In the court of public opinion, Star Wars has been through a lot of ups and downs since it first altered popular culture in the summer of 1977. After riding a long wave of love and acceptance during it’s initial run (77-83) there was a palpable Star Wars burn out in the months and years following Return of the Jedi. The merchandising and branding of George Lucas’ franchise had reached unprecedented heights in those days. People were ready for a break. By the late 80’s, walking into a store or looking through a magazine rack no longer had the dominating Star Wars presence. In those pre-internet days it almost felt like it might actually fade away completely.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Timothy Zahn’s book Hier To The Empire arrived on the scene in May of 1991 and it became the catalyst, along with Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars metaseries, for a renewed interest in the Star Wars universe. I have never personally cared for anything in the expanded Star Wars universe but I read the book because it was exciting just to have something new to discover. It was during the next few years that the merchandise started slowly showing back up on shelves. I still remember being a little excited discovering those ridiculous bend-ems rubber figures in a toy isle in 1993. As underwhelming as those figures were it was still cool to see a Star Wars figure on a shelf in a store.
Then, in 1996, word started spreading about Lucas releasing the original films in theaters all cleaned up and ready for a new generation to discover them. There had been reports of Lucas making new films for several years already but now that was finally confirmed as well. This was truly exciting news. It seemed as though Star Wars was roaring back. People, in my generation especially, were getting drunk on Star Wars nostalgia. Count me as one of the drunkards. I was seven years old in 1977 and seeing Star Wars for the first time was life changing (you can read about my first time seeing it here). So here was this amazing opportunity to see our beloved trilogy again in, what we all hoped would be, an optimal setting.
What none of us expected was that George Lucas decided that he didn’t like his old films anymore. He wanted them to look like new films. With the release of the “Special Editions” he severely altered the original films and was adamant that these “new” versions were the films. Lucas’ stubborn stance on not releasing the original films should have been the first red flag to what we were going to have to endure over the next 6 years.
The prequel trilogy was a confusing, frustrating and extremely disappointing time (1999-2005). Everyone remembers the build up to the Phantom Menace. The fuss over that trailer was much like last night’s release of the final Force Awakens trailer. We had so much hope after that trailer. Then the film arrived. Everyone remembers trying to convince themselves that they liked The Phantom Menace. Everyone remembers thinking the next one would be better. Everyone remembers that that didn’t happen. Everyone remembers thinking the new, next one would be better. And everyone remembers that that didn’t happen either. It was a really dark time for the fans. The rest of the world shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
Which brings us to now.
Seeing that trailer last night left me with the feeling that this new film could be something really special. It all just seems so right for once. Unlike the prequels, there hasn’t been the concern that old man Lucas has lost touch with what made the original films great. The people involved this time around feel right. I love that Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan is the top billed screenwriter. I love that J.J. Abrams is the director (lets be honest, his reboot of Star Trek felt more like a Star Wars movie than a Star Trek movie). I love that it is being shot on film and that there will be an emphasis on practical effects. Model ships. The biggest thrill of all is that our original heroes have returned (Han, Luke and Leia) and seeing them on screen is undeniably emotional for us fans. All I keep thinking is, everyone involved is more than aware of the bad taste that has festered in our mouths following the prequels. They know what is at stake. They don’t want to be remembered for putting the final nail in the coffin. So here we go again. We have seen the trailers. We like what we see. We have hope…again.