With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story coming out this week, it makes sense to take a moment to appreciate everything that has gone into the series and appreciate how much it as a saga has evolved in the last 40 years.
In 1977, A New Hope (at the time just called Star Wars) premiered in theaters yet only made a mere $2 million in its opening weekend, but redeemed itself with enormous popularity and raked in about $300 million in its entire run.
After taking the film industry by storm with its fantastic production and special effects, many of which never used before, Lucasfilm teamed up with CBS to produce a 90 TV special, the Star Wars Holiday Special, that was so universally hated that everyone involved in the production agreed to pretend that it never existed (I have a copy of it, and I do agree that it is terrible).
Empire Strikes Back, the second installment of the franchise (now the fifth… thanks prequels) became infamous for its well-choreographed fight scenes, iconic lines, and quite possibly the biggest twist in cinema history.
Up next was Return of the Jedi, which was originally called Revenge of the Jedi but was later changed for marketing purposes. In the epic conclusion to the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker faces his demons, Han Solo gets the girl, the robots continue to be robots, and everyone lives happily ever after… until Force Awakens, but we’ll get to that.
The Phantom Menace was the first of the prequel trilogy and an all-around cinematic disappointment. It took the bar that the originals set so high and threw it on the floor, cluttering what could be a fantastic story with way too much politics and exposition and not enough nearly enough actual Star Wars. I like to pretend that the movie was never made, and chose not to watch it when marathoning the series.
I have just as many gripes about Episode II: Attack of the Clones, but it has many more redeeming factors that Phantom doesn’t possess. The story is so wonderfully thought out that it could easily have been one of the best movies in the series, except the execution, acting, and animation fall vary flat. It tells a good story, though: it begins to explain the rise of the Empire as we know it in IV through VI.
Revenge of the Sith is easily the darkest and grittiest of all of the Star Wars movies, and in my opinion the best prequel. It explores the story of Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader, and his fall to the dark side, giving some background and motivation to the all-powerful sith lord we all know and love. There’s action, a fantastic story, and it is so beautiful and well executed that it feel like the epic that Lucas always intended on creating.
Rogue One happens here, between III and IV chronologically. It’s the story of how the rebels acquired the plans for the infamous Death Star, but as it isn’t out yet I can only speculate how it’s going to stack up to the competition. I’m excited, to say the least.
The Force Awakens, Episode VII, released December of 2016 and it met and exceeded every single expectation I had for it. Was it basically the same plot as A New Hope? Yes. Do I care? No. It was amazing. The cast was expertly picked, the cameos from the old cast were wonderful to see, and it took everything that once (and still) filled my young self with joy and brought me back to the first time I ever saw Star Wars. There’s an experience you get from watching a new movie that you will never get from watching an old one, an inexplicable joy that runs through your veins, and I wish I could capture that feeling and give it justice. Force Awakens gave me this feeling.
Let’s not forget, too, the dozens of TV shows, video games, books, comics, and merchandise that Star Wars was responsible for bringing into the world. One of my favorite spinoffs was a multi-part movie that ran on Cartoon Network called Star Wars Clone Wars (not the similarly named animated TV show), which documented the events that occur between Episodes II and III. While the Clone Wars animated series accomplishes this same thing, it does things with the story I don’t like. I makes Anakin Skywalker “responsible” and “adult, ” two things that he was never described in the movies as being, as well as giving him an incredibly whiney apprentice whose sole purpose in the story is to provide conflict. Rebels, another spinoff on the Disney Channel, occurs somewhere around the time of Rogue One and focuses on a group of kids who decide to join the rebellion. I haven’t seen it so I can’t say much about it, but from what I have heard is that it is very, very targeted towards children, and I don’t blame them.
Star Wars was a cash cow for Fox and will continue to be for Disney, with so much merchandise being produced. Legos are possibly the most recognizable, but there are also products by Hasbro, like action figures and toy lightsabers, shoes manufactured by Vans, as well as dozens of dozens of generic items that use the Star Wars name.
All in all, I am very passionate about Star Wars. I grew up watching the originals time after time. I bought them on VHS because they looked cool (I don’t even have a VCR). I made a lightsaber in my shop class. I had almost every single Lego set when I still played with Legos. Everything that Disney is making now from the series excites me endlessly, and I am hopeful that the next movies coming out – be it the Star Wars Stories series or the continuation of the Saga – will take my breath away just like it did years ago, that very first time I watched it.