In 1977, no one could have predicted the success of the Star Wars franchise. No one could have imagined that, almost forty years later, they would be reviving the movies for the their seventh episode – and third trilogy – and that the original cast members would be making an appearance.
I’ve been to see The Force Awakens, and the question remains: did we need it?
Full disclosure: I really enjoyed the movie. I thought it was a lot of fun. I loved that the traditions of the original movies have remained in place, from the scrolling text to the screen wipes, to beginning with a camera pan to the first planet of interest. All of that was greatly appreciated.
It does not answer the question. When we left Luke, Leia and Han – and all the other assorted characters in the original trilogy – we were given a sense of closure. There was peace in the galaxy. Anakin Skywalker was at peace. Leia and Han could begin their relationship in earnest in the knowledge that Luke was Leia’s brother – so that was a no-go area. Even if she did already kiss him to make Han jealous.
It would have been the perfect happy ending, if not for a little thing called the Expanded Universe. Between the countless books, various comic books, games and follow up animated television shows, Star Wars did not end with Return of the Jedi. Far from it.
With the first trailer of The Force Awakens, fans began putting together theories over the identities of the only-named characters we’d been introduced to – Rey, and Kylo Ren. I won’t give anything away. While a great number of people have already seen the movie, it has only been out a few days at the time of writing. But the mention duo are important for this discussion. It was who they might be that made the story appeal to so many fans so much. People needed to know if their suspicions were true, and, if they were, what was going on with these two characters.
(If you’re curious, and you’ve already seen the movie, USA Today kindly put together a list of fan theories that covers this issue. Otherwise, I’d leave it be for now. Some people have taken it upon themselves to ruin Google searches for the movie already.)
The simple fact is, simply by releasing a trailer, they’ve garnered the attention of the fans. In the removal of the canonical state of the Star Wars novels, Disney ensured that whatever story they chose to tell would not be directly influenced by the expanded universe, which filled in the gaps before, during and beyond the scope of the pre-existing movies. The end result is that, for the regular fan who doesn’t have access to all of that information on the host of characters explored in the universe, there are new stories to be told.
It isn’t certain that we really needed to have this movie exist, except that – now – it might offer younger cinema fans the opportunity to know and love the franchise in the same way people of generations before them did. The original trilogy might not have lived on for younger audiences the way it has done so far. Even the awful arrival of Jar Jar Binks into the franchise served the purpose of giving the story another episode, another opportunity to appear in the public sphere.
If, generally speaking, the third trilogy fails to capture and retain public interest, it can still serve the purpose of re-introducing Star Wars into the lives of so many people. We might not need the new story, but for the originals to survive, we do need the new fans. At least The Force Awakens achieved that much.