So after 20 years, I finally watched the original Star Wars trilogy along with Episode II for the first time! It's not that I actively avoided seeing them; I just never got around to it (please don't stone me...). But, I can finally say that I've seen the amazingness of Star Wars, and it really did live up to the hype! George Lucas and Co. created a spectacular universe full of memorable characters, awesome sets, and great stories.
What I like about Star Wars is that it does feel like episodes - not exactly like a TV show, but like an open universe. Each film tells a complete story in the context of a bigger world. Plots are resolved mostly in each film, but remain open for another story. After experiencing Star Wars for the first time, here are 3 things I learned from it to apply to my filmmaking...
1. Create Likable Characters
Whether it's the main villain of the original trilogy, Darth Vader, or the main protagonist Luke Skywalker, Star Wars is full of characters that are likable in their own right. You truly do care about the characters and want them to succeed. The film is engaging not only because you care about the protagonist but also the antagonists and side characters. Boba Fett!
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had great performances, and I loved the interaction between the trio. I like how Han Solo progressively changes in character throughout the trilogy. It was pretty neat that he was okay with Leia being with Luke before he found out that he was her brother. Harrison Ford did a great job with the character. From Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO, to the Ewoks, everyone did a great job. Darth Vader was likable as well. I was so happy in the end when he made the decision to do the right thing. Which brings me to my next point...
2. Have Characters Make Tough Choices
Star Wars works so well due to the choices that characters are forced to make. Luke has to make some tough decisions throughout the film, and in the end, has to resist the temptation to turn to the Dark Side. He makes a decision to choose the good side of the Force and not follow in his father's footsteps. However, Darth does follow up with some redemption in the climax of Episode VI and chooses to do the right thing, too.
I think the choice that Darth Vader makes in the end communicates a strong message: No matter how far you go, you can always come back. I was wondering why Emperor Palpatine kept telling Luke to give into the rage. He seemed pretty mellow to me. But after watching Episode II, I saw how Lucas gave some reasoning for that because Luke was turning out to be just as powerful as his father. The temptation to use the Force for revenge must have been strong.
I think that resonates well with audiences, when characters are forced to make decisions that might fulfill their needs temporarily, but in the end, sacrifice who they are. Choices define who characters really are and really defines what the story is about along with them. It allows the characters to shape the course of the story. I love plot-driven films, but I think films should be a combination of character-driven/plot-driven.
3. Make Sequels Only if the Story Demands It
Another thing I learned from Star Wars is to make sequels only if the story demands it. The Star Wars sequels worked because they crafted a complete story that made the audience longing for more. Episode V tells a story, yet the universe was wide open for another chapter. Each film had a goal and fulfilled that goal by the end of the film.
I think Avengers: Infinity Wars directors, the Russo Brothers, should take notes from the original trilogy when making the two standalone films. Star Wars is an expanding universe, yet it still tells complete stories within each film. This is why many Hollywood sequels suffer in quality. They're trying to fast-track sequels without having a solid story, or attempting to throw way too many stories into one (looking at you Amazing Spider-Man 2).
I'm glad I sat down to watch these films, and I'm glad I was able to learn something also! I'm so hyped for Episode VII now!