Due to the enormous amount of buzz regarding the current state of the Star Wars franchise, and my tendency to get easily swept away in it all, awash in a sea of circulating rumours and possible future plot lines. l decided now would be the perfect time to take a look back at the franchise (and yes the prequels) and discuss what worked and what didn't. There are many hater's of the new Star Wars movie Force Awakens which surprises me considering the lackluster fan reaction to the prequels, I would have thought a thematic return to what came before would have been applauded by all. Not such the case it seems. There are quite a few reasons for this, the most common being the similarities it shares with the original 1977 film release (ep.4 a new hope) being, perhaps unfairly, dubbed a remake film. While I understand the complaint, it really didn't have much affect on my overall enjoyment of the film. It was only later when my friend was explaining his dissatisfaction that I understood what he was talking about. Scene by scene the script does seem to mirror the original, story line wise, but it also introduced a whole cast of new and interesting characters, an all new and memorable villain, numerous plot surprises and tie ins to previous films, thus paving the groundwork for a whole new series that could actually go anywhere now, a remake without being a remake, totally respectful of what came before, yet totally unrestrained by what comes next.
Another reason for complaint is its disregard to the expanded universe (EU) as told in various novel, comic and video-game form. Yes there was some really great stuff written, and yes its a shame its now forgotten in favor of focusing on a new series, but it was also a necessary move for the film's success. Besides those stories aren't going anywhere and are now being released under the Star Wars Legend banner. Also I've been a lifelong Star Wars fan since I was a little kid (like most fans) I've read a crap tonne of novels, Dark Horse comics and played almost all the classic video-game releases (even some not so classic ones) and I don't ever remember it ever being confirmed as totally canon? Maybe it was and I missed it, but when I was reading/playing these stories I never thought that it was written in stone and definitely took place within the films timeline. So many writers/artists working on different stories and timelines must have been a pretty epic undertaking and even then there were some pretty consistent timeline errors. Besides this has all happened before, I remember when the prequels released they rewrote a lot of the EU history. I remember reading, if I'm not mistaken, that C-3PO was created in a droid factory, which I guess was retconned with the release of Phantom Menace when we learn that young (annoying brat) Anakin created him. Does anybody remember the huge marketing riding the release of the hotly anticipated video-game Star Wars Force Unleashed? A fun game yes, but in hind sight not the greatest SW game ever, but I digress wasn't part of it because George Lucas had approved it as canon, thus tying into and (minor) impacting the films? If it being considered canon was such big news, doesn't that mean that most of the other EU releases weren't canon? Either way, I'm glad they decided to clean house and rewrite the EU to better fit their own story framework. Purist fan's may scoff in disgust but I like the fact the film makers aren't relegated by time line troubles and plot threads, gives them the freedom to produce something entirely new and exciting. The Kylo Ren revelation nobody saw coming, not even the most die hard fan knew what to expect walking into the cinema, I like that, I think for fans those kind of surprises are better than straight up adaptations of what has already been written. If I want some classic Star Wars stories I'll head down my local comic shop and pick up some Star Wars: Legacy graphic novels, canon or not, a good story is still a good story.
Another reason for the hate is actually the most surprising, and yet proven to be true. Some people liked the prequels. I know, shock right? I'm not kidding. I have close friends who are decidedly younger and grew up on the prequels. When I walked out the cinema ranting and raving thunderous aplaus at the films return to form, my friend was arguing how much it sucked. I was confused but when I thought about it, it made a strange type of sense. My first Star Wars film was Return of the Jedi when I was about five years old (then begging mum to take me to the video-store for the other two) Watching the film's out of sync didn't seem to deter my younger self. I became obsessed and quickly joined the legion of other kids my age buying all the toys and comics. Spending hours playing Super Star Wars on the SNES, devouring the Star Wars choose your own adventure novels, the Star Wars Tales short stories books, or begging Santa to fill my stockings with Power of the Force action figures, I was a Star Wars kid no doubt, but to child Johnny, it all revolved around three films, the original trilogy. I think I was about twelve or thirteen years old when Episode 1: The Phantom Menace released. While I dug the hell out of the new film, all the new characters, creatures and locales on offer, and being hypnotized by all that incredible cgi (I was barely a teenager after all) I never ever thought it came close to my favorite film in the franchise (Empire Strikes Back) or any of the previous trilogies film's for that matter. I've never been a huge fan of child actors and young Anakin I found particularly grating. I would have thought beginning Anakin's tale at a similar age to Luke a better idea... but then we met Hayden Christiansen but I'm getting ahead of myself. Also the film made some odd decisions, plot wise in my opinion. Trying to scientifically explain the force came across a little too, umm can I say forced? An over reliance on slap stick comedy humor (Jar Jar Binks) that could never be considered comedy or humorous. Every subsequent film release that followed helped further prove how much better film's the originals were. While not without any merit (more on that later) the prequel film's always played second fiddle to the real trilogy in my opinion, you know the one that wasn't full of stilted dialogue, awkward love scenes and hammy acting. The one that didn't try too hard and force humor, and was at times much funnier because of it. The one's where the amazing, out of this world action served the story, not the other way around. Think I was about eighteen years old by the time Revenge of the Sith came out (maybe older, I remember I was driving because I saw it at the drive in) and while it was easily my favorite of the prequel films, and I did appreciate the drop in humor and attempt at (thematically) darker territory, it was too little, too late. The damage was done. Did I enjoy all three of the prequel films? Sure I did, I'm not so jaded I can't admit the films had good points, or that I didn't get lost in all the spectacle of beautiful cgi and effects, but to me, they were just poorly made films. Why do an epic love story with two uncharismatic actors with no emotion or physical spark? Why give beloved characters poorly written backstories? A new element should never take away from the old, but now when I look at that silent, bad ass bounty hunter Boba, I see an annoying bratty, snot nosed kid, or worse still, that violent, horrible, wife beating alcoholic from Once Were Warriors... Do not get me started on what Hayden did to Vader... My point? Seem's I've gone a little off topic, my point is I grew up on the world set by the original trilogy, I was older than eighteen when I saw Revenge of the Sith, my friend however would have been ten or eleven. He first saw the prequels, and the world they represented. Just like me, he had played all the games, read all the books and had a vast knowledge of all things Star Wars. He had seen the originals sure, but he had always openly professed his love for the prequels, to him they were the real trilogy. I surprisingly get it too. He was a little kid when he saw Phantom Menace, just like I was when I saw my first Star Wars film Return of the Jedi that very first time. He wouldn't have cared about forced plot details or hammy acting, he was a kid, and probably even liked Jar Jar! Hey, that's the audience he was clearly aimed at. I guess in a way he was luckier, us old school fans knew how much we were being cheated, whereas he was blissfully ignorant reveling in all the big scale action and cgi effects overload. I grew up with Shadows of the Empire on 64, he grew up with Knights of the Old Republic, I had the Ewoks Saturday morning cartoon, he had Clone Wars... Yeah I can say I definitely understand his motivations. To me Force Awakens was a perfect return to the series I loved and grew up with. It was like wearing nostalgia coated glasses, seeing Han and Chewie blasting away Storm Troopers was in one word, surreal. It was so unlike the prequel series that my friend adored so much, so unlike the overblown space opera he had come to expect. Tense drama, slow burn origin stories, lack of eye popping visual effects, modest use of cgi, a more realistic and serious tone over all. This wasn't his Star Wars and for this reason I think it's the only real valid excuse to hate on the Force Awakens. It's the only reason with any real thought and the one that makes the most sense, despite the fact a prequel fans cons list being the same as my pros list, I understand how they might be disappointed by the new film being the polar opposite (tonally and visually) of the prequel series in every single way.
To prequel fans I say, there are many new film and television projects still to come, with guaranteed spectacle so stick with it, I'm sure in time the more cerebral stories will start to grow on you and like me, still enjoy the prequel films, but see the films flaws all the more glaringly. The prequels aren't forgotten, for many they are a template of what not to do, how not to make a Star Wars film, for others the redeeming elements help salvage the film's good points. Television series Rebels is continuing Clone wars legacy by introducing fan favorite prequel characters Asoka and Darth Maul while introducing old school faves like Lando and Leia, thus helping bridge the timeline gap between old and new. Speaking of Clone Wars, you can't talk about the prequels redeeming qualities without making mention of this amazing series. I say the same thing to every fan that has never seen it, you are missing out. You aren't seeing the whole story. While the lackluster big screen adaption that kick started the series did little to sway opinion on little more than a cash grab, further cementing the childish stigma associated with the prequels, but those that stuck with it quickly discovered one of the most enthralling, thought provoking, at times moving entries in the Star Wars series. Taking place between Episode two and three the show revolved around a whole cast of characters, some classic film characters, others wholly original, all helping tell the epic saga of the Clone War. George Lucas always said the shows intention was to take a closer, more intimate look at the epic war in a way that two movies just couldn't cover, and cover it did. Over five incredible seasons, we got to see first hand the planet to planet spanning war from all angles. The losses on both sides, the politics of war and the evils of men. The show did the impossible, it somehow helped fix some of the film's problems. Hated characters like Anakin become likable leads due to the shows excellent writing. Underused fan favorites like Darth Maul were given a second life on the show, and in Mauls case providing a fantastic villain with real motivations and tragic back story. Same goes for young Boba, who's film incarnation I couldn't stand, was given a take that was both respectful to the character while also improving the foundations laid by the prequels. Even Jar Jar Binks become a genuinely funny side character with his episodes always guaranteed a laugh. With so many characters all serving different sides of the war, all with different motivations and back stories you would be forgiven for thinking it convoluted, not the case, the beautiful animation that only gets better with each season, the excellent dialogue and well crafted plot threads keep it from ever getting bogged down or messy. It's a true testament to Dave Filloni and his team, they achieved the impossible. The show not only served as an excellent companion to the films, helping flesh out underused characters while introducing likable new ones, but it also made you appreciate the prequel film's a little more. Having watched the show nameless clone troopers suddenly aren't nameless, they have interesting back stories, you have been on missions with them and in times of quiet gotten to know them intimately. When I think Darth Maul I no longer think silent, underused protagonist that died too quick, I now think of him and his brother, his tragic story, his real motivations with his new war on both Sith and Jedi alike. This one dimensional character is now one of Star Wars biggest bad asses. As I said earlier when talking about the prequel films, when new ideas take away from the old its never a good thing, however, when they add to the old, fleshing out new, intriguing ideas thoughtfully, respectfully adding to previously lain foundations, helping to create something new and fresh, something unique, well that's just magic. One of the rare instances of maturity. A television series no fan can do without, and I'll repeat what I tell every fan, if the Clone Wars blu ray box set isn't sitting comfortably alongside your Star Wars Complete Saga blu ray set in your collection, well then you don't have the complete saga at all, do you? Was a sad day for all Clone Wars fans when the show was abruptly cancelled after season five, the fact the show was resurrected via help from Netflix to finish up with a lost sixth season helping tie up loose plot threads is proof of the shows appeal and lasting popularity. After a middling start with constant comparisons to Clone Wars, Filloni's new series Rebels is starting to find it's feet and own identity. With all its film ties and fan service there has never been a better time to jump on, however the show is (thankfully) becoming a dumping ground for fan favorite Clone Wars characters a great way to close some of the previous shows open plot lines so best to start at the beginning when jumping aboard the Star Wars animation train (and I don't mean Ewok Adventures... though you could do well to check out the fantastic original Cartoon Network Clone Wars shorts that served as something of a precursor series)
The prequels are easy to dismiss, the problems were glaring, however as a fan they did serve a great purpose. Star Wars was a long time silent between the release of Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace and in that time the appeal never wavered, and while there was no shortage of stories and ideas available for fans, the sheer wealth of all new SW lore suddenly made available by the release of the prequels was truly staggering. The films birthed a resurgence in Star Wars video-games, thus creating some truly memorable classic franchises in the process, SW: Bounty Hunter, SW: Racer, SW: Starfighter, SW: Jedi Powerbattles, SW: Republic Commando... the list goes on and on. While some of Star Wars most classic game franchises ie. SW: Knights of the Old Republic, SW: Battlefront and SW: Force Unleashed may not have been directly influenced by the prequel films, they were still birthed from that same dirge of popularity Star Wars enjoyed due to the release of the prequel films. That's just the games, a similar boom was felt throughout all media type. The comics and books suddenly had hundreds of new characters, planets and story elements to play with. Many new titles were birthed and classic stories crafted. Action figure collectors suddenly had a whole new trilogy of characters and vehicles to collect. Yes the prequels weren't perfect, but as I said before, for us fans they served an enormous purpose and provided us with a slew of new content to sink our teeth into... all that, as well as provide us with that excellent television series I was talking about, there really is no denying the prequels impact. Which is why I don't dismiss them, yes I agree on all the hate directed at them, yes I see all the major problems, but they do tell an integral part of the story, and whether I agree or not on the way it is told, I still find them entertaining enough to keep me watching through all three when I marathon the entire series, glaring issues aside they are fun enough and did their job, fleshing out an entire world, giving us a new cast of characters to get to know with a story that impacts the old. Thus creating a wealth of new content for us all to enjoy, that's why I am glad they exist.
With so much talk regarding the new Star Wars films and popularity seemingly at an all time high, it got me thinking to other times throughout my life Star Wars found itself in a popularity resurgence. Obviously I've already talked at length about the prequels and the resurgence they begat, so I won't go into that anymore, obviously it was a time of mass popularity for the series and had fans at a fever pitch in much the same way Force Awakens has fans currently salivating at every bit of news released.
The Dark Horse comics purchase was one of the milestones I remember. The popular Star Wars comic book series by Marvel was long over, and had always proved a little too campy and crazy for my taste (hey, it was 70s) when Dark Horse was announced as the new publisher. Dark Horse was always a more mature label, even as a kid I was a fan of Hellboy. I was raised catholic and went to an all catholic primary school, looking back Hellboy may have been my geeky, comic nerd way of rebelling) they also published the Mask, a comic book I discussed at great length with my classmates, proving to all how much darker and violent the comic was in comparison to the Jim Carrey film adaptation. I may have been a Marvel fanboy but I had always liked Dark Horse, I knew how dark and adult they could get. Hearing they had the license and upon seeing some early concept art it was very easy to see they were taking things very seriously. Abiding to plot points and time line rules set by the films, adapting classic story lines from the novels as well as crafting all new entries, hiring a slew of talented names to work on separate stories, and a much more mature approach to writing style than the campy Marvel incarnations, they quickly proved the future of the franchise was in good hands. In the years since they pumped out an entire world of stories and characters. New films have provided endless content to adapt or delve into, the games have helped provide entire sagas to create in comic form, the Jedi Starfighter and Knights of the Old Republic video-game adaptations helped provide continuous years of comic book stories and different monthly series, and that was just two of the video-games. Towards the end of their licence they had become absolute masters of their craft, producing classic genre defining work like the aforementioned SW: Knights of the Old Republic and SW: Legacy, story lines so epic they rival the films, or just having some pure unadulterated fun with titles like SW: Tales or SW: Infinities. A whole, entire galaxy of Star Wars stories exist at Dark Horse Comics and while it was a sad day when the reigns were handed back to Marvel, it can't diminish our enjoyment, they delivered exactly what they set out to do, a perfect comic book companion to the films, to this end they delivered with gusto, don't let these stories be forgotten, track them down, read them, enjoy them, discover personal favorites, and most of all don't get bogged down in canoninical gripes, it's petty and does nothing to diminish enjoyment. Good luck Marvel, you have your work cut out for you.
Another big moment for Star Wars fandom was the announcement of the special edition trilogy cinema re-release. A newly restored version, cleaned up for a modern audience, with Lucas promising newly added scenes, using today's cgi technology to add scenes not possible at the time. Little did we know this was the beginning of Lucas cgi obsession and more than likely used as motivation to get his prequel series made in the first place. I remember seeing them at cinemas and as a kid I enjoyed the new scenes, though looking back they have dated quite poorly and stand out like dog balls, almost jarring when watching. This wasn't the last time Lucas would be tampering with the films, adding scenes here and there, thankfully now that Lucas has stepped down and handed the reigns to Disney it would seem the last blu ray release with added new scenes is now the definitive version. The special edition releases also seemed a perfect time to release the all new SW action figure line by Kenner, a stroke of marketing genius really, riding the popularity of the film re-releases, the Power of the Force line of action figures were set loose on an unsuspecting public, suddenly every kid (and adult kid) wanted one, not since the 80s had Star Wars merchandise proven so popular, a move so lucrative that the action figure line of SW figures have never gone away since, now with a million different toy lines, only growing in popularity with every passing film release sending children and collectors broke, myself included (speaking of which I still need to get some Force Awakens figures for my own collection) If the special edition releases were responsible for the toy lines resurgence and mass popularity then well done, that is a pretty incredible feat. As for the actual films, well in my opinion the added scenes work much to their detriment, the goal to make them look more modern but in actuality making them look a little long in the tooth with early cgi aging quite poorly in the time since. I guess the Jabba and Han scene was cleverly implemented, oh and we now catch a glimpse of Dash Rendars outrider, Dash Rendar exists in the film universe, does that make Shadows of the Empire canon?
Which brings me to another big Star Wars event in the 90s, the Shadows of the Empire phenomenon. A clever marketing campaign due to the release of a new SW novelization, spanning multiple media. The books release would be accompanied by the Dark Horse comics adaptation, that would be accompanied by the release of the video-game adaptation, a launch title for the brand new Nintendo 64 console, smart. A whole line of Shadows of the Empire action figures were also released. It was a big event, luckily the story was excellent and well and truly lived up to the hype. Telling the tale of Dash Rendar, and set between episode five and six. The only let down being the game release, despite enjoying with friends at the time, in hindsight can now see it was quite poorly made. A SW event hitting every media type? A very clever marketing tool indeed. The force unleashed tried a similar marketing technique, and despite having a tie in comic and Lucas approval, never had the same magnitude of exposure the Shadows of the Empire juggernaut enjoyed.
Of course the biggest news to hit fans was the Disney buy out and the announcement of a new trilogy, episodes 7, 8 and 9. Fans, myself included were truly speechless. Lucas had always squashed any glimmer of hope or rumor regarding a future series so many times that I'd completely given up hoping and accepted I'll never see another SW film. I couldn't be happier regarding the merger. Naysayers will always find something to whinge about but in my opinion, continuing the saga with new films or not is a no brainer, and if Lucas had his way we more than likely would never see a new SW film release... or worse yet, we get one that feels like the prequels. I'm over the moon we are getting a new trilogy, not just that but stand alone movies too? Have I gone to geek heaven? This is something I've always dreamed of and can't help but contemplate the future. Episode 8 could go anywhere and I couldn't be happier. Rogue One seems a great idea too, this is the kind of movie I was hoping for when I heard spin off. Same goes for Boba, his mysterious with little back story and an uncertain future. Han Solo is not, to be honest, I get his a popular character, probably my favorite but I think a lot of the appeal is in Ford's delivery, replace with a kid doing his best Ford impersonation and I begin to doubt the appeal. A Yoda film (that was originally highly rumoured) seems a similar bad idea (flashes of prequel tone) instead of focussing on beloved characters and making a solo (get it?) Han flick why not craft new characters or try your hand at a classic story from the EU (it's there to be picked at) I would die if I heard a Knight of the Old Republic adaptation, hell don't even need to change a thing, it's perfect for a solo film or stand alone trilogy, the Revan revelation will leave cinema audiences awwing in much the same way Vaders revelation did for Empire Strikes Back. Or how about a proper Shadows of the Empire film, perfect for Clone Wars/Rebels style animation, could get Hamill to lend his voice talents for authenticity, his no stranger to it after all thus negating age/timeline restrictions. There are many ideas and stories worthy of adaption so it's a good thing the future is unwritten and the series will likely live on long after episode nine has rolled out. In my opinion episode seven was a perfect return to form for my favorite science fiction/fantasy series. I'm looking forward to seeing what new films, book/comics, games, action figures and television series spin out of this all new Star Wars resurgence, only time will tell, the only thing certain, now is currently the best time to be a Star Wars fan.
Thanks so much for reading my rant and hope to hear from you in the comments, as usual follow me on Moviepilot or my Twitter @johnnygeekcool.com