This is a question that has been plaguing me since Infinity War. It’s a question that I thought I would never ask myself but after years and years and years of consistently good-to-great content from the MCU it was a question I had to start honestly asking myself. But it’s a question I never answered…until now.
(This is a longread.)
Think about it. Star Wars has been wholly consistent over the past four decades. In 1977, George Lucas created an instant global phenomenon out of a film that mashed the qualities of a great fairy tale (a young boy goes on a life-changing adventure with a wizard, saves a princess, and becomes a hero) with the imagination of a sci-fi fantasy epic unlike anything else that had been created before.
Like Tolkien, he created a world with languages and creatures and characters that were as defined as historical figures, worlds, and animals in the real world. It was incredible, it was hypnotizing, game-changing, and it spawned a franchise that literally has millions of fans across the globe, me included.
He could’ve stopped at the Oscar-nominated Star Wars but he had a larger story to tell and returned, three years later, with the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. It could’ve been a disaster. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher would’ve been lost into legend, remembered for bringing a great Oscar-winning story to life before faltering in the continuation. But that’s not what happened.
Instead, George Lucas returned with an even greater story; one filled with romance and adventure, drama and suspense, mind-blowing action sequences and, of course, the greatest plot twist of all time. Suddenly Star Wars was more than a one-hit wonder. It was the real thing.
By that point, Star Wars was a bona fide phenomenon. Children collected the toys and wanted to be as heroic as Luke Skywalker. Everyone was on the edge of their seats waiting for the trilogy finale. When it arrived some were elated with the trilogy’s final act but it was becoming clear that the epicness of Star Wars that existed when the first two were the only ones that existed had come to a close.
I’m not saying Return of the Jedi is a bad film because it’s not but just think about that movie. All seriousness was cast aside to introduce a cute alien race that dominated much of the second half of the movie, Ewoks. These teddy-bear looking creatures that couldn’t speak English were a joke, literally used for comic relief as they fought stormtroopers with bows and arrows, sharp sticks, and rocks.
And we can’t forget the “Yub Nub” song. Yeah…that’s how the trilogy ended. That, ultimately, was the beginning of the end for Star Wars. George Lucas had lost that special something that made the first two films so legendary and it was never coming back.
Fast forward sixteen years and Star Wars fans that had been children when the first trilogy was coming out were grown up and ready for the next epic chapter in the franchise’s history. This time, we were going back in time to discover how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.
The trailers teased an adventure greater than the past with Jedi at their prime, an awesome-looking Sith with a double-bladed lightsaber, and beautiful new worlds to explore. Then the movie came out and the rest is history.
As a child who grew up with the prequels, I never saw the problem with Jar Jar Binks or nine-year-old Ani. But adults did and they weren’t pleased.
The movie garnered the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any Star Wars movie at the time with 51% and generally unfavorable reviews. Not even the epic lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Darth Maul could save the movie.
Three years later, things didn’t get much better. Attack of the Clones got a higher score than The Phantom Menace with a 65% score but audiences ABHORRED the film thanks to its cringe-worthy romance and, well, flippy Yoda. And even though Revenge of the Sith got the highest score of the trilogy with 80% none of the prequel films were ever as highly regarded as the original trilogy, even Return of the Jedi.
Suddenly the phenomenon that was Star Wars had been dampened and its main survival was my generation who grew up with the prequels, loved them, and kept the joy of Star Wars alive.
Another jump in time takes place and Disney buys Star Wars in 2012 for $4 billion. Immediately they get to work on a movie that will bring Star Wars back to life and who do they get to helm it? J.J Abrams, the man that directed Star Trek, the Force Awakens of the Star Trek universe.
Using the same nostalgic formula, The Force Awakens debuted a new and improved diverse cast (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac) mixed with the old characters of the past and the film was met with resounding praise. The movie was the first Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back to garner a Rotten Tomatoes score over 90% (it got 93%) and yes, we all loved it. Old fans who watched the Original Trilogy as children like my father, prequel fans like me, and even casual viewers like my mother who found the film to be surprisingly entertaining and was willing to see it twice in theaters. (I saw it five times.)
And yes, The Force Awakens was just a rehash of A New Hope but it sure was an entertaining rehash. And remember that last scene with Luke Skywalker? It seemed like the sequel was destined to be the greatest Star Wars movie ever. It wasn’t.
Disney then decided to do something unprecedented for the franchise; make a standalone film. That movie was Rogue One and it could’ve been a disaster. Plagued with reshoots just months before the film’s release, it seemed like Rogue One was going to succumb to the pressure but it didn’t. It garnered an 84% score and it won over audiences with its grit and its willingness to have a depressing ending. Plus, it brought Darth Vader back to form in a way fans thought they would never see again on the big screen.
The scene was only two and a half minutes long but boy was it deliciously epic.
A year later, The Last Jedi came out and while critics liked the film, giving it a 91% score, the audience was the one that mattered and the fandom was divided in half. Some thought that the film was a brilliant and bold new take on the franchise while others were absolutely furious with Johnson’s choices in the film, namely his use of Luke Skywalker.
It was downhill from there.
Solo: A Star Wars Story was doomed to fail from the get-go. Fans didn’t really want a Han Solo origin story. Then the problems behind the scenes absolutely ruined the film. The movie became the lowest-grossing Star Wars movie of all time and while it wasn’t a great film it did a bit of love. Just not enough to make it an instant fan-favorite or make Disney listen to the fans clamoring for a sequel with their MakeSolo2Happen hashtags.
(Instead they announced a Lando Calrissian series.)
We’re not going to talk much about The Rise of Skywalker. It got a 52% Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s deemed by many to be the worst Star Wars movie, and it completely brought the entire saga to an abrupt and awful close.
It seemed like Star Wars was over. That the magic had dissipated, the Force had become a joke, and Palpatine was no longer a villain worth being scared about. In fact, he had suddenly become as ridiculously comedic as the Lego version of Palpatine than the villain you took seriously in the prequel and original stories.
But from the recesses of Favreau’s brain came a story of a lone gunslinger making his way through the galaxy. That gunslinger was called The Mandalorian and a new Star Wars phenomenon was born.
Suddenly, Star Wars was back to basics; great lore, great action, and new iconic characters.
The Mandalorian brought the franchise back to life in a way no one could’ve imagined. Grogu became a universal star and for a little while, a meme sensation. The show also provided one of the greatest guest star appearances of all time with the unexpected return of a Star Wars legend, Luke Skywalker.
It saved the franchise, honestly.
As can be observed from this post the Star Wars franchise has had plenty of ups and downs. And yet, through every twist and turn we as, Star Wars fans, are loyal to this franchise. With every depressing disappointment we pick our heads up and we press on, returning to the installments that do make us happy, escaping to a world so familiar we can see it with our eyes closed.
Is this blind loyalty? Or is it something else? I believe it is the magic of John Williams’ score, the majesty of seeing those familiar stars after the opening crawl and knowing that the story we’re about to see shakes us to our core that keeps us coming back for more. And then again, maybe it’s just the lightsabers.
Part 2 will feature my extensive thoughts on Marvel Studios and why it too, over its run, has become a global phenomenon.
I thank you for reading and I hope you have a great day.