An Analysis – The Legacy of Star Wars
Even with the issues of the final installment, the original trilogy came to be three of the most profitable pictures ever created, loved by fans around the world. All the good that came from Lucas helped mask whatever rough edges there were. It seemed that the man could do no wrong. That is, until the prequel trilogy and the special editions of the originals came to be. Decades after George Lucas first started work on the saga, he returned with three sub par prequels that told the story of Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd/Hayden Christensen) and his journey to become Darth Vader. Also, Lucas went back to the original trilogy and – using updated technology – added new effects and computer generated imagery. Gone was the ambitious youngster who had to work against the odds, replaced by an older filmmaker who had the world at his fingertips. No one would be able to question or challenge his artistic choices, and as a result the prequels and special editions lacked restraint or subtlety. In the case of the prequels, there was little cohesion, and the wonder and excitement dissipated under the weight of lackluster visuals and poor story structure.
The hubris Lucas expressed caused a divide between him and the fan base. Lucas admits himself to be a perfectionist, always tinkering with his work to get it closer to how he sees it in his mind. But with the special editions of the original trilogy, he changed the very element that caused so many people to fall in love with it to begin with. The story people know had been altered in a way that generated disappointment, and in the case of some hardcore fans, anger. There have been debates over who shot first, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) or Greedo, and people have complained that the new effects were rendered poorly and already show their age. The miscalculation Lucas made with the prequels and special editions was so big that it’s become somewhat of a running joke. A documentary was created highlighting the fans’ disenchantment (The People vs. George Lucas, 2010). Lucas was not blind to this, as he has been shown wearing a shirt that says “Han Shot First.”
One would surmise that the choices Lucas made to Star Wars in latter years would manifest an ill will that would be almost impossible to recover from. But in reality, the opposite is true. The devotion fans have to this property solidified as the years have gone on. The culture behind the franchise has risen beyond whatever negativity could be found. Even though people still complain about the prequels, and the special editions, and the holiday special, etc., it hasn’t stopped the juggernaut this universe has built. There are very few (if any) properties that can say the same thing. Fans that were there for the initial release of Star Wars are passing the baton on to their children, creating a brand new generation of admirers.
And now comes Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Here is a major turning point in Star Wars history. George Lucas has sold the rights of the franchise to Disney, effectively handing the reigns over to a completely different group of artists. J.J. Abrams has taken the director’s chair, and shares writing credits with Michael Arndt and a returning Lawrence Kasdan. By all accounts, Lucas has had no say in the project’s development. It’s intriguing how Disney has handled the production up to this point. Clearly, respect and gratitude have been heaped toward Lucas and all he’s done, but in turn the filmmakers have made it a point to differentiate what Lucas accomplished and what they’re doing now. We’ve heard over and over again how The Force Awakens will have “practical effects.” Even more importantly, this will be the first of an ongoing series, where we can expect a new entry every year, with no end point in the foreseeable future.
Whether or not The Force Awakens will be a good picture has almost taken a backseat to the buzz that’s circling around it. Websites have put up countless articles analyzing every tiny bit of the trailers, big announcements have been made whenever a new poster is revealed, and theories about the story have gone around with conspiracy-like tenacity. Theaters have sold out shows weeks before the release date. The Force Awakens is expected to be one of the biggest financial hits of all time. The anticipation has built so much that it has reached outside of its own box. I was listening to a sports broadcast the other day, and the hosts dedicated a few minutes to talk about not if, but when they were planning to see the new film.
That’s the legacy that George Lucas has left behind. It may or may not have been his intention, but Lucas opened the doors to a new kind of big budget cinema whose effect is being felt today. The impact will last far longer than any of us will be around. People can like or not like whatever they want, that’s a given. But it’s fascinating how there has been this kind of following for this particular series. Lucas managed to combine nostalgia with innovation unlike anything done before, and now we are on the cusp of seeing those ideas taken in an entirely different direction. The culture of Star Wars has made a life of its own, and who knows where it will end up next.