Spaceship battles and lighsaber duels. That’s the general perception of what Star Wars is. It’s an oversimplification of course, and a franchise couldn’t last for so long and still be so popular if it hadn’t more to it than that, but today you have to ask, what’s really the essence of what Star Wars is?
For the longest time I thought I understood what made Star Wars so special and what drove me to that world and what made me share my love of it with others. For me Star Wars was a lot more than spaceship battles and lighsaber duels. Star Wars was about the journey of a hero born in tragic family, a hero whose story affected and was affected by a larger world caught between war and politics. For me the franchise was always about the Skywalker family, about how its members are called upon to defy or defend the universe they live in, and how their personal tragedies affected their decisions with great repercussions to the galaxy.
In the original trilogy we follow Luke Skywalker, a naïve farmer who dreams of adventure and excitement, without ever realizing the great responsibility and difficulties he would have to face if he ever left his forgotten planet. It’s only after losing all connections to his home, that Luke finally has the resolve to actually chase those dreams and begin his rebellious adventure. But he is still very much just a kid at the beginning, and through war and tragedy he becomes a true hero. In the end Luke’s idealism manages to save his own father from the darkness he fell in.
Then in the prequel trilogy we see the other side of the coin. Anakin Skywalker shares so many things with Luke, but unlike his future son, he isn’t forced to leave on his own ‘adventure.’ He grows not only in power and skill but also in ego, and there lies the key difference between Anakin and Luke. When tragedy finally strikes, he isn’t ready to admit he isn’t strong enough to save the one he loves. His obsession with power and his desire to control everything are the cause of his downfall, and ironically are also what make him lose more and more until he becomes nothing but the shadow of what he once was.
Both Luke and Anakin’s stories are personal journeys, and the choices they make when confronted by temptation and loss not only affects them and the ones close to them, but the entire galaxy. Star Wars is and has always been, like George Lucas has said, a family drama at its core.
In the Star Wars universe you can also see a parallel to our own world in terms of political conflicts, oppression and the failure of democracy. Although the original trilogy seems to show the Empire as an evil force that took away freedom in the galaxy, like Darth Vader’s motivations there’s a lot more to it. The Empire didn’t took over the Republic. The Republic became an Empire thanks to the war that nearly broke it in half, and greed of the politicians that were supposed to protect the democracy. Sure, the Emperor was behind everything, but he only achieved his goal because of the people in power and the overconfidence of the Jedi. How many democracies in our world have become dictatorships after the people gave the power to the wrong person?
I could go on and on about all the things I love about Star Wars, but that’s not the point of this article. The thing is, for the last couple of years I’ve felt a disconnect with the fandom I was once a part of. I keep hearing and reading complains of fans who want “new stories” and who want the franchise to stop leaning on the Skywalkers, or in any kind of family drama for that matter.
These are the same people who dislike the prequel trilogy for not being like original movies, and are now hailing Disney’s safer, more streamlined take on the saga. Does it really matter that The Force Awakens is practically a retelling of A New Hope with a few changes here and there, when it pulls the nostalgia strings by having Han Solo back in his smuggler ways and flying the Millennium Falcon? Does it really matter that what was supposed to be a tragic and ballsy ending for Rogue One be played down in order to fit a rampaging lightsaber-wielding Vader?
Say what you will about George Lucas, but Star Wars was his baby, and with every movie he tried to do something different, move the story forward and develop his characters. Sure, you can draw similitudes between his two trilogies, but they’re there for a reason meaningful to the story. The Force Awakens just repeats stuff because the studio thinks that’s what the fans really want to see.
In Disney’s Star Wars there’s a disturbing lack of imagination, a fear of straying too far from the template of the original trilogy that cost Lucas the rage of the fanbase. This is a franchise that it’s contempt with wrapping itself in fan service and throwing references here and there to appear ‘clever.’ And while Lucas tried to make each movie feel and look different but still part of the same universe, the current franchise holders are simply recycling imagery, vehicles, planets and characters to please the fans without even thinking if they serve a purpose to the story. Instead of evolving the story the filmmakers chose to put placeholders for the key elements of the original trilogy, down to the characters themselves and just give them new faces and names.
But does any of this matter? There was a time when I thought Star Wars was above those superficial elements, when I defended my fandom beyond the toys and costumes and lasers and dogfights. Now I find myself unable to comprehend how something I loved so much became nothing but a rehash of the same old stuff, without paying attention to the things that mattered to me. I had always understood that people looked up to the saga for many different reasons, be it the action, the visual effects, the music, the character archetypes, but I always felt there was more depth to all of it. On the outside the new saga might still look like Star Wars, but to me it doesn’t feel like that anymore.
And while the world appears to be in love with every “new” thing coming out in the franchise, I have lost every desire to return to that galaxy, because no matter how ‘cool’ a scene of a guy dressed as Darth Vader killing rebels might look, it doesn’t matter to me at all when the actor doesn’t even move like him and when there’s no weight to the story behind it. There’s not an end in sight for the new Star Wars franchise and perhaps by now audiences are just too accustomed to that world and too consumed by nostalgia leave it behind, but if that’s really all there is to Star Wars, I can no longer call myself a fan.