Friday, August 30, 2013

Editorial: Star Wars Almost Done-in by Prequels, Damage Lingering; Can Disney Revive the Sci-fi Giant?

I'm going to be 37 years old in just under 3 weeks.  In the first 10 years of my life it was determined that I was going to be a sci-fi, comic book nerd and the number one influence in that was Star Wars.  I can't remember going to see The Empire Strikes Back in theaters because I was only 3 years old but I know I did go and I can deduce that I must have loved it because from the time I was 3 until the time I was 10 the only toys anyone in my family ever got for me were Star Wars action figures, playsets and vehicles.  I'm not alone: most boys around my age were in the same boat. I got my issues of Bantha Tracks and read them over and over, Return of the Jedi came out (I do remember seeing that one in theaters :) and, as I got older, I started to synthesize some of the stuff I was reading and what I was seeing and loving and I started to imagine to myself what the time before A New Hope might have looked like.  In my head, the betrayal by Anakin Skywalker was easily the most egregious act in the history of humanity and, at the time, it felt personal.  As a kid, I hated Vader in ways I can't really go on to explain now because my adult brain has wiped out a good deal of that process but, safe to say, that as a Catholic kid, I hated Lucifer less than I hated Vader.

Through the next 10 years I grew up reading all the Star Wars books I could get my hands on, continued collecting the action figures for a while and watched the movies over and over and over.  They were a comfort zone for me and, despite being able to recite each movie, I enjoyed them every time.  So, when the news broke that they were actually going to make the prequels and that I would be able to see on screen what I had thought so much about as a kid, I was thrilled beyond belief.  

Walking into see The Phantom Menace for the first time, I was anticipating an entirely different film.  My mind recalls Darth Maul being a huge part of the marketing for the film and I was disappointed that such a visually stunning character played such a small, though integral, part in the film.  I had bigger hopes for him.  I realize that if he hadn't killed Qui-Gon things may have gone very differently for Anakin and that his actions set in motion the relationship with Obi-Wan, but I had imagined he would play a role throughout the trilogy.  In truth, I was so excited to have seen Star Wars back on screen that the disappointment of the film didn't really hit me until the second viewing.  Yeah it was cool to see the Jedi stab things and do fun stuff with their lightsabers because, in the previous films, they were limited to some pretty basic and boring moves but the film really left me disappointed.

The same can be said for the next two films in the series.  Attack of the Clones had me all sorts of excited to see the Jedi order in its prime and I loved the action scenes on Geonosis AND I loved the Obi-Wan Holmes detective story; however, and I know I'm not alone, I wanted to hurt George Lucas every time I saw Anakin and Padme together.  Revenge of the Sith is easily the most enjoyable of the films to me and the most emotionally stirring film, but, by this time, I had nausea at any scene involving Hayden Christensen.  It was about this time that I decided that George Lucas had gone mad and made the determination that if there were ever going to be the oft-rumored Episodes VII-IX, I did not want him to make them.  I had the conversation with any number of my friends: there had to be other people out there who could make better movies and, someday I knew Lucas would give permission for someone else to add to this universe.  I thought that because, despite the disappointment (not failure) of the prequels, I believed the Star Wars universe and the Star Wars name was something worth preserving and something that could be mined for a lot richer experiences than were given to us in the prequels. Long before we heard rumors of solo films, I imagined in my head how cool a Boba Fett film, done RIGHT, could be, and I know I'm not alone. I think Lucas did the prequels because he knew he had to but I honestly think he was not the person he was in the 70s/80s and even though he loved his Star Wars it was not with the passion he did as a younger man.  Someone else, I thought, someone in the movie biz who, like me, grew up loving Star Wars and could restore balance to the Force!

Disney did a great thing in throwing a bunch of money at Lucas and taking the rights to the franchise.  I was thrilled to find out that Star Wars would live on.  I loved all the news I was hearing: a new trilogy...individual character films, etc.  Now things were on the fast track and they were going to actually put Episode VII into 2015.  I don't mind J.J. Abrams being in charge.  I know he gets a lot of flack but he makes good, not great, movies with good visuals and I'm not expecting a Star Wars movie to win Best Picture.  Things were, and are, in good hands at the House of Mouse.  Here's the rub: it may be the case that the disappointment of the prequels, the lack of the long-discussed live-action TV-series and the apparent loss of passion by Lucas may have actually combined to put Star Wars into a huge hole.  I know the Clone Wars cartoon was good and created a new, younger fan base; I also believe that Marvel Studio's huge successes stole a lot of that fan base away.  Star Wars has lost a lot of its mojo.

I've not done this job for long but I do know that, while I don't get a lot of traffic to begin with, I get even less on Star Wars-related stories.  I also know that a few other sites get the same results and I know that when I follow some of the big stories on bigger sites (or Twitter) the comments and interest seem low.  It seems people are scared to be excited about the future of Star Wars or just don't care and there is absolutely nobody else to blame for that other than the man who gave life to franchise.  Lucas did damage to his own brand through sub-par efforts and lack of progress on what he promised the fans. Star Wars is still breathing, it's not dead, but it isn't healthy.

 Disney's purchase of Star Wars is a no-lose move.  Things really can't get any worse for Star Wars and, I imagine, in the hands of Disney, the future of Star Wars will be so much brighter than its recent past.  While Lucas did some damage to the body, Star Wars is still a name people will show up for.  You can bet that the first weekend of Episode VII will be an event, created by Disney, and if the movie has good word-of-mouth, it will make coin.  I'm in the crowd that is nervous about what's to come but I want, desperately, for Star Wars to have a revival.  I want my kids to be able to have something that cool, just like I did, other than the MCU.  I want them to be spoiled with great entertainment franchises that fill their heads with the kind of wonder and imagination all kids should have when they watch great movies. 

Thanks, George Lucas for making great movies when I was a kid; thanks for realizing it was time to let go of something you were no longer passionate about so that maybe other kids will see great Star Wars movies too!