A long time ago (38 years, to be exact), in a galaxy far, far away (your local multiplex), something very special happened. Star Wars arrived, and the world suddenly possessed a film that defined a generation and launched a franchise that will continue to be handed down, from adult to child, until the sun swells to envelop the Earth.
It is, at its core, the simplest of stories, and a tale as old as time – family, destiny, and good versus evil. But that classic narrative is woven through a vast, operatic tapestry that propels us beyond the boundaries of our own galaxy and obliterates all concept of our own limitations – both creatively and in the very substance of our being. On the most fundamental level, Star Wars shows us what we are capable of – in terms of both the dark side, and the light.
It can be argued that this internal conflict is reflected in the progress of the film franchise itself – with the original, beloved and revered trilogy spanning from 1977 to 1983, and the much-maligned prequel trilogy that was released between 1999 and 2005. Many fans – this writer included – wondered whether Star Wars creator George Lucas had been seduced by the dark side when he delivered The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith, because they were populated with flat, robotic performances, and lacked the very essence that made Star Wars so great in the first place: a sense of connection.
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Star Wars is loved because the original films hit us right in the feels. The cast run around on real sets, interacting with individuals that are actually there. Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca all exude passion, desperation, and real concern for their cause – which happens to be the fate of the universe, and every living thing in it. Darth Vader and The Emperor are scary villains. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a reassuring and comforting presence. R2-D2 and C-3PO are the droids we would want in our corner. None of these elements are found in the prequel trilogy, which is why they do not work.
Those elements are also the reason why the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke records – because it was essentially a personal missive from director J.J. Abrams, saying, “Don’t worry, guys. I get it, and I got this.”
After the disappointment of the prequel trilogy, Abrams declared, with just 30 seconds of footage, that he would be doing it old school – returning to the essence of Star Wars, with real, tangible stakes and real, compelling peril. After our beloved Star Wars had faced years of oppression by prequel darkness, here was the iconic Millennium Falcon – bursting onto our screens with familiar fanfare, heralding a new era, and a new hope.
Disappointing though the prequels were, they form an integral part of the vast Star Wars universe. Due, in large part, to fan devotion, that universe has expanded exponentially to include comic books, novels, radio plays, animated TV series, Lego animations, video games, and theme park attractions – some of it officially licensed, and much of it not. All of it builds a rich and diverse fictional universe that explores the stories of many minor characters, and creates something of an alternate history and future. To avoid confusion, though, J.J. Abrams has clarified that only the six feature films already released are regarded as canon for the purposes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
So, with this seismic cinematic event almost upon us, let’s take a look at Star Wars, the story so far…