Does anyone else remember when Star Wars Episode 1 was announced? A generation of people had grown up with firsthand experience of George Lucas’ epic three part space adventure and suddenly there was news of another addition. And not just one film but another trilogy that would chronicle the prophesy of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of the Empire. Old worlds that had once felt so real would be revisited and old characters as well as new would return to our screens like afternoon coffee with a distant friend. The anticipation for the prequel trilogy was damn near euphoric and the hype was likely unrivalled by anything that had come before it.
Does anyone remember the reaction when the films were finally released? Critics and fans alike felt overwhelmingly disappointed by Lucas’ vision in the prequel trilogy. Of course, if you place too much pressure on something to succeed there is always the possibility that it will be crushed by that same expectation. Children with overbearing parents all around the world can relate. In fairness, I do actually kind of like Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace in the sense that it sets up everything rather well. We get to see Obi-Wan Kenobi as an apprentice, we see the humble beginnings of Darth Vader and we are introduced to the return of the Sith to the Star Wars Universe. In reality, The Phantom Menace is all about beginnings, which is suitable for the first episode in a series.
Yet, it also had marked failings many of which were not rectified in the sequels. And, honestly, Jar Jar Binks’s annoying speech formations and awkward physical humour was the least of the film’s problems. It was absolutely bogged down in politics in a way that the original trilogy managed to avoid. Jedi’s are badass martial artists with swords of pure light and they’re being used to negotiate trade blockades. It’s all so dull and feels unimportant to the overall story, by which I mean the full Star Wars series not that singular episode. I get that it’s an inciting moment but if the inciting moment fails to excite and audience, what motivation will they had to continue watching other than the vague hope that it might get better and tie in with the bigger picture.
I remember reading some time ago that Lucas had written up as twelve film outline for the Star Wars series. Of these twelve films there were essentially three stories set about 20-30 years apart and a few one shot side stories. The main thrust of this concept became the original trilogy. In several interviews, George Lucas expressed his desire to make the other trilogies into films as well, often citing time and manpower as the only obstacles in the way. After the prequel trilogy he was suddenly very guarded and when pressed on the issue, he stated that he wouldn’t make the third, sequel, trilogy.
Following the announcement that Disney purchased Lucas Films and with it the twelve page treatment, Lucas was recorded as saying ‘It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers.’ In a way, Lucas was right when he said he wouldn’t make the third trilogy to complete the series. Another generation of filmmakers will. And it will be the generation of film makers who grew up with that firsthand experience of Lucas’ space opera and witness the failings of the prequels that are now being given the wheel. The question is can they do any better?
This may come as a surprise as I do spend a vast amount of time on this blog talking about nerdy things but I don’t actually like Star Wars really. Objectively, I can understand why it’s such a massive part of film heritage and why it attracted so many people. Like Harry Potter, it created likeable characters, set them against a grand overarching evil and set off on a sprawling adventure with twists and turns along the way. On a personal note, however, I’m often frustrated by Star Wars. The series has considerable pacing and structural problems that only got worse with each film. A New Hope is a good adventure and is relatively self-contained, even if the grand threat isn’t completely defeated by the end. In order to generate more conflict for The Empire Strikes Back, we have to sit through a mass of scrolling text detailing the events of the intermediate three years. Anyone with experience in presentations or comics will tell you that giant walls of text are a big no no. It’s intrusive and takes the viewer out of the film.
Furthermore, much of the films consist of people going from one place to another and spending practically the entire film getting there. In the Hero’s journey, The Empire Strikes Back squarely covers the land of adventure and the belly of the whale segments. That’s a relatively small part of the hero’s journey to cover. Not to mention much of the dialogue is extremely corny. I realise the original trilogy was first made in the late 70s and early 80s but even for the times it was so over laden with dramatic tension that every word was dripping with it. The prequel trilogy solved that by filling the space with politics.
Disney has announced that Episode 7 will be original material. That is rather than drawn from the expanded material such as books and games. It still might use some of Lucas’ twelve step treatment but might not follow it religiously. Given how much of a disappointment the prequel trilogy turned out to be it seems that many are approaching this with a much more cynical eye. Will a new director take the Christopher Nolan approach and try to make it more realistic? Or in order to attract a new audience will they try darker and edgier? Or will Disney just use this opportunity to make more toys and possibly build a theme park ride?
Those are hard questions to answer. It’s still early days for the Disney led expansion to the series and all we can really do is hope. Hope that this new trilogy brings true balance back to the Force.