Ode to Star Wars

The official trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi will be coming out tomorrow.

We pretty much know this for fact, most likely between 12 and 12:30pm EST, at the conclusion of Rian Johnson’s panel discussion at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando. Every Star Wars mega-fan around the globe waits like it’s Christmas Eve.

Tomorrow, my state of mind could just as likely be overwhelmed in feverish joy as incredibly disappointed. If you know me in real life, you’ve probably heard my complex emotional ramblings about the franchise and what it’s meant to my life. I won’t repeat them comprehensively here. I should note that I think Episode VIII will be the series’ most important film yet. But before it drops and we see that first footage, I wanted to reflect on some absolutely good things the series has brought in the last 40 years that helped make it not only the world’s biggest franchise, but such a meaningful one.

Regardless of the newest film’s good/bad tone, or the quality of any given installment in the series, Star Wars gave me a childhood full of adventure. I got fed some from other influences. I played a lot of video games–Mario was a big one; I liked Buzz Lightyear, Micky and Daffy Duck, and books like the Chronicles of Narnia. But there was nothing like Star Wars. We had six lightsaber toys in our house, not including the build-your-own lightsaber, a ton of books and games from the Expanded Universe, the 2003 Animated Clone Wars Series from Cartoon Network, posters, and a giant Yoda cardboard Standup in our playroom. Actually we had two. I started my own Jedi Academy and trained all the other kids in my family to avoid the Dark Side.

I remember going to see Revenge of the Sith in theatres opening weekend. I distinctly remember being in middle school, and reading about the rumored “Sequel Trilogy,” and hearing that it would probably never be made, because the original Trio would be too old to star in it. I remember when the CGI Clone Wars movie came out, and being so disappointed. I started focusing on the negative qualities of the prequels, and made fun of George Lucas’s directing choices, even though these were the movies that made me most excited.

I think all things considered, Episode II: Attack of the Clones has some great and subtle meditations on the underside of pride and the nature of abuse. Yoda’s insistence on a knight’s order of neutrality, and his need to keep his head in the sand led to the rise of a shadow insurgent (or Phantom Menace) in the government right next door. I love the epic political grandstanding of the prequels, and how George Lucas relentlessly chased down all the economic and nationalistic implications of the Republic’s downfall and brought them to life. The philosophy of the prequels that Fear leads to Anger, which leads to Hate, to Suffering, is somewhat profound. Though the movies are filtered through the lens of swordfighting and magic, in the domestic sphere Anakin’s character is painted quite thoroughly as a hurt person who hurts people. When you stop critiquing, and just sit back and enjoy them for what they are, every Star Wars movie has brought some sense of wonder and provoked moral thought.

I may have watched the “The Force Awakens” trailer more times than any other preview for a movie. In particular, the second one which starts on a wrecked Imperial Star Destroyer and ends on Han Solo saying “Chewie, We’re Home” is a masterpiece of modern advertising. It was released a whole year in advance and was complete with unused footage, and doused in J.J. Abram’s “mystery box” metaphor and fanservice in the best way. It sold the whole world on a feeling–that this movie would return them to the magic of better times.

For me, Star Wars Episode 7 represented the completion of a promise, which was that one day, the hero Luke Skywalker would grow into a Jedi Master and train new young Jedi of his own. After the movie was announced, I waited three years in anticipation of seeing this childhood dream come to life on the big screen. I didn’t really care how good it was. Even if it wasn’t exactly how I imagined it, at least I would have the chance to see what one of my favorite characters had been up to after all this time. I became even more excited when so much of the advertising mysteriously had Luke missing. Where was he? What was the big reveal? Imagine my emotion when I realized, at the end of the film, that Luke would not say even a single word in the movie. It felt like I had been slapped with a 2×4. It slowly dawned on me that I would have to wait two more years to see how that cliffhanger resolved. I felt very betrayed and led on by what seemed like a cash grab to get me to come back to see Episode VIII. I wondered how the creators had missed something so seemingly obvious as reuniting the original trio onscreen.

But I can’t deny I am happy that Star Wars is back in the cultural mind again. I’m happy that people are making new material–TV Shows, books, comics, toys, and games–and that I have a reason to dig through the huge mythos of Star Wars when I’m not physically watching a new movie. Seeing all the different writers who have fleshed out different parts of the franchise and their creativity is inspiring.

I believe it’s incredibly important to always remember that when Disney brought back Star Wars, they made the leading character a woman. It’s easy to forget how risky a move this was when it happened. Though it’s true that all the new leads are good looking, Disney cast a woman, a black guy, and a Hispanic guy as the new trio, which is an insanely firm and progressive stance, considering how white and male-centric the Star Wars universe has always been. There was a chance that there would be backlash that would hurt the investment. I think this is why it’s so important that Rey’s arc is done right and has emotional resonance, though, because this move may be the sequel series’ greatest achievement on its own.

Sure, I’m going to Ep. 8 to see Luke. But it has also been a blast to watch Daisy Ridley mature in confidence as an actor behind the scenes, parallel to her character’s training in the films. The implication is that fans of Star Wars in the 70s, 2000s, and today could all be inspired by a young woman, regardless of their gender or age. I’m watching the series for the first time as an adult, but thanks to Rey, there are now young girls who can get into Star Wars the same way I did when I was a kid. And there are young boys who are being exposed to the radical idea that cool stories can be told about women, and there’s nothing shameful about enjoying them.

I have some very specific hopes for the new movie. In particular, I want to know whether Luke’s encounter with Palpatine and Vader at the end of the original movies represented his failure or success in controlling the impatience and anger that Yoda clearly said would drive him to become “an agent of evil.”

But there are many strong, lasting themes in Star Wars. By setting the prequels through the perspective of Anakin, Lucas made the films ultimately about Redemption. By revealing Vader as Luke’s father, the films became a family drama. Rian Johnson has said some of his influences for The Last Jedi are Westerns, which romanticize both those elements. The classic Western, like Star Wars, is a callback to times “long ago” in a place “far, far away,” in a wilderness where everyone is out for themselves and mysterious dangers could be around every corner.

If it’s not Johnson who will bring back that sense of exploration, risk, adventure, and character-based storytelling, it will be someone else. Luke Skywalker or not, it is in the blood of the franchise. No matter what the world sees concerning “The Last Jedi” tomorrow, or how I feel about it, I don’t think the handprints that Star Wars has left in its path will ever truly die out.

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