A long time ago, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away…Star Wars had magic. The moment John Williams’ iconic score burst onto the screen, accompanied by the words ‘Star Wars,’ so did your excitement. The Star Wars main title theme exuded excitement and the promise of adventure. If nothing else, the Main Title theme told us that what we were about to experience was epic and spectacular.
But then the 21st century happened. Something went wrong. Franchises became a thing, and their maintenance became more important than the movies themselves. The fact that George Lucas’s prequels were terrible was just the tip of the lightsaber. Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars meant everyone’s favorite childhood story was in the hands of a corporation. And, as time went on, it became clear the Powers-That-Be were more interested in pleasing audiences than doing something new. Disney promised a movie a year and several miniseries’ alongside that. Like a form of bacterial asexual reproduction, Star Wars expanded very suddenly and simultaneously.
And suddenly, the Star Wars movie releases didn’t quite feel as eventful – or magical- as they once had been.
A Dark Time for the Force
A lot of bad things can be said of George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. Clunky dialogue-filled, overproduced toy commercials that struggle to find a voice beneath their flashy effects would be an accurate summation. George Lucas would constantly defend his works as being “kids’ movies” and decry critics as mean adults taking his art too seriously.
And look, to be fair, Lucas hasn’t been shy in stating that the ’50s kids’ serials Flash Gordon were a huge inspiration behind Star Wars. But here’s the thing – dubbing your work a ‘kids’ movie’ isn’t a good excuse for it to be terrible. As Walt Disney famously opined, “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are just kids grown up, anyway”. There has to be something of substance in your film that appeals to adults, not just the children. The adults, after all, are the ones who pay for the movie ticket.
Despite some graceful performances by Ewan McGregor and John Williams’ excellently operatic soundtrack, the movies suffered from an overabundance of CGI effects, a lack of cohesive vision, and overall bad writing. And, after 2005’s prequel-finisher Revenge of the Sith, Lucas would never make another Star Wars movie again. However, Disney would – and Star Wars was now a bad example of corporately-controlled art.
The Disney Era
If one good thing can be said of George Lucas’s prequels, it’s this. The movies feel like the product of one mind, for better or worse. At the end of the day, Star Wars was Lucas’s baby, and he solely dictated the prequel’s choices instead of the committee. That’s how much power Lucas had.
But when the franchise was handed over to Disney, things changed. No longer was Star Wars the product of an author. Rather, it became the product of committee. And this change has produced even more mixed results. The movies felt less personable and were designed more as food to feed nostalgia-hungry fans. Great movies are at least good at temporarily making you forget that this is their purpose – because the story itself is a quality all of its own.
However, the Disney trilogy shows us how bad this Star Wars era is. The Force Awakens was a tit-for-that remake of A New Hope, boasting the same key elements (chosen one, hotshot pilot, evil empire (First Order), and a rebel alliance…er, sorry, resistance are all present). Disney, to their credit, tried something different with the Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi, but after its divisive content, tried to please everybody with Rise of Skywalker. The latter film ended up feeling like a hollow and lazily-conceived product as a result.
Fall of Skywalker
However, the unnecessary continuation of the Skywalker saga is just the start. After the Box Office disappointment of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Disney gave up on their Star-Wars-film-a-year plan and returned to the drawing board. The drawing board, in turn, turned them onto the streaming scene.
Jon Favreau’s work on The Mandalorian has earned critical acclaim, with the show enjoying incredible success (sadly marred by petty social media disputes). However, The Book of Boba Fett wasn’t as well-received and killed more Star Wars magic by making a previously mysterious and intimidating character into a boring protagonist. Disney, of course, made sure to include gratuitous cameos of Luke Skywalker and more in a soulless bid to please fans.
Sadly, fan-pleasing and nostalgia-baiting seem to be Disney’s main game at the moment. Colin Trevorrow’s original and compelling Episode IX script was rejected before he parted ways with Disney, eventually resulting in the J.J. Abrams-directed version where Emperor Palpatine is hastily reintroduced as the head villain. When Directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller disagreed with Disney’s micro-managing style and their obsession with sticking closely to Lawrence Kasdan’s script, they left the project in frustration. Ron Howard, who loyally directed George Lucas’s ’80s fantasy flick Willow, took the helm and delivered the movie Disney wanted.
A New Hope is Too Late
As is the case with any franchise, Star Wars is victim to oversaturation. Disney has turned Star Wars into a ceaseless production machine of movies and shows. The cries of the creatives are buried underneath the demands of clueless executives. And as such, the magic that kids and adults felt upon seeing Star Wars is no longer there.
Even before that, the series suffered from an uncontrollable George Lucas. While the movies did – to their credit – try to introduce new concepts and characters to the Star Wars universe, Lucas desperately needed a story/script editor and special effects advisor. No, I’m not suggesting he needed micromanagement – rather, he should’ve been more open to collaboration to produce better films.
Movies, like most mythology, should teach us important lessons while offering escapism and relief from our everyday anxieties. And yet, when we watch any Star Wars movie since 1999, we see the cold and inescapable reality of corporate greed stare us back. This also gives birth to another disturbing reality – the original Star Wars trilogy is still considered the best of the franchise after decades of existence. And we are all still waiting for new entries to surpass them.
What do you think? Do you agree that Star Wars has lost its magic – or is the spark still there? Maybe we will see it in Obi-Wan Kenobi. The latest upcoming Star Wars show releasing on Disney Plus on May 27, 2022.