The First of Many:

A Critical and Cultural Investigation into the New Star Wars Trilogy and What it Can Teach Us about Long-Awaited Sequels

I purchased my tickets for The Last Jedi literally two months in advance and I was still only able to get a Saturday showing, with seats in the back row. Not a bad result, and yes, I understand that it’s Star Wars and so, yes, it is reasonable to presume that one will not be able to get tickets as quickly as those who deem themselves as hard-core, “original gangster” fans. Star Wars is the epitome of a franchise, with millions of loyal fans, some of whom were the same as age as I am now, 27, when the original film was first released in 1977. Whether it be the costumes, the collections, money, accolades, and influences, there is no doubt that these films are very, very special.

Their legacy is profound, the fan base intense, and the mythology accessible for those who might be unfamiliar with previous installments. Nevertheless, it is the creator of the franchise himself, George Lucas, who pledged that there would never be an Episode Seven. This was his response to the question which he was asked during press conferences, with several reporters inquiring as to whether he would tell additional stories set in the same universe. Yet, Mr. Lucas was adamant about ending the story where he did, and what followed was an expanded universe told through books, video games, comics, animated television series, and even led to the birth of a prequel trilogy that premiered in 1999. And, as the stories continued, and the universe became flooded with ideas, fans found the creation of a new trilogy inevitable, but questioned whether it could actually live up to the originals or if Mr. Lucas would step in and tell yet another story.

But it was in 2013 that everything changed, when Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise and who instantly proclaimed that they would be completing another trilogy, with a new writer, new director, and new cast, with the possible inclusion of a few familiar faces. Most were ecstatic, some were shocked, and other people, people like myself, were indifferent about the whole idea. I was distracted by the idea of there being other films, because with more films comes a huge risk, a risk that, in my opinion, wasn’t really worth taking.

At the premiere of The Force Awakens, I remembered feeling ambivalent about the entire story. Granted, I did enjoy it, reveled in the fact that it was incredibly loyal to the original films, certainly more loyal than those that had come before. I liked the characters, enjoyed the story, exceptionally liked JJ Abrams’s vision for the film, and was intrigued to see where it would go in the films that followed. But, of all the aspects that I enjoyed, I was particularly taken with the notion that the creators, and actors, were not afraid to challenge what other people classified as the so-called rules of the series. It evident, from the inception, that the storytellers were not going to be beholden to the expanded universe, and were willing to take risks that were needed in order to make the franchise into something new and original.

I found myself putting my foot in my mouth, as it was I who believed that this entire endeavour was not a risk that was worth taking. Nevertheless, after watching The Force Awakens I found myself feeling flabbergasted while, at the same time, impressed, particularly when seeing Han Solo die, learning that things didn’t quite work out for Luke Skywalker in the way that he planned, and that Rey was the first female Jedi to be included in the films’ history. Not a bad start to what seemed like an impossible task, but what I learned from this, and what I assumed others did as well, was embracing the idea that nothing is untouchable, and this new Star Wars trilogy broke new ground for, not only the franchise to which it belonged to, but the realm of science fiction films as a whole.

Recently, Harrison Ford was required to try on another set of old clothes when he was featured in the sequel to what is considered an equally influential sci-fi film, Blade Runner. The long, long awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049, premiered in October and was welcomed by lukewarm box office results, but was hailed as a critical success, with some critics even going as far as to say it was superior to the original film. From what I can recall, however, few referred to The Force Awakens as “superior”. However, the potential for it to exceed such, I still believe, to be possible, and the impact has had on the industry, grand, because what happened three decades ago, is already happening.

There is no higher standard to match than Star Wars. There is no science fiction franchise more respected or more influential that Lucas famed masterpiece. But, building a trilogy that is just as respected is a seemingly impossible task, and yet, Abrams and the people at Disney decided to give it a shot, and by acting on this chance, their pursuit success, creates more rewards than if they succeeded. They have embraced this magnificent challenge and it has guided them towards something profound, something vast and incredible. And, I believe that this change was, in part due, to the fact that everyone attached to the new trilogy wanted to make a trilogy that honored the previous series, but acknowledged the reality that these new films needed to stand on their own.

They needed to tell their own story.

When this occurred, fans immediately ventured down a road that they never thought they would be taken along, the most prolific part of such is connected not to Kylo Ren and the murdering of Han Solo, or the introduction of Supreme Leader Snoke and the First Order, but the idea that the Jedi may not be as pure as we think, and that Luke Skywalker did not become the man that we all thought he, and the expanded universe, predicted he would become.

In the new Star Wars films, one thing is undoubtedly certain: this is not the world that we remember from Return of the Jedi. This is not going to go the way we think. This line is expressed emphatically by Luke Skywalker in official The Last Jedi trailer who, in the one that came before, also speaks a ground-breaking piece of dialogue whereby he says, “I only know one truth. The Jedi must end.” Upon hearing this, fans found themselves reeling with frustration, begging director, Rian Johnson, to provide more details about what Luke really means when he says this soon-to-be infamous piece of dialogue. There were so many questions coursing through viewers’ minds, and all of them were centered on the single idea: why would Luke Skywalker, a man who was responsible for preserving the Jedi, want them to end? What did this mean for the film, and, more importantly than this, what did it mean for the Jedi?

Were they too not what we expected?

All of these questions were valid, and yet all will not be answered until the movie is released. However, until then, there is one undeniable truth: there is no such thing as a dead franchise or a closed book. Granted, there are some books that I think should never be re-opened, but most of those stand outside of the realm of contemporary science-fiction. Even now, as I contemplate the vast gathering of films, novels, and television series, I cannot think of one too precious to be given a second look, a re-evaluation, or, dare I say, a reboot someday, in the future.

By Disney acquiring the Star Wars franchise, they committed what will be remembered as the boldest, most unprecedented act in all of cinematic history. They revaluated the precedent that there is no such thing as a closed door, not anymore, and the critical success of the franchise, combined with its financial gain, as well as the anticipated other films, there is one certain truth that has surfaced: you have to give the people what they ask for, even if what they ask for is difficult to deliver. And, for a series of this magnitude, lies a ceaseless parade of stories, a never-ending environment where nothing is beyond the grasp of real fans who will always desire more- more so long as it’s good.

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Jarrett Mazza is a writer and teacher living in Canada. He attended Wilfrid Laurier University and received an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in English and Contemporary Studies as well as a Bachelor of Education from the prestigious Schulich School of Education. He is now in the process of earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He has been fascinated by superheroes and stories for as long as he can remember and studied comic book writing and sequential storytelling from industry professionals Ty Templeton and Andy Schmidt. When he is not self-publishing his own comic books, he is working on his thesis novel, submitting short stories to publishers, obsessing about geek fandom, and looking for new things to read and write.

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