I saw the new Star Wars movie today. It is hard to compare the new series to the old, because they are doing such different things in terms of social effects and emotional reaction. The first three movies changed cinema in some fundamental ways, and were a great thrill ride to boot. They were trailblazers, going where no one has gone before (and yes, I know I am mixing taglines of different franchises here — what can I say, I’m an anarchist). The three that followed were garbage, pure and simple, and we will speak no more of them.
The current trilogy has a whole different set of goals. Anyone comparing them directly to the first is going to find them disappointing, and whether they realize it or not, I believe that this is largely due to the fact that the new movies are not designed as life-changing experiences. They are meant to carry the torch, to provide a fun movie, and to sell ancillaries (toys, T-shirts, lunchboxes, iPhone cases, brand-licensed contraceptives, etc.).
And they are succeeding.
Episode VII was a thoroughly competent movie, which almost could not fail to carry the torch of the original Star Wars, given that it followed the exact same story beat for beat, up to and including the MacGuffin of the Death Star, the child who comes from nothing but carries with her extraordinary powers, the swashbuckling rogue who doesn’t obey orders but always manages to be in the right place at the right time to do the noble thing, and the series regulars like C-3PO and Chewbacca and the like. It was a good movie. Nothing extraordinary, but nothing disappointing, either – unless you count the lack of anything extraordinary at something disappointing, in which case, again, you are probably looking for the same effect of the original Star Wars and are doomed to disappointment because that will never be replicated. Other movies may change cinema, may have societal impact on a grand scale, may sell ancillaries – one must look no further than the Harry Potter series to see exactly that kind of event. But the original Star Wars’ effects will never be duplicated, and to try and do so would be foolish. Disney is not foolish, they are not trying to do so. They are just trying to keep on with what Star Wars has become.
This is inherently safer, and the movies that result almost necessarily will be blander. That is why I much preferred Rogue One to Episode VII (a sign of its middle of the road approach being that I enjoyed it very much, but can never quite manage to remember its name without really putting thought into it). Because Rogue One was its own animal, part of the Star Wars universe but necessarily separated from it and many fundamental ways, it was free to do different things and was its own reward. I also clapped out loud when it ended the way it did — which ending I will not spoil for those of you who have not seen it, but which was quite a bold move for a family-oriented Producer and distributor like Disney.
Which brings us to Episode VIII, The Last Jedi. Like episode seven, It shared many story beats with its progenitors. In this case, I would argue it mostly moves to the structure and themes of The Empire Strikes Back, which is to its benefits since Empire was the best of the Star Wars movies. But unlike Episode VII, which felt like a Conscious attempt to replicate the structure and appeal of the first Star Wars, The Last Jedi felt much more like an homage, or perhaps even a love letter of sorts sent from writers and directors of today back to those children we were the first time we saw Star Wars, either upon its real original release, or later Via VHS, DVD, or the money-grabbing Millennial tradition of “an all-new, remastered re-release with never-before-seen footage!” It was less heavy-hundred, better-directed, and much more well-written then it’s predecessor in the Star Wars timeline. And its sense of fun was wonderfully displayed, from the excellent comedic turn of our new Rogue, to the (much better then Ewoks cute little sidekick/animals, to the wonderful nods to 1970s culture (anyone else spot the rebels playing Battleship?).
All this to say, I had a great time. It was not the original Star Wars, but it was not intended to be, it never could be, and it was far better off not attempting to be that movie.
I enjoyed it enough – laughing and clapping – that the man in front of me turned around and told me to quiet down, to which I simply responded, “no.“ He told me he would have me “ejected from the theater,“ which I simply responded to with a thumbs up, because theaters will not even toss people for answering their phones in the middle I have the movie, let alone simply laughing loud, clapping hard, and cheering wildly while witnessing a torch perfectly passed in a race long enjoyed.