felt more of a reaction to the success of its predecessor with no clear path to follow rather than a gradually determined story. Another reason why one triumphs over the other could be that Empire was a sequel committed to telling its own new tale and to not try recreating what was done before; for instance having our group of do-gooders facing off against a giant floating ball in outer space blowing up planets… most of the other Star Wars sequels made that their ultimate goal instead. Looking back at RoboCop 2… it’s essentially striving to recapture the original with RoboCop himself rivaling against another sadistically murderous gang that he eventually seeks revenge upon. The fundamental story beats hold nothing special or unique while Empire is anything except derivative. From what I am able to gather, these are the elements that sets this initial Star Wars follow-up lightyears ahead of the long sequel list that has emerged from the Hollywood assembly line.
Which out of the 9 official, theatrically released episodes to date is your favorite and least favorite movie from Star Wars? And why?
My favorite one is Empire, I like the training with Yoda and Luke growing into who he is. My least favorite is Episode One, way too much talking not enough action. Who cares about Senate meetings!
— Mr. Theron
Return of the Jedi. It was my favorite as a child, then it was Juniper's [Daughter] favorite, so it's got a lot of nostalgia for me.
— Mr. Colton
Trilogies Are Tricky
At this point of 1983, trilogies weren’t necessarily a common event. When it came to the subject of Star Wars and thinking of a manner to close an overarching, three part story in which millions have been on the edge of their seat to witness is likely no easy task. The only way for this riveting trilogy to end is obvious, the Jedi must revenge! I mean… Return. Remember when I said sequels are apparently difficult to achieve a product that is at the very least on par with the original? Trilogies are oddly enough even more cumbersome as they have to follow-up what was so great about the first two pictures while naturally finding a proper and satisfying conclusion to wrap everything up in a tight bow.
Where have we truly seen this work out for a trilogy? The Godfather: Part III? That’s a nope. Spider-Man 3? Try again… Oh wait, they did try again… Twice. The Dark Knight Rises? Not really. Blade: Trinity? God, no! Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? I’d argue not even close. The Hangover Part 3? Did anyone give a crap by the time we made it to the third Hangover? Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? Pretty sure that anyone who remembers that one only sees the contrast of how bad the series became later on. X-Men: The Last Stand? Somehow the script from this movie plagued comic book fans not once, but twice in the form of 2019’s Dark Phoenix. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause? Alright, that’s it. I’m done. A lot of trilogies end up as a punchline to a horrid joke; Escape Clause is just embarrassing.
Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course there are! Toy Story 3, Back to the Future Part 3, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Day of the Dead, Die Hard with a Vengeance, along with select others are tremendous examples that accomplish an enjoyable continuation of what we adore about the series as well as a fitting end to it. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi can also be included in those legendary third parts in cinematic history.