Like many people I am an avid fan of Star Wars. I am not a super fan, mind you; I do not have hordes of paraphernalia and a busy-body online persona constantly tweeting about all things George Lucas. No. I am just your typical fan who has grown up with what Mr. Lucas gave the world- Jar Jar Binks and all.
Chalk it up to my generation or my deviancy but my favorite Star Wars films are the prequel trilogies. Episodes 4-6 are great, do not get me wrong, they have many moments which I will remember all my life: that first scene in A New Hope where Darth Vadar makes his entrance, the assault on the Death Star, and of course the classic, “I am your father” reveal. Even so, however, I just never felt an affinity with these later episodes. They simply were too far removed from my area of interest; the plot was slow, the romance too awkward, and the humor stilted. Aside from which, the whole complexities with the entire “let’s start from the fourth installment” threw off little old “seven year old” me.
No. My concept of Star Wars was the prequel movies. Those were the iconic ones for me. The plot was faster pace, the humor direct and understandable, and the universe more articulated in a manner which a youngster could understand while still enjoying years later as a grown up. Episode one is a case study in this regard: the ending battle scene between the Droid army and Gungans, the stellar escape scene mid-way through the movie, the pod race which highlighted Anakin’s difficulty, and the final duel between the Jedi and their spiky haired friend. All of these scenes, and others, spoke to me more than the other events in the original movies. They were more flashy, thematic, and illustrative of the galaxy pre-Empire. Something the original movies never could capture as they were preoccupied with the Rebellion vs. the Empire conflict.
Additionally, the prequel films had concepts which didn’t appear in the original movies. These thing spoke to me as a child and helped hold my interest in the Star Wars Concept. Primarily I am talking about Anakin Skywalker and Jar Jar Binks. Anakin should be obvious: as a young boy, you identify with the young hero whom you superimpose your identity onto. His life, set in this intriguing yet fierce universe, is something which you invest not only interest but care into. After all, if he is your surrogate then you must allow him to survive! You come to identify with his struggle for freedom and his conflict over leaving his mother behind. To any young person with the same emotions and level of maturity it is a poignant story.
Jar Jar is more personal. Like Anakin he is simple and child-like yet more than his natural desire to help the protagonists despite personal harm to himself, he had an accent, something bordering on a speech impediment. When I was little I had trouble with pronouncing and enunciating. So when I heard Jar Jar’s wacky style, his “mesa” route of imitation of actual English, I was hooked. I saw in him something not quite a surrogate but close to an identical personage. Here was a guy who left home to help two complete strangers even though his identity and lingual skills marked him as different- he wasn’t afraid to live life and speak his mind! To a young, shy kid with speaking troubles this was something to remember.
So that was part of the reason why I preferred the prequel movies over the original. Yet as strange as it may seem, despite all the division over which movie set was best and which characters represented a “true” Star Wars cannon, this debate is about to end. Maybe not end, not exactly, but shift. Or in the very least not become terribly relevant.
Enter: J.J Abrams!
Moreover, enter episodes 7-9. These three new episodes represent the official continuation of the Star Wars franchise. A new director, a new owner, and a new start on a new generation of viewers. As a fan who grew up with his own set preference who is able to bark out reasons why I enjoyed a prequel cycle over the original cycle, I am wondering: will these new films have the same zest as the last two cycles? Will they have characters which define the films (Jar Jar Binks, Padamea, Darth Vadar, Luke Skywalker), a plot which grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go? Obviously it is hard to say: case in point, many fans who loved the original movies saw nothing special in the prequels; even if there are great moments in the new movies, perhaps fans of even the prequel films will simply not recognize it due to the new experience being so different from what they have known? It is not impossible to imagine such.
J.J Abrams is a fine director but a able bodied director does not make fantastic movies by virtue of being fine. I have no doubt that the new Star Wars movies, with an all-star cast of actors and a huge budget, will be a dandy walk through the sci-fi concept; I am expecting big battles, dramatic conspiracies, larger than life villains, and all the amazing music which so defines the opening plot crawl. However, that is precisely the thing- inclusion of these concepts does not make a great movie. Shockingly, all of these things may be present and the movie will still suck. The turning point is how these moments are included, under what auspices. To me Abrams is this director who knows how to make spectacular special effects and take a concept and mold it into a popcorn summer blockbuster. But those films, while not bad, are not particularly good either. They are just average. No more and no less.
I am not trying to peg the new films before they are even released. I hope I am not sounding too pessimistic. I have hope for the new trilogy. I am looking forward to watching the new episode and seeing what material from the expanded universe is used and what is tossed; I am interested in how the mise-en-scene is built; I am intrigued by what the plot is going to be and what characters are going to make an entrance; especially, I am looking forward to the always grand musical score and the public’s response to the movie and whether this new concept is a revival of grand space opera, or just a garden variety spaghetti space Western.