For Better & Worse: The Force of Nature that is Star Wars

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At the end of 1983, it was presumed that the Star Wars series had come to an end even though they had been titled: Episode IV, V, and VI. They knew that eventually they would get the story before with I, II, and III. It wasn’t until 1999 that Episode I was released that brought to us the start of the prequel trilogy and the story of how Anakin became Darth Vader. In 2005, Revenge of the Sith ended the prequel trilogy and wrapped up the Skywalker saga showing us a cohesive story from start to finish over the course of six films. In 2012, Disney purchased Lucasfilm and announced that they would continue the Skywalker saga with Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. There have always been mixed reports to the idea of there always being plans for the sequel trilogy by George Lucas, but it seemed that right up to him selling to Disney, he was planning on making those films. In December of 2015, Disney released one of the most anticipated films of all time, Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens. We were introduced to some new characters along with a continuation of some of our old favorites in what ended up being a great start to this third trilogy. In December of 2016, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released, being the first live action film in the Star Wars franchise that was not an episodic film but instead told a standalone story that had connections to some of the other films. This was to be a major stepping stone for Disney to continue to tell other stories not connected to the Skywalker saga. December of 2017, Star Wars: Episode VIII- The Last Jedi was released and became one of the most divided and controversial film among fans. It set a tone for the franchise that many consider toxic and a turn for the worst for the franchise as a whole. It was something that we hadn’t seen since the release of the prequels, but with the growing social media presence, the hate and controversy became much worse than what it was in the early 2000’s. It seemed a lot would have to be done to course correct for many fans. Solo: A Star Wars Story was released in 2018, and became the first flop in the franchise but for many reasons that did not line up with Rogue One. It was another misstep for the fans as they never asked for a movie about a young Han Solo that didn’t have Harrison Ford. Some fans liked it, but for the majority, nobody had an interest in seeing it. In November of 2019, Disney launched their rival to Netflix with Disney+. They also released the first ever live action Star Wars series with The Mandalorian. It has proved to be a critical success and proof that some riskier projects could very well live on the streaming service as a test before taking something to the big screen. They also announced earlier in the year that they have many more Star Wars series already in production for the streaming service, including an Obi-Wan series that many fans had been clamoring for. December 19th 2019, Star Wars: Episode IX was released. It was being touted as the definitive end to the Skywalker Saga. It was to wrap up not only the new trilogy but all three trilogies together. Critical reaction was very mixed the few days before official release, then the fans came out and reacted with a majority of positive feedback. It had seemed that with their last entry into the Skywalker Saga, Disney went balls to the wall and took a chance putting everything into this movie and it proved to be a success.

Star Wars for many people has been a major staple in their life including many filmmakers who became who they are today because of Star Wars. It has been one of the most popular brands ever in entertainment and may be the most influential brand in the world of cinema. It helped set a precedent for the summer movie blockbuster following in the footsteps of Jaws and blowing the doors wide open with the release of A New Hope. It helped shape the summer movie blockbuster and set a precedent for repeat viewers and a major box office performance that would later become a bit of a competition between some directors. Some people grew up going to the theatre for the original trilogy, some grew up watching the prequels first, and some have grown up watching the newest trilogy first. Luke, Anakin, Rey…These have been the main characters of each trilogy and the main characters for three different generations over 40+ years. Some love The Empire Strikes Back but hate The Phantom Menace, some love The Last Jedi but hate Return of the Jedi, and some love Revenge of the Sith but hate The Force Awakens. The fanbase for these movies is so large and gives such a wide range of love and hate for the movies. There are so many different ways to look at each movie and what it means to you or how you interpreted the events that occur. There’s such a mixed feeling towards all of the films that you could go up to someone random that has seen them and easily get any of the movies as an answer to which is their favorite, including the spinoffs. Franchises have tried to mimic what Star Wars has tried and accomplished, but none will do what it has. It has become a franchise that connects three different generations in a continuous cohesive story that stays relevant due to its real life symbolism and comparisons made to events that happened in our lives at the time. It’s a franchise that has gained fans of all ages and continues to hold those fans without them outgrowing the series. It’s a franchise that can bring a family together in love of the franchise and a difference of opinions. Under one roof you can have a grandfather that grew up with the originals, a daughter who grew up with the prequels, and a granddaughter who grew up with the sequels. All have a different interpretation and experience to the ones they were introduced to, but are still connected through the franchise. There can be disagreements, but always more than anything, there is love that brings families together through a series of movies that have a profound effect on everyone’s lives.

For those who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, you were introduced to the main trio of Luke, Han, and Leia with one of the most iconic villains ever on screen, Darth Vader. The first series of movies of their kind, a space opera, and were complete successes with all odds against them. Prior to its release we had many sci-fi movies like Planet of the Apes or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but nothing along the lines of a fun adventure in space. George Lucas brought us not just sci-fi, but space fantasy. It didn’t try to explain the technical aspects as to how things work or how it all makes sense, but instead skips over that and keeps your interest with story and characters. It was something that could’ve failed easily, but was only successful because of how well A New Hope was received. It was a fast paced movie at the time that didn’t give the audience a chance to breathe or think about how something is working. It kept the audience question just long enough to have that wonder but then something else would happen to take their attention away from the technical and instead invest them into the characters and events playing out before them. We were introduced to a simple character who follows the heroes journey after he found a droid with a message and a wizard Jedi who takes him into a larger world. The original trilogy gives us strong characters whether it be Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, or Chewbacca. It gave us characters to root for and to love. It gave just enough information for you to wonder more about this amazing world and what other stories there are out there. It gave us a great characters arc of Luke as he comes from nowhere and becomes a better version of himself. A mature version who does whatever it takes to save the galaxy to help redeem his father. It’s an emotional and inspiring story not just from his point of view, but also from the other heroes. The Rebels. It’s clear that this trilogy of movies took inspiration from real life events like the Nazis and their fascist ways being similar to The Empire. For many it reminded them of those dark times in war, but for many others, it was relief away from the real world issues. Yes, it was clear that dome things were similar to present events, but it was fantasized enough that it took the audience out of it and made them forget about the world outside the theatre.

A New Hope was able to successfully establish these new characters in a new world that causes us to ask questions just from a simple throwaway line. The most specific line in this movie being when Ben Kenobi is talking to Luke and mentions that he fought alongside Luke’s father in The Clone Wars. This one simple line had no effect on the overall narrative of this film, but makes us wonder after the fact about what the clone wars was and what kind of history Ben and Anakin had in the past. It isn’t until Empire when Vader reveals that he’s Luke’s father, that the line becomes more significant and adds more questions to the actual backstory between all of these characters, however it still doesn’t have an impact on the narrative that takes you out of the story. It adds a layer of depth between both Vader and Luke, and adds more questions as to what happened, but the actual backstory isn’t necessary in these movies given how the narrative is presented and written. It presents these hints at the past in a way that makes you curious but not enough where that’s all you can think about. The story continues the main narrative that was presented from the start of A New Hope and keeps that consistency through the rest of the films. It manages to tell and complete the whole story that we started with. It wraps up character arcs and story elements that were created and ultimately told a complete story over the course of three films while also adding a mysterious element to the overall series. The mystery isn’t overblown to be more important than the actual story in these movies and it doesn’t distract at all. It puts you in a position of wanting more explanation should there be other movies, but tells you enough that if these were the only ones, that it doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied. This is a perfect example of how to contruct a trilogy of films while having an idea of a possible future franchise spanning more than just a trilogy without being too reliant on the success of those movies. It also doesn’t abuse the audience by making them feel like they should be getting more. It makes you want more, but still gives you a satisfying complete story.

It was generally assumed that we would be getting the prequel movies at some point. The original trilogy proved to be a financial and critical success and had set up enough that we knew exactly where the story was going to go. Everything had been set up so well that all it took was an execution that could live up to the setup. We knew given how the originals were titled, that we would be getting a prequel story with episodes I, II, and III. It was to show the fall of Anakin Skywalker and what we all assumed would be the Clone Wars. Other than that, the rest was a mystery. Even with nothing else, these two main points were enough that you could develop a compelling story over the course of three films. It seemed that it would be fairly simple to plot out with the smaller moments and new characters being the only thing that would take the most time. With the fall of Anakin you could start off the first film with him at the height of his power being slightly urged towards the dark side, the second movie would be him becoming more compelled to turn, and the third movie would show his complete fall. All of this would be happening with the Clone Wars as a backdrop to this character arc that we were all excited to see. It would give us a compelling character arc and a fantastic war in an age where the visual technology seemed to have finally caught up enough that we would get some absolutely breathtaking visuals. The Phantom Menace at the time was one of the most hyped movie releases of all time. So much so that people were going to the movie theatre before its release to buy a ticket to a random movie just to watch the trailer for The Phantom Menace and then leave to try and get a refund for the ticket. Keep in mind this was an age before YouTube and highspeed internet. There was so much hype surrounding this movie and so much potential with old fans and a new generation of fans coming together for the next chapter in the Skywalker saga. The Phantom Menace would go on to becoming one of the most disappointing movies of all time.

The first entry in the new Star Wars trilogy was a wakeup call that the franchise was not bulletproof and that George Lucas may not be as good of an actual writer or director than he is a visual mastermind. Of course the visuals and the overall imagination of the world with new technology and characters certainly hits the nail on the head, but the story was a disappointing disaster for the expectations we had going in. It didn’t give us anything at all along the lines of what we were expecting or what we wanted. This would turn out to be the first big crack in the armor of Star Wars. In an age where social media was a mere speck of dust in comparison to what it is now, the disappointment among fans was clear but nowhere as massive of an impact as it could’ve been in our present day. This was the first real divide among fans with many trying as hard as possible to see the good in the movie, but the majority coming to the conclusion that it just wasn’t good. It didn’t give us anything in line with what we were wanting as far as an older Anakin and the Clone Wars and instead seemed to spend more time trying to introduce new characters and focus more on the visuals than actually tell a story that felt cohesive to the original trilogy. This was just a setup to the new trilogy so the potential to course correct was still there for the next two films, but it was going to have to do a lot. The next film Attack of the Clones, immediately seemed like a course correct. It had Clones in the title and was giving us an older Anakin. It seemed like George had heard the pleas for what fans were wanting from the franchise. Boy were those fans wrong.

This managed to be the first in the franchise to really subvert the expectations we had. It had potential in doing this, but ultimately it failed on execution. For a franchise it’s clear to keep a concise flow through all of the films. It makes it so that the quality tends to stay consistent and doesn’t divide the fans. The downside is that sometimes you don’t get much risk and it tends to stay formulaic. For a fair comparison, The Empire Strikes Back is a movie that tried to subvert expectations and took risks in order to tell a different story but with a fair continuation of the characters and story from the previous film. What allowed this to happen was the excellent writing they had for that film. It allowed the chances and risk to work and ended up placing that movie as arguably the best movie in the franchise. What Attack of the Clones did was it took chances and tried to course correct at the same time which turned out to be not the best choice. It didn’t have the writing to back up the risk and George tried to listen to the fans too much by giving them what they wanted but executing on it poorly by not focusing just on that but instead trying to do too much in one movie. This presented another first in the franchise and yet another crack in the Star Wars armor.

Fans like to think they know everything and how to tell a story the right way because they know more than what the creators do. The simple way of thinking about this if you’re a fan is this: There are people in a position of power when it comes to movies and franchises whose job it is to figure this stuff out. They are the ones who have spent years and years working in the industry and should know what to do and what not to do. Because film is a form of art, there is no formula of how to do it successfully so there’s a lot of trial and error. Something that looks great on paper might just not work when on film, so we need to keep in mind that as fans, we don’t know everything and that is exactly the reason why they should not listen to the fans when it comes to course correcting a franchise. There are some things that we say that it would be fair to take suggestion from, but the most important thing to do is to tell a great story first and worry about fanservice later. George, who already isn’t a great writer, decided to listen to fan service it seemed and wasn’t able to execute upon that due to his lack of quality writing. This in the end made the franchise go deeper into this hole of disappointment for the fans. While it did have some quality moments for the franchise, overall it was a complete disappointment for most. At this point it seemed like it was just time to end this trilogy so that we could close the book and move on with our lives and enjoy the originals. So many fans wanted to forget that the prequels existed, but they do, and we still had one more left.

Revenge of the Sith was the finally to the prequel trilogy and the finally to the Skywalker story. It had the task of just showing us the fall of Anakin and leading up to the events of A New Hope to complete this six part epic. I remember being a kid and getting to watch this movie in the theatre and it seemed like this movie was taking a much darker turn. When you watch it, you can clearly see that George had learned from his previous mistakes. He had to course correct again to focus back on the main point of what these movies were supposed to be and also introduced his own bit of flair with the General Grievous character, however he this time he managed to successfully balance fan service with a compelling story. It has its moments of bad writing that harken back to some moments in the previous two movies, but it gives us what we wanted. For some who hated the other two movies, it did nothing for them because the prequels were already far too gone, but for many others, this movie is the one that saved the prequels for them. I know many people who like this movie the most and deservedly so. This movie is living proof of what the prequel trilogy could have been, and how to successfully balance fans wants with actual story. I won’t go as far as to say that this healed that crack in the franchise armor, but it did temporarily seal that crack as the saga ended and seemed to be going into retirement.

Over the years after the release of Revenge of the Sith, it became a popular thing to hate on the prequels and anyone who liked them. It didn’t matter at that point if they were the ones you grew up with or not. It was the cool thing to do. Unfortunately this attitude of hating on them and hating on the people that like them only became worse. What it did is it caused people who have never seen them before to already dislike them before even watching and made them not like them regardless of how they really felt. Now I know that there are many people who truly dislike them, but there was a time when it seemed like you had to dislike them otherwise you were going to be picked on and treated unfairly for even saying that you liked any of them. This caused a wave of a generation who grew up watching them to essentially keep quiet about their feelings and to simply agree with the majority of people that they were awful movies despite the reality. This is the real start of a toxicity that would only get worse in the coming years, but before they get worse, they seemed to get better. With the franchise seemingly in retirement and the release of an animated show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it seemed that the series had found a pocket of fans that have started to revitalize the love for the franchise. It wasn’t that the love for the franchise was gone, but rather it lost steam and seemed to make fans go into a sort of hiding. It wasn’t as popular among casual moviegoers as it is now. The Clone Wars started to cause the younger generation to come out of hiding and admit their love for this new animated show that expanded on the characters that we were introduced to in the prequel trilogy. Slowly, the fans began to regroup and the prequel generation started to come to defense of the prequels. Even some older fans that grew up with the original trilogy gave the prequels a second look and found good in them. This caused a major split in the fandom of those who love only the originals, those who love both, and those who only love the prequels. This seems like it was the start of a bigger crack in that armor, however with years passing by, all fans seemed to be content with everyone else’s feelings. They understood if you did or didn’t like them, but connected because you still liked the franchise. You had a love for the same franchise they did and could have those challenging conversations, but ultimately, you were on their side of liking something that they did and the fans respected your opinions. The fandom matured and became a solid foundation that welcomed any and all fans. That crack in the armor seemed to be healing until 2012.

With the announcement of Disney buying Lucasfilm, there was a split again in the fandom of excitement and skeptics. This didn’t necessarily turn the fans toxic like they were at a time, but it made people skeptical as to how Disney would handle the franchise while others were excited just for more Star Wars. The release of The Force Awakens, brought about such a hype and excitement, that the film broke box office records. It was received as being a very safe film the used previous elements and plot points of the other movies, but introduced new characters and new elements that kept us invested. There were of course some hateful critics talking complaining about the characters Rey and Kylo Ren, but for the most part the film was very well received and was a great step into the new era of the franchise. The next release was that of Rogue One, the first spinoff movie and it was also received very well for the majority. The fans that loved it praised the difference in tone and the different kind of story and characters that we got with it. It was another success that seemed like Disney knew what they were doing and how to handle the franchise. We all assumed that they had a plan for this new trilogy and addition to the Skywalker saga. They even brought in an absolute A+ talent of a director with Rian Johnson to helm Episode VIII. Everything seemed to be working out perfectly with old fans and new fans all together and excited as the trailers for The Last Jedi started to come out. The excitement wasn’t as big as it was for The Force Awakens, but nothing was going to come close to that moment. December 15, 2017. The Last Jedi was released.

Remember that crack in the armor of the franchise? Imagine if that crack was on a flood gate instead. And when The Last Jedi came out it wasn’t just the crack growing, but rather a whole meteor smashing into that flood gate completely destroying it. This movie would go on to be the most controversial and divided film in the series and one of the most divided and controversial films of all time. There was nothing in this film like nudity or swear words that caused the controversy, but rather it was the riskiest film as far as choices by the director went. He wanted to challenge the audience and seriously subvert expectations as to what a Star Wars movie could be. He challenged these new characters we were introduced to and challenged the old character’s we’ve known for years. In doing this, he took a chance that not many directors would take in a franchise like this and because of this for many he made what is to some, the best movie of the series and to others what is the worst movie in the series. It wasn’t that we had years to think about this and slowly start to enjoy or hate the movie. No, it was an immediate reaction of either you hated it or loved it and it didn’t matter which side you fell on, you were punished. The fan base reacted in such a way that it reminds you of being in school when you would test Mentos in soda and see how it reacts. Well, unfortunately it sparked a toxicity in a fanbase that made it a hateful group that in reaction decided to cyberbully no just other fans of the series, but members of the movie that were involved in the making of it whether it be the actors or the director, they didn’t care. The fans would publicly attack sending hate mail or threatening the lives of many. All of this was a completely unnecessary reaction to a series that had finally found its harmony, its balance in the force. Personally, I am a huge fan of The Last Jedi and enjoy how much it challenged me as a viewer and what I expected. It developed on most of these character’s and grew them throughout the film into better versions of themselves than they were when we started this journey with them. It developed on the lore of the series and slowly gave us more information and clues in a way that was very reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back. Honestly it’s a wonder how that movie would have been received if it was released now rather than an era without internet and social media. This movie took my love for the franchise and elevated it even more to the point where I now look at all of the movies and understand the problems they have and the bad parts in each of them, but also respect the good and the impact they have on the franchise and the impact they have on myself and everyone else. The unfortunate part though, is the complete opposite effect it had on those who hated it.

This toxicity never let up as the months went by and we had the release of Solo which was not the best of choices to have released after such a divisive movie in The Last Jedi. It didn’t help the toxicity at all as many used that as a weapon against Disney stating that they had no idea what they were doing. Petitions were coming out for everything like them to remake the new movies to getting rid of Kathleen Kennedy. The whole fandom had become a destructive disaster of a place to talk about your love of the movies. It wasn’t until the release of Disney+ and The Mandalorian that the fanbase seemed to have a little bit of a rejoice and agreement on the quality of the series and the potential Disney now had with their streaming service and telling longer form stories.

The Rise of Skywalker had its own controversy and troubles with the unfortunate passing of Carrie Fisher posing a story problem for the final film and the firing of Colin Trevorrow from the project. It seemed like this one was already in its own bit of trouble, but they decided to take a safe route and brought back JJ Abrams to direct the final film that would wrap up the trilogy and all of the trilogies. The marketing overall was a much more subtle release and only highlighted the big reveal that Palpatine was back for the finale. It seemed to make sense and could work to bring the series to a close, but I along with others were skeptical about his involvement without him being introduced in either of the other two films. The film released only a few days ago to mixed critical reaction, but surprisingly a very positive audience and fan reaction. Some claiming that the film was one of the weakest and some claiming that it was one of the best. It seems when you look at it like this that the fans were split once again like they were for The Last Jedi, but this time it seemed different. It’s true that there is disagreement over the new film, but there’s also a lot of love for it and the series as a whole. It could be because of the Skywalker Saga coming to an end that the fans seemed to rejoice or maybe even the ending being more of a relief for some fans that they can now just look forward to the new projects coming out, but either way it seemed that overnight things in the fandom had changed. For me, the film felt like a story by committee that felt the need to check off boxes for things they wanted to make sure happened or were answered while also very much feeling like a fanservice movie. There were many things that worked in this movie and many things that just didn’t work on execution. It feels in a lot of ways like Revenge of the Sith, where it shows what the potential of the series could have been if they sat down and figured up a story for the whole trilogy before starting the first one. It’s a movie that I was incredibly disappointed in coming off a movie that took risks and executed on them well where this one seemed to take risks but execute on them poorly. It’s a slightly dour ending to the Skywalker Saga for me, but I’m also at peace with it. I don’t hate people that like it and I don’t hate the franchise any less than I did before, but it ultimately made me want more from the franchise. I’m at peace that the Skywalker Saga has come to an end and while it may not have ended to my liking, I do have much more to look forward to with the coming projects.

The Rise of Skywalker has its fans and its haters, but at the same time it seems to be the one entry into the saga that has for the most part brought the fans back around to an understanding of each other and what the franchise means to everyone. The new trilogy has issues, but what it appears to have done is that it gave all the fans what they wanted in one or more of the movies. All three of the movies seem different in their own ways and while one of them doesn’t work for me as well, the others really do. In becoming a trilogy of controversy and some of the worst toxicity, it seems that an understanding of the ending of the saga has made fans relax. Although still early, it appears that the toxicity that was absolutely destructive has come back around to being a fanbase that respects others and has come to an agreement and a realization that these three trilogies have all been made for different generations and that for forty-two years it has grown into one of the largest brands ever. It has brought laughter and love, hate and tears. It has connected families and strangers and developed relationships for something that seems so insignificant for someone on the outside looking in. “It’s just a movie.” You might hear someone say. But it’s not just a movie. It’s something more. It’s an event, a presence, or you could even say it’s a force in our society and across the globe. It’s a force that brings itself to every generation to invite new fans and reconnect old ones. It’s a force that creates a collective feeling of emotions that has an impact on all of our lives and brings us together for better or for worse. It distracts us from the horror and pain of our lives for even a moment to enjoy something with someone else. The Star Wars franchise is a force created by one man who just wanted to make fun adventure movies in space, but what he accomplished will forever be his legacy and a permanent note in our history. It doesn’t matter if you like one trilogy more than another. Take a moment to reflect upon what Star Wars means to you. Reflect upon the memories you have growing up with it, the important moments in your life effected by it. Enjoy that other people have these same experiences across the planet. They may have a similar experience you did but from one of the other movies you didn’t like. It doesn’t matter at that point. Love the parts of this franchise you love and open yourself up for a friendly discussion or disagreement over the ones you don’t. Let’s not hate on others, but rather embrace their shared experiences and then fund debates we can have about these movies. You can dislike them and you can like them, but let’s not hurt other people who don’t agree with our own opinions. Let’s look forward and embrace this extraordinary force of a fanbase that we have and the next installments of this franchise that will further effect our lives and generations to come.

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