Star Wars: Return of the Star Wars

How our generation helped sustain the world’s most beloved franchise.

By Jacoby Bancroft, University of Nevada at Reno


I had a history teacher once who was obsessed with Star Wars.

He wore ties with Tie Fighters on them, played The Empire Strikes Back on May the 4th and had a giant cutout of Darth Vader in his classroom that he talked to when no one raised their hands to answer a question.

My entire class loved Star Wars, but we were all second-generation fans. We obviously weren’t around when the original trilogy unleashed its glorious brilliance to the world, and we were too young to understand the significance and the bitter disappointment that came with the second prequel trilogy.

My teacher often recounted the first time he saw Star Wars in theaters and how there was no other experience like it. He told us that although we could all be superfans now, we had missed out on the magic and wonder of seeing it from the very beginning.

But that all changes December 17th. When Star War: The Force Awakens blasts into theaters to kick-start an entirely new trilogy, for once this generation won’t be stuck playing catch up. This time, we’ll be standing beside the Day One fans to embark on this new adventure together.

And what an adventure it’s going to be. It’s been more than three years since Disney bought the rights to Star Wars for a whopping $4 billon and announced their plans for an entirely new trilogy.

It took some time to get their ducks in a row and plan out a worthy story, but now with The Force Awakens, Disney launches an ambitious film slate that plans to put a new Star Wars film in theaters every year for at least the next six years.

Disney’s level of preproduction is just insane. Right now, the plan is to have a new Episode every other year, with anthology films in between to stop fans from ripping each other apart in anticipation. All the films have directors locked down, with Disney recruiting a wide assortment of talented people to make their mark on the galaxy far, far away.

J.J. Abrams is of course directing The Force Awakens, which is beyond perfect. Disney needed someone who could both pay homage to what came before, while also crafting something entirely new. Abrams has proven he’s the master at this thanks to his rebooted Star Trek series and his throwback Super 8 film.

They also needed someone who could handle the millions of prying eyes that would ask questions about the film, and Abrams is famously tight-lipped when it comes to his projects.

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Seriously, it’s amazing how much Abrams was able to keep this project under wraps. Take Disney’s other massive franchise, The Avengers. Leading up to the second film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, it seemed like new spoilers were leaking left and right. By the time the movie was released, almost every hardcore fan had already pieced together the entire movie.

The complete opposite is true for The Force Awakens. Even though this is one of the most anticipated movies in years, we still don’t know exactly what the plot of this film is beyond the Sith are back and they seem pissed. It was a brilliant move picking Abrams because it doesn’t matter how little they tell audiences about the plot of the movie, everyone and their grandmother is still going to see it.

After The Force Awakens, things are going to start moving really fast. Next year brings Gareth Edwards’ (Godzilla) anthology film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It will tell the tale of the Rebel Alliance stealing the original Death Star plans that revealed its key weakness (as in, it showed how there was a small thermal exhaust port that blew up the ENTIRE thing if a laser was shot into it).

The year after that, Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) will take the reins from J.J. Abrams and write/direct Episode 8. Following that, Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street) will direct the next anthology film, the Han Solo origin story. After that, Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) will direct Episode 9.

The anthology film after that is rumored to be a Boba Fett origin story, and it did have Chronicle director Josh Trank at the helm, but after the disaster of his Fantastic Four film, Disney quickly fired him. Regardless, that’s an incredible amount of Star Wars films in a very short amount of time.

The amazing thing is that our generation made all of this possible.

Our continued fascination with the never-ending battle between the Jedi and the Sith helped keep the franchise alive. It kept Star Wars going after the Jar Jar Binks debacle and it helped the series survive Hayden Christiensen, the human wet blanket.

It’s not just the movies either. Our generation has vigorously supported the video games, books, board games, cartoons, etc., proving that Star Wars has a cross-promotional platform richer than any other franchise, something rival execs would do ungodly things to have. Star Wars isn’t just a movie series for a lot of young people, it’s an entire universe of material that never runs out of room to expand.

Even though the prequel trilogy was met with a lot of negativity, it still hasn’t stopped fans from making The Force Awakens into the most anticipated movie of the year. That’s not an exaggeration either.

Tickets went on sale 59 days in advance and in its first night, it easily skated by the previous record-holder, The Hunger Games, to sell the most tickets in a single day. It wasn’t even a close fight: The Force Awakens outsold The Hunger Games eight times over. There’s rumblings that the new Star Wars film has a chance to be the biggest movie of all time, and that’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

But, to play devil’s advocate for a second, there’s a chance that The Force Awakens is absolutely horrible. It could be cheesy, it could be boring, they could make Luke Skywalker evil or they could fail to capture the spirit of the original.

They could focus too hard on setting up this new story to sustain itself over the course of a new trilogy and forget to tell a compelling individual story (a problem I call Avenger-itis). Worst-case scenario, the movie is spectacularly average, meaning not a bad movie, but not necessarily a great movie.

This is the worst option because right now, expectations are so high that anything other than fantastic is bound to disappoint. Bad reviews won’t hurt the box office, but they might temper the interest of fans who desperately want to believe in the franchise again.

I was never one of those hardcore Star Wars fans. I haven’t read every single book, played every single game or even watched every single cartoon. Although I am a staunch defender that Han indeed shot first, I have difficulty remembering the names of all the planets and characters.

When the new trailer dropped online, I waited an entire day to watch it. Even then I still got goose bumps watching it and cheered out loud when good guy Finn and bad guy Kylo Ren were about to cross lightsabers.

What I mean by this is even if we’re not the biggest fans, Star Wars still holds a special place in a lot of hearts. There’s something magical about the universe that this generation especially responds to in a positive way.

There will never be another franchise that evokes such a strong response as Star Wars, and its gravitational pull draws in people who weren’t even interested in the first place, like the Death Star did to the Millennium Falcon in Episode Four.

We’re on the verge of the next big Star Wars phenomenon, and someday maybe we can tell our kids how special it was to see these films in theaters.