Right out of the gate, The Empire Strikes Back is the best film of the entire series. It was lightning in a bottle, and has never been topped.
That being said, Star Wars is at pop culture fever pitch (again), and with a new Star Wars film every year, it is welcome. As my friend John Hale would say “#blessed.”
How did we get here? The nostalgia vibe has been strong for many years, and love them or hate them, the Star Wars prequels were financially successful. But a void was left with the confusing plot lines, and community theater acting feeling from some of the performances. But look at the script they had. Even Anthony Hopkins might have struggled with some of that.
It was when George Lucas signed the franchise over to Disney that some people cried out in despair. Nostalgia was blinding them. Star Wars fell off its mount a long time ago, and older fans were washing their hands of it and said “Well it was good while it lasted.”
But there was a growing legion of people that soon came on board with this idea of a reboot disguised as a sequel, as Disney is handling Marvel films, arguably the newest take on classic legends. With plenty of computer effects and over the top set pieces, it would seem only natural to make Princess Leia a Disney Princess after all.
When The Force Awakens trailer came out, I was stunned. All the nostalgia buttons were being hit, and seeing old characters come back was really exciting. Obviously, Disney took a cue from George Lucas, and cast relatively unknown actors in the key roles. It is a brand name that transcends actors and “star power.” The Luke Skywalker character is a feisty young girl, while her comrade is a former stormtrooper.
But in case you were not on board with that, Han and Chewie are back.
J.J. Abrams pulled out a Spielberg-ian level of awesome with The Force Awakens. I suggest viewing “Empire of Dreams”, which is an entertaining retrospective on the films and their staying power over the years. In it, it is discussed how George Lucas wanted to hire his friend Steven Spielberg to helm Return of the Jedi, which might have made it a better film. But again, The Empire Strikes Back was lightning in a bottle.
There is also a documentary called the People Vs George Lucas. It covers some of the super fan reaction and hate from the prequels. The best and most entertaining critiques of the prequels are from Red Letter Media by a fictional character named Harry Plinkett. Worth a watch if you want to find some of what went “wrong” with the prequels.
What is “right” with the new film and the direction Disney is taking the property? It is sense of the vastness of the world. As a good filmmaking friend Nicholaus James said, we have the “Skywalker Saga” but every other year, we have side stories and films that venture off with different characters.
I hesitate to make a judgement on a film I have not yet seen, but I do have a few concerns with Rogue One.
It is set just before “A New Hope”, which to me is not something I really care about. The trailer looks exciting, and it does give them a chance to “resurrect” Darth Vader. But it is a prequel, features a Death Star we have ALREADY seen. It is kind of a literal and general step backward for the series. Timelines and alternate stories are intriguing to die hard fans, and of course I will see the film, but I kind of want to get back to the “Skywalker Saga” or something after Return of the Jedi. We’ve been waiting for over 3 decades for this. To be fair, this feels like a comic book idea, or some fan fiction that evolved into canon. We can have a Star Wars based film every year. And that is better than no Star Wars film at all. Disney is printing money again.