The Star Wars fandom caught fire following the release of the very first teaser from The Force Awakens, the newest installment manned by sci-fi uber-director J.J. Abrams. Naturally, the internet reacted accordingly, commenting on everything from the practicality of a crossguard lightsaber, to John Boyega’s role as a Stormtrooper in the opening seconds. Taking it a step further, we then saw the release of a parody trailer entitled the “George Lucas Special Edition,” replete with unnecessary special effects, even more lightsabers, and of course the ever-popular trade negotiations of the newer trilogy.
Aside from the laughs provided by the edited trailer, what it also gives us is a cut-and-dry reason why this franchise is infinitely better off without Lucas at the creative helm. Whether it’s his deteriorating storytelling ability, his penchant for stuffing the frame full of as many banthas as possible, or his losing sight of the original trilogy, there are any number of reasons why Star Wars has needed new leadership for some time now.
First and foremost, it’s worth digging in to find out why we fell in love with Star Wars all those years ago. When A New Hope debuted back in 1977, no one had seen anything like it. A space opera with a movie studio budget was unheard of, as a young Lucas shocked audiences everywhere using nothing but well-built models, a classic hero’s journey, and a feeling that it never took itself too seriously for its own good. Every single person in the theater felt like they wanted to be right there alongside Luke and company, as it was storytelling simplicity at its finest, birthing one of the most expansive fandoms in all of cinema.
What really drew in audiences though, was the fact that despite some of the heavier subject matter, it was still at its core a rollicking adventure series. The storytelling was simple and easy to follow, the characters were relatable, and the action sequences kept you on the edge of your seat because you clearly understood each character’s motivation. But then along came The Phantom Menace.
Nothing in The Phantom Menace makes any sense at all. It’s like George Lucas finished the script in one draft, turned it in, and then decided to go with it. And who’s going to question George, or tell him what to do? He controls every aspect of the movie. He probably got rid of those people that question him creatively a long time ago.
With no safety net of constructive criticism to fall back on, the franchise suffered. Suddenly, Star Wars became about more complex trade negotiations and midi-chlorians than telling a compelling story. So how exactly did it come to this? To start, Lucas took over every aspect of the creative process. He became the alpha and omega, as the writer, director, and final word on all three films in the new trilogy (Note: In the original trilogy, the only one Lucas both wrote and directed was A New Hope). Without that collaborative aspect, Star Wars stopped being fun, and in doing so, the franchise lost sight of what made it so great to begin with.
The final product was a new trilogy filmed almost entirely against green screens. World class actors like Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor were forced to act against a little white dot, reciting stiffly written lines without any trace of emotion. Combine that with Lucas’s scripts likely not getting treatments from anyone who wasn’t him, and we have a recipe for three poorly made films. The stilted storytelling made the stakes of each film unclear, while the main characters’ motivations became murky at best.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm for a cool $4 billion, everything changed. The torch was officially passed, and Lucas was free to step aside to make way for J.J. Abrams, who had already successfully rebooted one beloved sci-fi franchise in Star Trek. This was quickly followed by Rian Johnson (director of Looper) getting tagged for Episode XIII, with Johnson noting that “it feels like there is sort of that gravity pulling us back toward [practical effects].” Johnson is rightly of the mind that “more and more people are hitting kind of a critical mass in terms of the CG-driven action scene,” something that George Lucas himself was responsible for both pioneering and subsequently driving straight into the ground.
What exactly we’ll be getting from the new trilogy remains to be seen, but if the initial teaser is any indicator, Episode VII will be a much-needed return to basics. Practical set pieces, tempered down special effects, and (hopefully) a coherent narrative may very well be on the horizon. In the meantime, all we can do is wait not-so-patiently for December 2015 to see if Star Wars has truly gotten the reboot it so sorely needed.
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