By Jacob Bretz
A black screen, quiet for a moment. Then suddenly, massive fanfare bursts in cacophonous glory. Golden-yellow words scream across the screen: STAR WARS. It is 1999 and there has not been a Star Wars movie in over 15 years. Fans poured out in droves only a few short months earlier to catch a glimpse of "The Phantom Menace" trailer showing in theaters near them. Geeks bought all of the early access merchandise, re-watched the original trilogy, and read every Star Wars novel they could find. After all of their patience, all of their dedication, fans finally received what they had been waiting for. But all was not well.
"The Phantom Menace" is widely regarded to be one of the greatest disappointments in cinematic history. Rather than the incredible wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, viewers suffered the unlimited buffoonery of Jar-Jar Binks. Rather than the promised epic origin story of Darth Vader—perhaps the most iconic villain of any movie franchise—die-hard Star Wars fans were rewarded with a half-hearted “yippee” from a young Anakin Skywalker. Rife with talk of midochlorians and intergalactic trade agreements, Star Wars appeared to lose much of its edge. Its grit was gone. In one blockbuster of a film, Star Wars went from the sexy space-western it was, to an overly produced, shiny cash-in. So after such a long wait, and an even bigger disappointment, the question remains: are we going to fall for the same trick?
Star Wars VII: "The Force Awakens" hits theaters in the United States on Dec. 18 of this year. That gives viewers only a few weeks to adjust their expectations for the film. Star Wars has meant so much to so many people across the world. There are bands devoted entirely to Star Wars lyrical themes, cosplayers consistently choose characters from the series to imitate, and my own uncle even skipped his senior prom to see "The Empire Strikes Back." With this constant stream of love pouring into the franchise, why do I keep looking for a knife embedded between my C5 and C4 vertebrae? Because this has happened before.
Always, fans are promised a bigger, better and truer Star Wars. Yet every installment in the Star Wars universe has offered only a bigger letdown. Does anyone fondly remember the blossoming romance between Anakin and Padme in "Attack of the Clones"? No. Not a single person looks back smiling on lines such as “I don't like sand. It's coarse and irritating and it gets everywhere. Everything here is soft and smooth,” or “I killed them. I killed them all. They’re dead. Every single one of them. And not just them, but the women and the children too. They’re animals and I slaughtered them like animals. I HATE THEM.” That is because George Lucas elected to write these scenes. Lucas is a great storyteller and a fine director, but his dry dialogue ruined most of the prequel trilogy.
The first time I watched the teaser trailer for "The Force Awakens," I wept. Not because of the fear that Lucasfilms would send us another crap show of racist caricatures, but because of the hope I had. Of course, in the back of my mind I remembered Jar-Jar, I remembered the nest full of Gundarks, but I brushed those worries aside. Seeing the Millennium Falcon tear across the dune-riddled desert transported viewers back in time. Adults suddenly were four years old again. Reaction videos were posted to every corner of the internet. Everyone seemed optimistic, like they were 16 years ago.
That optimism may be a product of time. Perhaps the wound of the prequels has healed somewhat. But I think the blame can be laid on change. Most science fiction fans have seen the old Star Trek movies, beloved in their own way. J.J. Abrams' remake of the Star Trek series generated billions of dollars of revenue and was met relatively well critically. Sure, there are issues with this new series but they are a bunch of "Citizen Kane's" when compared to "Attack of the Clones." Abrams now sits in the driver’s seat for the new Star Wars film. Will he get all of us safely home? Or end the drive in a burning pile of debris at the bottom of a ravine? All in all, prospects for this new effort look bright but then again, don’t they always? Abrams has a great track record for direction and production; with credits on "Alias," "Lost," and the new Star Trek series. How will he fare handling the Holy Grail of science-fiction? One thing is for sure, this next installment must remain honest. Star Wars cannot revert back to the intergalactic diplomacy and space economists that plagued the prequels. With lovable characters such as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Skywalker making returns, there is hope for a version of the story closer to the original trilogy. That is what I, along with millions of fans worldwide, am hoping for. That is what will save this franchise from mediocrity.