In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the term “What’s past is prologue” is, more or less, used as a justification to commit murder – that the past has led the characters of Antonio and Sebastian to a moment in time where their choice is to kill the King so that they can forge their own destinies. In more modern times, the phrase has come to mean that history creates context for the present.
With a certain science fiction property, it feels a little like the creatives behind the scenes have had similar conversations to those had by Sebastian and Antonio, as they have contemplated the future of a notable and beloved film series.
Out of all of the science fiction properties that I’ve fallen in love with over the years, Star Wars had always ranked up there with Star Trek, Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica, V and Doctor Who. They shaped my young mind and my worldview and to some extent still influence me today. Star Wars, sadly, and only days ago, fell out of that top six, despite a long internal argument to keep it there. An argument that started in December 2015.
Why? Because the new trilogy didn’t have to be what it has become. The choices that were made didn’t need to be made.
I’ve tried very hard not to be one of those “you ‘shat’ all over my childhood” fans, but maybe I’ve become one despite my best efforts because I feel the new films betray the spirit of the original trilogy and even the prequel trilogy, which, while not perfect, still feels like Star Wars.
When not talking about scientific advancements that may help us colonise our solar system, this blog usually focuses on rebooting beloved television series, with a particular focus on the possibility of remaking/rebooting Space: 1999, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Andromeda, or seaQuest DSV.
While the new trilogy of Star Wars movies are a continuation, they also feel, in a way, like a soft reboot. What was past is indeed prologue. While no one has quite murdered Star Wars (depending on who you ask), the property is now another example of an existing universe that has undergone/is undergoing some pretty big changes – and they’re changes I’ve not been able to justify.
I understand that some of the properties I’ve mentioned have undergone change over the years, but those changes were managed without unpicking the fabric of or totally setting fire to the soul of those shows. The recent cosmetic changes made to the Star Trek universe initially bothered me, but I understood and accepted them. Star Trek: Discovery is still very much Star Trek, it’s just had a face lift because, to remain relevant and to attract new viewers, that was essential. Velour uniforms and big flashing lights for buttons don’t cut in the age of smart phones and flat screen TVs.
I had a similar reaction to the re-imagined V (2009-2010). The changes they made were more extensive than those made for Star Trek: Discovery, and I would have rather the writers and producers had done a more faithful retelling, but the spirit of the original was left intact.
Something else is going on with Star Wars and I can’t reconcile it.
Before I go any further… heads up. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the seventh and eighth feature films, I spoil the crap out of them below. Look away now, or continue on.
I enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I’m one of those fans who was by and large happy with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (except for the Canto Bight nonsense – Finn, great, Rose, great, Canto Bight… stupid diversion that added nothing to the film). My issues with the new Star Wars films began, sadly, way before Canto Bight was a gleam in anyone’s eye.
Like most old school Star Wars fans born in the ’70s I was excited (okay, jumping for joy) to hear that Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the droids were coming back. Before Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford’s appearances were officially confirmed, I was expecting J.J. Abrams and Disney to do what George Lucas had done with the prequels and set the new films in a different time frame. As a fan of the Old Republic comic books and as someone who had enjoyed the prequels for what they were, I was in favour of that idea. The Star Wars universe is a BIG universe. Now I know that the prequels were set only about 18-20-something years before A New Hope, but it was a different era. It was the mighty Republic and its fall, it was the Jedi Order at its height, it was the first stirrings of what would become the Empire. It felt entirely different to the original trilogy while still being the Star Wars I knew.
When it was confirmed the films would be thirty-something years in the future and that Leia, Luke and Han would be in them, I was thrilled. J.J. had jumped ahead in time, and jumped forward a longer span of time than the prequels had gone back, so maybe we would get a story that would focus on the children of our heroes and a frightening new threat to the galaxy!
Then the first movie dropped. No Leia for ages. No Luke for even longer, and then, barely. Han and Chewie showed up pretty quickly but it felt too convenient.
I was okay with waiting to see my childhood heroes as I sat there in the cinema, and I was willing to believe Han had lost the Falcon, because I knew they had to establish a bunch of new characters and because Han had always been a little loose.
Then, finally, Leia turned up. I was so happy to see her as she walked down that ramp to a waiting Han. Then mine and a bunch of other fans’ hopes were dashed because our Princess and her scoundrel were no longer together.
We learn that they had had a child together, which was something, but then we discover that their son had fallen to the Dark Side and turned into an angst ridden millennial with a sense of entitlement the size of Coruscant, and a level of sulky-petulance that would put any soap opera teen to shame. And STILL no Luke… where was he?
Eventually we’re told that Luke went into hiding. So… he abandoned his sister in her time of need, right as a new threat was emerging in the galaxy. WTF?
The triumphant ending we had enjoyed in the closing frames of Return of the Jedi was no more.
I get that the choices the writers, producers and director made were ‘realistic,’ but I don’t watch Star Wars for realism. I watch it to feel a sense of joy and hope, and to be swept up in an adventure that will take me out of the shitty world we all live in for a while.
All of the above was bad enough, but to add insult to injury, not long after Leia and Han are reunited, they kill Han. Just as horrible as that, his killer was his own son.
Han was never my favourite character, I related to Luke and Leia more, but Han had earned a place in my heart. How couldn’t you love the guy? Everyone loved Han.
I thought Han’s death was Harrison saying “I’ll only play him if you kill him off,” because he’s long been arguing for the character’s death (he wanted Han to sacrifice himself for Leia and Luke in Return of the Jedi), but then along came the second film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, where they killed Luke.
A trend was starting to emerge.
It was becoming clear that the plan was to also kill off Leia Organa in the third movie. Of course, Carrie tragically passed away in December 2016 before even one frame of Episode IX could be filmed, but regardless of that horrible blow, the writing was on the wall for the Princess and General.
I started to feel a little irrational anger about it all which, almost a year after the release of number eight, has refused to go away. Accompanying the anger is an all-pervading sadness which slaps me around every time I think of Star Wars.
Just like the crew of the original series Star Trek or it’s successor, TNG, and just like the team on Moonbase Alpha, or on board the Galactica, and just like the Doctor and the Resistance fighters in V, Leia, Luke and Han had been my dear friends, and they’d been with me through some really difficult times. They’d been my safe space through trauma, and when I was a kid and a teenager, they’d shaped my moral compass. At times, throughout my childhood and early teen years, I would often find myself thinking what would Leia do if she were faced with this bully? How would Luke handle this family fight? How would Han get himself out of this situation?
I had always subliminally known that those characters were important to me, but facing their cinematic deaths showed me just how important they had been and still were.
Sound weird? I get that. I thought my reaction was ridiculous, even a tad pathetic, so I did some research and it turns out a lot of long time fans of various fictional properties feel a significant impact when the characters they love die.
It’s such a frequent occurrence, American University in Washington DC researched it in 2014 and found that “superfans can feel a strong sense of loss in the aftermath of a character death.” You can find that research here at Science Daily.
For me, part of it comes down to the fact that I felt (and still feel) that this trio of heroes deserved a happy ending.
I had imagined Han and Leia growing old together, surrounded by children and grandchildren. I’d imagined Luke building and inspiring a new Jedi Order, and falling in love and having his own children. I had imagined Chewie back on Kashyyyk happily retired, and R2 and 3PO both entertaining and being tortured by the children of Leia and Han, and Luke and whomever he married. Can’t you hear C-3PO begging one of the children to stop doing something rambunctious? “Please young mistress, put your brother down – it’s rude to levitate people!”
For a while we did have that, with what is now known as the Star Wars Legends novels (previously the Expanded Universe). Horrible things happened to Chewie and the Organa-Solo/Skywalker children in those books, but in the very last installment Han, Leia and Luke were still soldiering on side by side, hope-filled and resolute. The path to their happy ending was punctuated with tragedy and trauma, but Han and Leia still had their daughter, though they had lost their sons, and Luke still had his son, though he had lost his wife. Still, despite everything they’d suffered, they ended their adventures as they started, together, with each other.
J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson decided we needed to see our heroes die on screen. It looks like they’ve also decided that the Skywalker line must end. If my suspicions are correct and Leia was always going to die in the ninth film, there will be no more Skywalkers because Ben (Kylo) also has to die. He killed his father. It’s an irredeemable act. So, not only did the current creatives in charge of Star Wars feel we needed to lose our heroes, we also needed to wipe out the most important family in that universe.
Hence my feeling that this is an attempt to softly (with a sledgehammer) reboot Star Wars.
I’ve read a lot of nonsense, some from the mouths of the film-makers themselves, about how important it is for the old to make way for the new. That’s fine, but the way they’ve gone about it is not Star Wars. The story of the First Order and Rey, Finn and Poe could have easily happened 100 years or more after the events of Return of the Jedi. Having the main protagonist be Leia and Han’s child doesn’t really add anything to the story, so a brand new bad guy would have worked just as well or better – or turning Rey, or Finn or Poe into the bad guy at some point in the new trilogy would have been equally if not more impactful. Nothing would have been lost and the integrity of Star Wars could have been maintained.
Star Wars is a fairy tale. It’s my generation and my nephews’ generation’s (who grew up with the prequels) Snow White or Cinderella. We have Princesses and Dark Knights, Queens and paupers, noble Paladin (the Jedi) and Scoundrels, armies of light and darkness doing battle, and strange locales inhabited by even stranger creatures.
Our heroes should remain heroes, their deaths unseen, so that we can imagine them having lived wonderful lives or off on other adventures. Luke should have remained the noble knight, rather than become a burned out shell. Leia should have ended up running the bloody New Republic, not being scorned by it. Han should have grown fat and happy with a bevvy of children, standing strong by Leia’s side no matter what, rather than being slaughtered by his own son.
I so very deeply wish the sequel trilogy had either never happened, or had jumped forward in time, so that my memories of the heroes I have loved and cherished for so long had remained untarnished.
Luke, a coward too afraid to try again?
Leia considered a joke by the very government she was integral in restoring and probably setting up?
Han a washed up and worn out man who left his wife because it all got too hard?
The only offspring of the Skywalkers a sulky little murderous prick?
These are insulting endings to heroes who have meant a lot to a great many people.
I think J.J. Abrams is an incredibly talented man. I forgave him for the liberties he took with Star Trek when he rebooted it, but I wish he’d never gotten his hands on Star Wars. Transwarp beaming vs killing off a beloved character? I’ll take the crud that was transwarp beaming any day over losing my friends.
It is possible to do a continuation or even a reboot or remake without betraying the essence of a property, and J.J. and Rian Johnson should have looked harder (or just looked) at those examples.
Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, with heavy support from Angela Mancuso reimagined Battlestar Galactica, giving us a few character changes and an important story shift that intensified everything in the right way (Starbuck became a woman and the Cylons were created by humanity), but still remained faithful to Glen A. Larson’s original idea. What they did, particularly Eick and Moore, they did in a way that was not cruel and did not destroy what was loved by fans of the 1970s show (though it took a while for some fans to embrace it). It built on and modernised the original in a relevant and poignant way.
Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless did a reboot (slight reimagining) of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space and it’s faithful to the original idea and has been updated respectfully. Yes, Maureen and John are separated, but their adventures rekindle their romance and it works.
Judge Dredd with Karl Urban? That was a freaking awesome reboot. Superman? It’s had the crap rebooted out of it, but all of them have managed to be respectful. Not all of them have been successful (we’re looking at you Superman Returns and that Zod stuff in Man of Steel), but that’s beside the point. Batman, the same. Wonder Woman? How great was the Gal Gadot movie?! Spider-Man…? Like Superman, he’s been rebooted a lot to varying degrees of success, but each time with a great deal of respect. Star Trek: Discovery? Roseanne, now The Conners? Prison Break? V? The X-Files? Faithful continuations/reboots/remakes/reimaginings/new takes on beloved themes.
Will this latest Star Wars trilogy become a lesson in what not to do when you reboot or continue a beloved property?
Maybe. I hope so. I’d hate for other fans of any film or series to feel this way.
Feel free to disagree with me and shoot me an e-mail or send through some comments on the subject. I’d love to hear what other fans think about this because I have honestly been wrestling with it for ages. Maybe it’s not a soft reboot, whether the Skywalker line dies off or not, but to me this new trilogy is a crap continuation. What happens after Episode IX? There will be more Star Wars movies, we can all safely bet on that, but if the Skywalkers are gone will it still be Star Wars?
For me, I’ll watch the sequel trilogy as a diversion, but will re-read and enjoy the Star Wars Legends series and treat them as canon. They honour the fans more effectively than anything Disney has done to date.
J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson made wonderful films that I enjoyed for a variety of reasons, but to me they didn’t make great Star Wars films.