Star Wars: Back to the Basics

So this is not a new argument. I have been thinking about–and talking about–the Star Wars films and their effectiveness for years. I’ve been talking about George Lucas’ universe to the point of being obnoxious. I have readers on here who have heard me say many of these things before in some way or form: mainly in the form of ranting. I might have even written something like this in another forum, but after a few more years and really not talking about Star Wars for a while I think I can better articulate some of my views.

Let me begin by saying that you would be right if you guessed that I like the Old Trilogy far better then the New one. I will also tell you why, and I will tell you why by delving into something I’d spent some years studying in my Grad Program: mainly mythic world-building.

In the Old Trilogy, you have a universe that is already established. It looks worn and the aliens and droids are its indigenous cast. In other words, they look like they belong there. You have very archetypal environments that these beings can play in and there seem to be stories behind everything. What’s more is that the universe–or Galaxy–presented to us is filled with mysteries. These mysteries are what make the Old Trilogy: the mysticism of the Force, the background of certain characters, the unspoken history behind particular groups such as the Jedi Knights and just how old some places and people really are. There are a lot unspoken stories or rumours in this galaxy as well and when you first enter it amid the swashbuckling and space-fights you really get immersed in it.

It like you just came to this place in the middle of the story–which you have–and there is so much you want to know even when the three films are over. The Old Trilogy is filled with darkness and old history, but also with the hints of glory and just a mythical greatness that pulls you in with the scenery, the hinted upon lore, and John Williams’ musical score.

George Lucas has explained that his inspiration for Star Wars–in considerable part–came from the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers science-fiction shows he watched as a child. These “space-opera serials” helped to inform and create his own. You can see it in the devil-may-care blaster-toting Han Solo, all of the space battles, and even in Luke’s wannabe adventurer character: at least in the beginning. Basically, these old science-fiction elements are integral to Star Wars’ existence.

I just thought this scene from The Star Wars alternate reality comic–the one adapted from an original draft of Star Wars itself–would be appropriate on some many levels considering the subject matter and the character resemblances. But what is definitely from my perspective is the following.

Then you have the Prequels, or the New Trilogy. One thing that most creators of worlds tend to do when they make a world for the first time, or try to re-imagine a pre-established world is to “go back to the basics.” You see a lot of this in comics nowadays: using Golden or Silver Age characters and expanding on them or taking a different slant on how they might be. What I think happened was George Lucas looked at the Star Wars universe he created and decided to “go back to basics”: to tell the story of what caused a lot of the events that happened in the Old Trilogy and at the same time re-imagine Star Wars. Of course there are two kinds of re-imaginings: which are reboots (which the Prequels were not) and matters of continuity.

From my perspective the Jedi are evil … no, George Lucas brought Star Wars closer to the spirit of the source material that informed his own childhood enjoyment: that of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. In fact, I believe he said as much in an interview or two in the past.

Flash Gordon aesthetics …

Meet Revenge of the Sith.

I believe that with the Old Trilogy, Lucas started out with those inspirations and expanded from them into something that looked older and actually resembled that strangely wonderful and mysterious phrase, “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away” that never gets explained but is still beautiful. With the Prequel Trilogy, I feel like that Lucas “went backward” and started to make something closer to the old shows he was inspired from. It wasn’t old and established anymore. The lines and creases weren’t there: the organic elements were stripped away to reveal this prototypical place.

Not all of the ideas in the New Trilogy were bad. Some were very intriguing and even did expand on certain elements in that galaxy. But unfortunately, they were elements that were poorly executed: if only because they seemed rushed. There was only so much lore you can throw into even three films to hold someone’s interest and sometimes things can get lost when you try to be succinct and “to the point.” Also, and I think you might know all too well the example I’m thinking about, it is a lot like humour: sometimes you can hit that place and sometimes you get far off the mark and actually offend people. Jar Jar, I am looking at you.

But some wooden dialogue and unfortunate caricatures aside, I think there were a lot of concepts that just couldn’t be fit seamlessly into the Prequels. I don’t like all of them and I would have liked to see some different things happen than what did, but I can sympathize with those limitations. That is probably what The Clone Wars CGI cartoons are for: to fill in the gaps between Episodes II and III. Again, they seem to hearken back more to Flash and Rogers and there are some intriguing concepts in them but they can be clumsy and awkward to watch: never mind how they can mess with continuity. And then, of course, there is the humour too.

Some people might even find the closeness to those old science-fiction serials outdated for our time, but I can see how it can be pulled off. I will tell you though that the galaxy of the Prequels does feel like a different galaxy from the Old Trilogy and sometimes it s a jarring thing to realize there supposed to be the same. I miss the mystical elements and mysteries of the Star Wars I grew up with.

And then there is Stars Wars: The Old Republic. I haven’t played this online multi-player game but my friends do and they have been trying to get me on this habit for a while now. But from what I have seen, this galaxy has gone back longer ago, but unlike the Prequels it does not seem farther away. Here you have the grittiness of the Old Trilogy mixed with a massive amount of Jedi and Sith lore. Both Jedi and Sith do not feel as watered-down as those in the Prequels: in fact from what I have seen they are what I always expected them to be. You have your bounty hunters, dynamic smugglers, and all of that stuff with plenty of story and mystery to explore.

I feel that for this game, the creators went back to the basics of Star Wars: but instead of merely just the science-fictional basics, they went back to the archetypal mythological building-blocks that I love so much. And I feel that is a place where the New Trilogy should have gone: that if we had gone to the mythical gravitas of the Jedi at their peak, Anakin Skywalker as a hero, Obi-Wan as a wise mentor even then, with Yoda still in the place of sage, and seeing Anakin go from something of a combination of Luke and Han into a tragic monster instead of the flash of ship and droid battles, and an actual romance between him and Padme in the films it would have made all the difference. Also, seeing Darth Vader slaughter Jedi in his suit, and even seeing the populace turn on and allow soldiers to take away and commit genocide against the Jedi–who’d otherwise been a natural part of their galactic population–would have really been far more striking and effective: from my point of view anyway.

Still, I am glad the New Trilogy exists and has inspired me and others. I like it in that it seems like a prototype or an outline of a movie or another world. But I would go with the timelessness of the Old Trilogy any day.

I would like to mention one more thing though. There are some people that wished Star Wars would be as dark and gritty as the Old Trilogy and remain so. Some people do not like the “cutesy” elements of it. You know the ones: the talking battle droids, the Gungans and the Ewoks.

Let me tell you something about Ewoks. I know that many consider them to be a blemish on Return of the Jedi. I don’t. Long before I watched the movies, I used to watch Saturday afternoon cartoons like Ewoks and Droids. They were the things that made me aware of the Old Trilogy. I really liked the Ewoks and the droids and seeing them in live-adventure with other bad-ass characters made Star Wars seem so much more real to me and that made my childhood self so happy: as though they–my friends–could exist somewhere out there past all we know in our world.

Sometimes when I get annoyed at the droids or Gungans, I ask myself what would it have been like if I hadn’t seen the Ewoks in Episode VI: if Star Wars had remained completely gritty all the time to the very end? People decry marketing the films solely to children, but children have made this universe. I was a child when I saw the films and they changed my life. Do I think that children can handle grittiness, violence, and the concept of the struggle of good verses evil? Of course. I definitely don’t think that things need to be “dumbed down” or completely censored out for children to like them. I also don’t believe good quality films for children should be three-hour long commercials.

At the same time, I also believe that a little light and levity and the comical–when done well–are also good for children and adults too. I wouldn’t have liked Episode VI if Han Solo had died the way it was originally planned or if there had been no Ewoks. They are also a necessary “basic” in the Star Wars universe: almost like a living cartoon–a neoteny–that is different from us but definitely something we can relate to. I always find it funny how we can relate to something that is more simplified than we are more than something that is supposed to be as complex and “serious” as us.

That too is something to keep in mind with regards to Star Wars, or Indiana Jones, or many similar adventure films: that while archetypal dangers and challenges are key, it is only when they are set with humanity and warmth that they feel like you are taking your first step into a much larger world.

Addendum: I DO like Lucas’ film work paralleling scenes between the Old and New Trilogy: especially with regards to what Luke does and what Anakin does. Also, Anakin Skywalker is a very good subversion and critique of the vintage reckless, daring hero archetype.

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