Accompanying the announcement last week that Disney will acquire George Lucas’ Lucasfilm for more than $4 billion came the news that a new trilogy of Star Wars films will be produced and released, starting as early as 2015. Regardless of their content, Episodes VII-IX will almost certainly be dismissed by scores of adults, men and women in their 30s and 40s who have consistently rejected nearly all attempts to reinvigorate the franchise. (Indeed, the criticism has already begun.) As an avid fan of the franchise and the father of a young Star Wars devotee, I am on the other extreme—I can’t wait for the release of Episode VII. I fully expect Episodes VII-IX to be as entertaining and irresistible as the original trilogy—and believe they have the potential to be most enjoyable Star Wars movies yet.
George Lucas first disappointed Star Wars fans in 1999, when, giving in to demand, he produced the first of three prequels (Episodes I-III). Though successful at the box office and in terms of merchandising, the films were widely panned by adult fans on any number of grounds (from the quality of acting, to weak and possibly racist characters, to the use of CGI rather than the crude but beloved methods of animation available 20 or so years earlier).
I was one such critic. Born in 1977, the year Star Wars was released, I grew up on the original films and adored pretty much everything about the franchise. I (somehow) convinced my then-girlfriend (now wife) to see Episode I: The Phantom Menace the day it opened. I was appalled. Jar Jar Binks, a major character in the film, was embarrassingly silly and uncomfortably servile. The conflict underlying the film was a byzantine trade dispute that to this day I do not fully understand. The computer-generated animation of characters such as Watto (a small, flying creature with a tight fist and a vaguely Semitic nose) was not at all realistic, and the live-action actors sharing the screen with him looked every bit as though they were conversing with a character to be inserted later. I was so disgusted with Episode I that I didn’t bother to see Episodes II and III in the theater. I was in solidarity with my peers—Episodes I-III should never have been made.
Then, in January 2008, my son was born. Though I had been put off by the prequels, my love of the original trilogy still burned bright, and I was eager to introduce my son to Luke, Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Vader. By the age of 4 he had seen the original trilogy—the only trilogy that mattered—so many times that he longed for more. I reluctantly allowed him to watch Episodes I-III, and was surprised to discover that he liked them just as much as Episodes IV-VI, if not more so. As we further expanded our Star Wars Universe to include the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie (2008) and the animated TV series of the same name (currently airing on the Cartoon Network), it finally dawned on me that as a thirtysomething veteran of the original trilogy, I was no longer a member George Lucas’ target audience.
These movies are for children. Let me say that one more time: They are children’s movies, like Wreck It Ralph or Madagascar or Alvin and the Chipmunks. And George Lucas, to his great credit, speaks as well to children today as he did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In fact, it is possible that he has gotten better—in my experience, today’s kids seem to identify far more with Anakin than Luke Skywalker, with Jango Fett than his son Boba (a cult hero of the original trilogy), and with clone trooper Captain Rex than with Han Solo or Chewbacca.
I know what you’re thinking, fellow Star Wars die-hards: Today’s kids are just mistaken. As they mature, they will come to recognize the superiority of the films and characters from the original trilogy. I humbly submit that this position is just plain wrong. Having been inundated by everything Star Wars over the past three years, I now see clearly that the original trilogy is not nearly as good as we’d like to remember it—and Episodes I-III are on equal footing with, and at times surpass, their predecessors.