The Star Wars universe has grown significantly over the last 36+ years and with Disney’s acquisition it’s poised to expand even farther. I grew up enthralled by the original Star Wars trilogy which far surpassed anything that had come before it.
The films a child watches can often shape their world views. A person’s movie history begins around the year they’re born. If you’re over a certain age you know Han shot first, if you’re under a certain age you know Darth Maul lived. Star Wars means something very different to different ages.
It’s really amazing to see what a successful film maker can achieve, and the positive impact they can have on so many generations. Sometimes I wonder what the next era of Star Wars will bring, but ultimately I can thank one man for having the vision and talent to bring Star Wars to life.
New Hope was a happy coincidence that came at the right time from a young director willing to buck film making orthodoxy so George Lucas deserves credit for planting the seed of an idea. Empire Strikes Back directed by Kershner however built the franchise we know today. (Incidentally the film Lucas had the least involvement with.)
Empire expanded both breadth and depth of Star Wars, building a real foundation for everything that would come afterwards. Vader was already the most intimidating villain of his time, but the shocking reveal of Empire would turn that on its head and make us rethink his every move again. Heroes are defined by the strength of their villains.
Whereas Obi Wan could only give vague allusions as to what a Jedi was, Yoda would give us a window into how extensive Jedi culture once was. Boba Fett, the bounty hunter archetype, and Lando Calrissian demonstrated the gray morality of a troubled universe. Empire would also mark our first look at the mysterious Emperor, a figure so powerful even Vader knelt before his visage.
Each of these additions was significant on its own, but they also contextualized and expanded the characters we already knew. Obi Wan was a Jedi Knight but Yoda was a Jedi Master. Han and Lando were scoundrels cut from the same cloth, and through Lando we see the changes in Han.
The Star Wars Universe was firmly planted with the roots of Empire. Great movies falter in their second outing so often due to the ‘sophomore slump,’ but great sequels are like afterburners that surpass the original and create cultural movements. Time will tell if the modern style of prepackaged trilogies can have that same lasting impact.
The design challenge of making a sequel is different from making a compelling segment to a larger unseen story. When a film maker has three films to tell their story, none of those films have to be self-contained anymore. As much as I enjoyed Lord of the Rings, those endings were not satisfying. The first Matrix was a great stand-alone film, but the less said about its sequels the better.
I’m not as fanatical about Star Wars as I once was. Those abhorrent prequels forced me to step back and divest myself from my own fandom. Their sins are already extensively documented and I would direct you to the RedLetterMedia prequel reviews if you have a few hours to kill. (NSFW)
With its acquisition by Disney, Star Wars is poised to move into another era at the expense of an already extensive Expanded Universe. Given Disney’s track record I’m cautiously optimistic, although still a little sad we won’t get a chance to see the best Expanded Universe stories brought to the big screen. It was unavoidable that they had to clear the slate since the fate of practically every screen character, their children, and their children’s children has already been written about in detail.
I’ll always remain a partial fan due in part to the work of so many talented artists and storytellers who helped create the Expanded Universe which will be undone soon. I could be offended, but I’m more curious about how EU 2.0 will play out. I want to know which characters and stories will be revisited, but then again I also love cover songs. Either way it turns out Disney ownership insures we will have Star Wars for many generations to come.