In 1977, when I was 21, fresh out of the Army, my brother invited me to tag along with him and a friend to go to San Francisco to see a movie called “Star Wars.” I’d seen the trailers and was less than impressed. Big hairy monsters in space ships seemed rather dumb & pointless. Having nothing better to do I decided to go ahead – I hadn’t been across the bay in awhile. About a mile from our destination I started noticing lines of people and figured that there must have been some local promotion or event just around the block. Little did I know then that that line, and another in the opposite direction, were actually originating at the same theater that we were heading to. AND, in those days, we didn’t have “multiplexes.” There was only one movie, and it was on the only screen. Of course, it helped that it was a very large theater, seating 1350 (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1612). As I recall, we got in one line to get the ticket, and the other line to actually enter the theater. After getting said tickets we drove back to the end of the entry line and waited while my brother’s friend parked the car. By now, I’m both annoyed and intrigued; annoyed that I’m standing in line waiting to see a movie that I have no interest in seeing, and intrigued by the sheer amount of people in front of me (and growing behind me) that ARE interested in seeing this movie. PLUS, based on mumblings of some of those in line (and we are literally city blocks away from the theater), some of those in line JUST CAME FROM THE PREVIOUS SHOWING (!), and they were all giggly and excited. WTF (why the face).
The line moved surprisingly quickly, and we found ourselves seated in the theater for the very next showing, which was also surprising. Not surprising was the activity of the crowd, bound to happen at any SRO event. There’s a charge that you can feel. When the curtain parted I don’t recall any trailers of upcoming films, advertisements, or any other sort of “warm up” (probably didn’t need it anyway – we were already ready). The 20th Century Fox fanfare started, the curtains opened, and …
followed by the crescendo of the Star Wars theme by John Williams & The London Symphony Orchestra. My attitude changed. I went from annoyed to thrilled. It was an epiphany. Wasn’t a stretch to understand why groups that had just seen the movie would be willing to go back to the end of the line and see it again. Over the period of the next few months I would see it again and again, and again and again. Probably 10 times at the theaters as Star Wars gained in circulation.
In the first movie (then called “Star Wars,” later “A New Hope”) we learned of a desperate battle against an evil Empire, and of a beautiful princess, trying to get a message to Jedi Knight/General Obi-Wan Kenobi on the nearby planet. On the same planet we also learn of our young hero, Luke Skywalker, brought up by an aunt and uncle. On the surface of the planet the two “droid” messengers for the princess meet up with young Luke while looking for Kenobi. Meanwhile, back in space, the General of the Evil Empire, Darth Vader, appropriately decked out in black, and properly accessorized with flowing cape, discovered the escape of the droids, and chased after them (run-on sentence now complete). Leaving a trail of destruction behind them the Empire’s stormtroopers followed the droids’ trail, killing Luke’s aunt & uncle. Fortunately, Luke was away with Ben, and were able to escape along with the droids. They teamed up with a rogue named Han Solo, who got them off-planet and away from the immediate threat. So, now this team is chasing after the princess who has been captured by the Empire and held prisoner on the Death Star. Of course they rescue her and chase off with the station’s blueprints to a rebel base where they’re able to determine a weakness in the Death Star and destroy it. For now, jubilation ensues as the rebellion has struck a significant blow against the Empire.
Many of us stayed until the very last note of the London Symphony Orchestra, in Surround Sound, watching every credit roll by – that’s how fascinated we were with this movie. We became Star Wars crazy – anything related was scarfed up by the consumers. John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra’s soundtrack had tremendous sales – there was even a knockoff “disco” version of the Star Wars soundtrack with Star Warsish sound effects (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWRWYYt47RI).
Without going through a synopsis of “The Empire Strikes Back,” I’ll just cover some points. Vader’s looking for Luke because he sensed the Force within him while blowing up the Death Star in the earlier film. Kenobi, who was killed by Vader in the 1st film, returned as a celestial travel agent, and sent Luke to track down Yoda on the swamp planet Dagobah to continue the Jedi training that Kenobi had started. That initial meeting between Luke and Yoda didn’t go off well because Luke wasn’t expecting Yoda to be an 800 year old muppet. But, Yoda trained him anyway, while Luke’s friends had all got themselves captured by Vader, knowing that Luke would chase after them. Smart guy, that Vader. Luke chased after them, got into a battle with Vader, lost his hand, and discovered that Vader was actually Luke’s long lost father.
In the 3rd movie we discovered that not only was Vader Luke’s father, but that Luke had a twin sister (and if you actually count the number of women that are in all 3 movies to this point you can pretty well narrow down who it is). Yeah, the same princess who was rescued in the first 2 movies, and the same sister who passionately kissed Luke to make Han Solo jealous. Setting aside the potential incest, neither Luke or Leia were aware of their sibling relationship at the time. Also, we discovered that the Empirical Stormtroopers can get their butts waxed by furry munchkins using sticks and stones. At the end of the film a great Skywalker family union ensued, and they all governed the Empire happily ever after. Not really, the Emperor decides to kill Luke when Luke won’t join the Empire, and Vader intervenes, killing the Emperor while sacrificing his own life. This redeems Vader and in his death he rejoined the lighter side of the Force, and there was a happy spiritual reunion between the deceased Kenobi, Yoda, and Vader, along with the living Luke.
So, the premise of this blog was how Lucas screwed up this franchise.
The “prequels” came along and the entire premise of the franchise – all 6 movies – shifted from the life of Luke Skywalker to the life, fall, and resurrection of Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader).
Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, the 4th film, introduces us to a 9 year old Anakin Skywalker, who can create droids and race machines out of spare parts, and would single-handedly defeat the Trade Federation’s droid army in the Battle of Naboo. Falls in love with the 14 year old queen of Naboo. Also in this episode a Senator of Naboo takes over as Supreme Chancellor of the Republic through a no-confidence vote, and also befriends a young, impressionable Anakin.
Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones – 10 years later – a cloning station had been discovered creating a massive army, ordered by a rogue jedi some 10 years earlier. With an impending attack of a group of Separatists (a loose organization against Senate policies) the Chancellor is granted authority by the Senate to use the army against them. Padme Amidala, Anakin’s love interest from TPM is now a 24 year old senator on the planet Coruscant, and is being attacked by an unseen enemy. The jedi are called in to protect her, and a young Obi-Wan, along with his apprentice, Anakin (now 19), are assigned the job. Anakin escorts Padme back to Naboo, while Obi-Wan starts tracking down suspects. At Naboo, Anakin & Padme fall deeply in love and get married, unbeknownst to the Jedi Council. It turns out that the Separatists are being manipulated by a Sith Lord named Darth Sidious, who crafted all of the events leading up to the battle, and even ordered the assassination of Padme Amidala. the jedi, with the assistance of the clone army, start what would become known as “The Clone War” against the Separatists.
Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith – During the Clone War the Supreme Chancellor is kidnapped and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are sent to rescue him. During the rescue Anakin, goaded by the distressed Chancellor, beheads one of the unarmed leaders of the Separatists, securing the path to the Dark Side that he’d had already started down in Attack of the Clones. The Chancellor is revealed to be none other than Darth Sidious, and Anakin decides to join him because he felt that the jedi training he was receiving was inadequate. Darth Sidious accepts Anakin and renames him Darth Vader. To test his loyalty, Vader is then sent to the Jedi Council to kill everyone there, including children. Afterwards he is sent to kill the Separatists council on the volcanic planet Mustafar. And, while Vader is going around killing all these people, Sidious (still acting as Chancellor), orders the Clones to turn against the jedi, using a pre-arranged “Order 66.” He then announces the restructure of the government into a Galactic Empire, claiming that the jedi had attempted the Chancellor’s overthrow. Then, Kenobi swings by Naboo and picks up a very pregnant Padme Amidala (Skywalker) and takes her to Mustafar to try to reason with hubby. Hubby is unreasonable and assaults his wife, and then starts the epic battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. Vader loses most of his limbs in the battle and is left for dead on the beach of a lava lake. Kenobi then takes Vader’s lightsabre and returns to Amidala who’s now in labor. Darth Sidious rescues what’s left of Vader and has him encased in a full body life support system, complete with breathing assistance, and cybernetic limbs. Luke & Leia are born, and Amidala dies as a result of Vader’s earlier assault. When Vader is revived fully encased in the suit, Darth Sidious gleefully rubs it in that Vader killed his own wife, making Vader despair. The infants are then spirited away so that Vader would not be aware that Amidala had given birth, much less to twins. Thus ends the “prequels,” and is intended to explain a number of things that we questioned at the end of the original trilogy.
Keep in mind that many of us saw the original films over and over and over again, and being the fans that we were we couldn’t just take the movies at face value. We had to ask questions…
a. If the Light Side of the Force represents “good,” and the Dark Side represents evil, why, then, did Ben lie to Luke about his father? Luke asked how his father died, and Ben explained that an apprentice of his, named Darth Vader, had betrayed and murdered Luke’s father. “Murder” is a very specific term – there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in trying to rationalize the use of that word.
b. The lightsabre. “Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it.” When the hell did Vader say that? When he was laying there missing his limbs, 3rd degree burns from head to, um, torso, lungs & throat completely destroyed? Did Obi-Wan come up to him and say, “Oh, by the way, you just had a son (which hadn’t occurred by then anyway). Can I give him your lightsabre as a gift from you?” Or, maybe there was one of those that he lost which Obi-Wan found, and in a moment of whimsy, told Obi-Wan to “Keep it. Give it my son, if I ever have one.” That’s possible. In “Attack of the Clones” it was implied that he had a tendency of losing his lightsabre, or wrecking it. Would have liked to see that in the movie.
c. R2D2 – Ben implied that he didn’t know R2 by saying that he’d never owned a droid. He didn’t actually say that he didn’t know R2. It may well be that Ben knew this particular droid and smelled a trap. He was probably aware that both R2 and 3PO were with the Organa family (Leia’s adopted parents), and that they were still involved in the rebellion against the Empire. R2D2 had crossed paths with Obi-Wan even before meeting Anakin, and C3PO shortly afterwards. Plus, it seemed that they were the only actual duo – all the rest of the droids were either individual, or part of an army. Plus plus, these particular two were not simply automatons – they seemed to have artificial minds of their own. In short, those guys were different, and it certainly wasn’t lost on Obi-Wan. Part of the confusion was the meeting that R2 & Obi-Wan (Ben) had in Episode 4/A New Hope: Luke, R2, & 3PO had just been attacked by the Sand People. R2 escapes & hides among the rocks. Ben shows up and scares off the attackers, then as he assists Luke R2 makes his presence known. Could it have been that after 19 years, living by himself, Ben’s memory and common sense got a wee bit hazy? Do you expect that he encountered droids in the middle of the desert on a regular basis? As soon as he noticed R2 he should have been curious, if not suspicious. It wasn’t until Luke explained why HE was in the middle of the desert that the light began to dawn on Obi-Wan. Of course, Luke said that that R2 unit was looking for his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now, here’s a theory that I just now came up with. Ben is right – he never did own a droid – until Leia transferred R2’s ownership to Ben at the same time that she gave the droid the Death Star plans and orders to find Ben. Something similar happened in Return of the Jedi when Luke gave away both droids to Jabba. That’s my theory, anyway.
There is another inconsistency that George failed to explain, but this isn’t a Ben thing. This has to do with the birth of Luke & Leia. Momma Padme died at childbirth. The children were born, and Padme named them with her dying breath. In Return of the Jedi, Luke, who is aware of his sibling relationship with Leia, asked her what her memories were of her birth mother. Leia said that she remembered her mother as beautiful, but sad, while Luke said he never knew his real mom. Of course, Luke then explained that his mom and her mom were the same mom.
The Star Wars movies meant different things to different groups. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, when they were first out, Luke Skywalker was the focus. He started out as a typical teen, a little naive, wanting to be away from the farm, craving adventure. Suddenly, everything begins to happen around him – the droids show up, followed closely by the Empire. Luke meets up with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo, rescues a princess, participates in a space battle, and blows up the Empire’s super weapon. We all watched – we saw it as it happened to him. He gained experience and confidence, learned how to use the tools provided him for maximum effect. Battled, and lost against his nemesis, had secrets revealed to him that made him question his own loyalties, only to overcome all of these, and even turn his foe into his ally. We all watched. There was never one time where we couldn’t identify with him.
Then came the prequels… Again, this is from my generation’s perspective (and I don’t presume to speak for my entire generation). We meet a 9 year old precocious whelp, a slave boy, who tinkers in the junkyard, making more pieces of junk, like a droid for his mother, or a podracer. I mean, the kid was a complete product of the Force. Mom just pops him out – apparently doesn’t even question the oddity that she had an immaculate birth. Maybe that happens all the time in galaxies far far away… He’s a brat, and he meets up with a renegade jedi (Qui-Gon Jinn), a 14 year old queen that he decides he’ll marry, and blows up the Trade Federation ship BY ACCIDENT. Ho hum – what’s for lunch. 10 years later, assigned to watch over the same girl that he fell for as a 9 year old (now a senator), Anakin’s got a chip on his shoulder because he feels that he’s superior to everyone, slaughters an entire village of Sand People because a few of them kidnapped his mom, and begins to fall in with “The Wrong Crowd” (i.e., The Emperor of the Galaxy). By the time Revenge of the Sith came around I was really getting to despise this creep. He was angry all the time, and things just kept going south. Anakin becomes a tool of the Emperor, completely sliding into the “Dark Side.” Whereas the Emperor used subtlety like a surgeon uses a scalpel, he used Anakin like a bludgeon. Anakin – go to the Jedi Council and kill everyone there – even the children. Anakin – go to Mustafar and kill everyone there. It was all about Anakin – even the howl that he made when the Emperor explained that Anakin killed his own wife. All Anakin – allatime.
Now – for the younger generation who didn’t live the life of Luke vicariously, and saw the prequels first, they knew that Darth Vader was Luke’s poppa, completely wasting the purpose of Episode IV and even V. Luke meets Kenobi – check. Kenobi & Vader duel again – check. Death Star plans are stolen – check. Luke blows up the Death Star – big deal; Anakin built a droid & podracer when he was 9, then destroyed the Droid Army at Naboo. Luke meets Yoda – check. Vader is redeemed – check.
Most critics say that “The Empire Strikes Back” was the best of the 6 movies, followed by “A New Hope,” “Revenge of the Sith,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Attack of the Clones,” and “The Phantom Menace.” I agree with the idea that “Empire” was a stronger, more dramatic movie, but I disagree that it was the best. Episode IV was full of adventure, excitement, and wonder. It was artistry. Everything that came after it was a variation on that theme. If there had never been a sequel – or prequel – Star Wars would have become just like the Wizard of Oz, treasured by millions, generation after generation.
What would I have done if I were so inclined after the success of the original trilogy? I probably would have waited a few years, then started a new trilogy with the original cast, albeit in reduced roles, and a next generation scenario. Only after the 2nd trilogy was complete would I have gone back to a prequel. I remember talk about 3 trilogies (i.e., 9 movies) after the success of the very first one, but that’s denied by Lucas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars_sequel_trilogy). I suspect that he desired to do that but couldn’t invest almost 30 years of his life – since each movie was taking 3 years to make. Who knows – maybe there is still a 3rd trilogy in him. I only hope he lets a real writer and real director take the helm for the films instead of doing it himself. There was no heart in the last 3 movies. Sorry George.