As your friendly neighborhood pop culture maven I’ve assigned myself the Star Wars beat and I’ll start with this controversial assertion- it ain’t all that.
Now at the time Star Wars (A New Hope? What, did Greedo suddenly shoot first?) came out it was really exciting. There hadn’t been a big science fiction blockbuster since 2001 about 9 years before (yeah, yeah Planet of the Apes, all painfully obvious politics and bad to wooden acting- not interested).
I liked it a lot even though it was everything 2001 was not- impossible physics, cliche characters, and paper thin plot. It was brutal mindless fun, those who called it a mere space opera were actually praising it. Leia was beautiful and spunky, Luke angsty and driven, Han the cool guy every woman wanted and every man wanted to be, Chewie a big furry dog, and R2 and C3 as George and Gracie. Darth Vader was menacing and creepy and he was only the second baddest dude in a galaxy filled with white suited Nazis who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Hey, not everything has to be challenging to be enjoyable and even after 40 years of nitpicking and George Lucas defacing perfection with second thoughts and regrets, the original trilogy is still a rollicking good yarn (well, except for those damn Ewoks and a very disappointing Emperor).
Before I get to the prequels I want to point out that the success of Star Wars led to an explosion of fair to middling sci-fi and fantasy getting big and small screen treatment. It is arguable that it was responsible for the ressurection of Star Trek (which is incomparably more intellectually challenging and survived a terrible and totally derivative debut in The Motion Picture which is a boring rewrite of the Nomad episode that wasn’t even good to begin with) and certainly paved the way for works of art like Blade Runner and Aliens on the big screen and series like Next Generation and Babylon 5 (at least until Z’ha’dun) on the small.
During this period there was also a large number of novelizations and computer games called the Expanded Universe that introduced characters like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade. I skipped the games because I don’t have much time to play them, but I bought a bunch of the Timothy Zahn books. These works are no longer considered canon, but they’re really good and very entertaining and actually contain many elements that are being rewoven into the new Disney movies.
The Dark Side
Back to the prequels. You are absolutely justified in hating them, they are juvenile and trite compared to the original trilogy. To me the one unanswerable question is- if Anakin’s Mother is languishing in slavery and he’s this super powerful Force guy who’s going to become completely unhinged by her death, turn to the Dark Side, and kill all the Jedi including the Younglings, why not pony up the bucks and buy her? They’re not poor, look at their digs. For that matter why didn’t Anakin ask for a loan from Padmé to spring her Mother-In-Law? She’s a Princess, she can afford it (yeah, I know, soon enough she’ll be telling Padmé to start cooking Anakin’s favorite comfort foods, then telling her she doesn’t do it right and start complaining about the dust, am I right?).
Oh, also Midichlorians (have an argument with the Dalai Lama or your Yoga instructor?) and Jar-Jar Binks (I agree that he is a Sith Lord).
It’s A Small World After All
And so, recently Lucas has been bought out by Disney and frankly- I couldn’t be happier. Of course the big reason is exactly the one you think. Lucas was screwing up the canon, producing crap, and, fundamentally, not producing anything at all because he had run out of ideas. Thank you for playing, buh bye.
However a couple of glimpses of what could have been slipped out and I want to pay attention to those for a moment. They are Clone Wars and Rebels.
These cartoons were sold by Lucasfilms to Disney and are canon.
Clone Wars (5 seasons, plus a 6th on Netflix and Super RTL Germany) covers the time period between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and the intent was to fill in the back story of how Anakin developed from Apprentice (Padawan) to Knight. Who cares about Anakin? We know how that works out (tightwads). The real story is that of Ahsoka Tano, the Togruta Padawan of Anakin Skywalker, and her development until she quits the Jedi Order.
What? You didn’t know you could just walk away? Well it wasn’t quite like that, she was unjustly accused of murdering Letta Turmond (a suspected ‘terrorist’) and after escaping Tarkin’s jail to find proof of her innocence, she was expelled from the Jedi Order by the Jedi Council. Offered reinstatement she refused in disgust.
Lots of other things happen too (and remember, it’s all canon) but Ahsoka is the moral center of the series. She is easily in the top 10 bad ass women in the Star Wars Universe (in no particular order Leia, Mon Motha, Jyn Erso, Mara Jade (non-canon), Ahsoka Tano, Hera Syndulla, Sabine Wren, Satine Kryze, Asajj Ventress, Rae Sloan, Rey- not all good guys).
How bad ass is she? She beat Anakin in a lightsaber duel and during the entire course of Rebels, under the code name of Fulcrum, she was the Commanding General of the Rebellion. After her fight with Vader she walks away to an uncertain fate, Anakin staggers to his ship visibly beaten. I certainly hope we will see her again, she would be from 15 – 30 years older than Leia in the current timeline, but who knows how long Togruta’s live?
The final season of Rebels is coming up and it’s going to butt right against the events of Rogue One (it is rumored that Commander Hera and The Ghost were present at the Battle of Scarif). Romantic resolution (you know, in that icky “Is this a kissing book?” sense) would dictate that Kanan the Blind Jedi end up with Hera and that Ezra Bridger would be Duke of Mandalore beside Sabine (umm… it’s her throne, he’s just a consort).
Many Bothans Died
But all is not ‘Greedo Shot First’ in the Disney Star Wars Universe. I hope this doesn’t spoil it for you but in The Force Awakens Han dies (Leia also doesn’t hug Chewie, first the medal and now this). Also Carrie Fisher, an amazing and talented woman, is actually factually dead so one can only expect Luke (who was always whiny and ungrateful) to be killed off gruesomely and spectacularly soon (who knows how they’re going to write out Leia).
Adam Driver is absolutely unconvincing as the villian Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo if you prefer) and if it were up to me he’d shortly experience a disfiguring injury that allowed him to be replaced by a puppet (Vader) or a different actor. He’s terrible. Every second he’s on screen he sucks a little life out of the film.
Daisy Ridley on the other hand is wonderful and has an incredible (as in every element of it contributes to her unbelievable skill set) backstory. My money is on a Skywalker blood line through Luke because he and Mara (didn’t know they were a thing?) are just the type of assholes who would abandon an extremely gifted little girl in the middle of a desert so her cousin couldn’t find her and kill her.
Yeah, we’re talking about a lifetime of therapy here.
In Rogue One we get to see Bothans die.
All of them.
It is a great movie that I never want to see again and really cuts to the core of how we ignore all the sacrifices that go into victory. History is written by the winners. It may be the best of the franchise. No Force, nothing but what you bring. What is that? Hope? Well Rebellions may be built on it but in the field you have training, will, and mission.
I find it incredibly difficult to imagine how Republicans and Autocrats consider true democrats (note the small ‘d’) to be the Evil Empire oppressing them from realizing their freedom to express their greed and hatred, and themselves the brave Rebels. It’s a mental disconnect that goes back at least to the Pro-Slavery Rebellion. There are certain things you can not compromise on and one of them is whether human beings are property or not. If you really believe in Liberty the answer is clearly no. On the other side it’s “Am I free to oppress those weaker than I?”.
They claim it’s for your benefit (you’re weak and worthless and too stupid to figure out these really complicated things) but it’s actually about the power to oppress you which they can’t do without your implicit consent.
Implicit consent? Dying. Because that’s what it comes down to. You like to think there is a way out, but really, there is only the mission.
I’m old enough that it doesn’t matter. I saw men fly at Kitty Hawk and walk on the moon. Not quite as old and wise as Yoda or as in tune with the Force but there is no try, there is only do.
If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.