The Force Is Strong With Star Wars Once AgainPosted: April 25, 2015
Last year, I found myself very skeptical/uncertain about the prospects for Star Wars Episode VII, and wrote about it as such. While I dearly wanted and hoped for it to be good, I just felt like I didn’t know enough about it to form a definitive opinion. It’s amazing what 3 ½ minutes of new footage and minor story details can do for your state of mind, but I am as on board for this film as I’ve ever been and I fully expect it to be one of my favorites this year. But the rebirth of Star Wars in my soul hasn’t been limited just to my increasing hope for Force Awakens. Just in the last year the whole franchise has begun to redefine and refocus itself to wonderful results. While I loved the original Expanded Universe when I was younger, I’m very happy to see it start anew now, and even happier to see all of the ways that the Star Wars universe is being successfully explored
The beginning of Star Wars’ current cartoon groundswell goes back to Genndy Tartakovsky’s terrific shorts series release between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, which were gorgeously-animated masterclasses in short storytelling. This then led to Lucasfilms’ larger CGI series that I’ve found myself watching since last week, which not only expands the narrative of the films but also brings surprising amount of depth to what is ostensibly a children’s show. The show explored the lives of the clone troopers that in the films are relegated to anonymity, featured more personal looks at the various supporting Jedi and introduced the key new character of Ahsoka, a Jedi Padawan who Anakin is assigned to train. Through all of this, the show broaches topics like loyalty, trust, responsibility and the moral ambiguity of war and pacifism alike; very heady topics that, despite the very broad language the show uses, provide some welcome depth to the saga.
This sounds as if it’s being continued nicely in Clone Wars’ successor, Rebels, which explores the time between the first two trilogies. The newer show introduces a whole new group of heroes, ones that (for almost all of the first season apparently) have very little connection with any pre-established characters in the saga. This gives a real grassroots-level look at the dissent and action that would eventually culminate in the Original Trilogy, and provides a great collection of new heroes in the process. While next season seems to provide more direct connections to both Clone Wars and the Original Trilogy, this still feels mostly like its own, distinctive chapter of the saga that would be great even without the greater context of the Skywalker story. Of course I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show so far, but I really hope to catch up with it soon, and it sounds like it only gets better.
Of course, the animated efforts so far have yet to encompass the extraneous adventures of the Original Trilogy cast, which is where our old friends at Marvel come in. Since the start of this year, Marvel has regained the Star Wars license and has responded with some downright great stories right out of the gate. The main Star Wars series (written by Jason Aaron, illustrated by John Cassaday) is pitch-perfect, as the initial adventure captures the voices and energy of the original films so well, and strikes the exact right scale in the story it is telling. It’s not meaningless but also not so big it eclipses the events of the films, which is an important ingredient for success here. While it features everyone, it is driven primarily by Luke’s journey to become a Jedi without having any direct guidance, and developments in the recently-released issue #4 are very exciting on this level.
Meanwhile, Darth Vader (written by Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Salvador Larocca) accomplishes the nigh-impossible feat of telling a story about a villain without ruining the villain’s appeal or mystique. Here we see Vader, having lost face with the Emperor after the destruction of the Death Star, begin to plot against his master in secret, while privately searching for that pesky Force-strong pilot he encountered. Besides being a great parallel story to the main series, this seems like a great slow-build exploration of how Vader went from the intimidating second-string heavy of New Hope to the awe-inspiring dictatorial warlord of Empire Strikes Back. Furthermore, the series introduces an absurdly fun and subversive collection of allies for Vader that help keep the story lively: an intergalactic female Indiana Jones and homicidal Threepio and Artoo surrogates. These characters embody the wry sense of humor of the series, while Vader reminds us regularly how much of a badass he can be.
Finally, Princess Leia (written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Terry Dodson) does a great job of providing definition to an iconic character who has always been given the short shrift. As in Vader, it seems to suggest her arc from being the proud and symbolic royal we first meet to the ground-level front-line leader that we root for in the sequels. The series, which follows Leia as she rushes around the galaxy trying to save surviving Alderaanians from Imperial reprisals, gives her real agency and opportunity to define herself beyond being a symbol to the Rebellion. Also like in Vader, Leia gets a great partner in new character Evaan who is very different from Luke or Han, who has a shared background with Leia and sees her in a completely different light than her more well-known compatriots. As awesome as Leia has always been, this series makes her even more so. Soon we’ll get a Lando miniseries (from Charles Soule and Alex Maleev) and there’s also a series following Kanan from Rebels that takes place right at the end of the Prequel trilogy.
Not to be left out, the big screen will also see some intriguing expansions soon. Last weekend at Star Wars Celebration we finally got our first details about Star Wars: Rogue One, and it sounds like a great and distinctive addition to the cinematic mythos. It will apparently be the story of the Rebel soldiers and agents that initially stole the Death Star plans before passing them to Leia. It will be emphasizing the military side of Star Wars, and the regular grunts who sacrificed everything for the cause, which could bring the same depth and ambiguity on the film level that Clone Wars provided on the small screen. It also shouldn’t be lacking in scale thanks to the presence of director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) and justly so, as the theft of the Death Star plans would be a massive moment in the history of the Star Wars universe. And it looks like they’ll be populating this mission with some great talent, with Felicity Jones already locked in and Ben Mendolsohn, Riz Ahmed and Sam Clafin all potentially in the mix as well. This is exactly the sort of story that the newly-branded “Anthology” films should be: highlighting known moments and people in the history without feeling redundant to the main saga, or treating any of the main characters as more essential than any of the others. I’m very excited to see what else they have up their sleeve with these Anthology films, and what the possibilities are going forward.
And then of course, more than anything else, there’s The Force Awakens itself, which after two trailers looks downright beautiful. It’s not just that it looks “cool” or “badass” or whatever, though it has a lot of that. But there seems to be a real soul and energy to the moments in these trailers, more than many full-length films are able to muster. The chilling shot of Vader’s melted helmet, the sight of Leia (presumably) holding her father’s lightsaber, Han and Chewie’s triumphant return to the Falcon (again, presumably) and most of all for me, that simple but evocative shot of Daisy Ridley’s Rey holding her hand out to John Boyega’s Finn, an instinctual call to adventure that gives me goosebumps just to think about now. And the few other details that have dripped out from Celebration, the bits of definition that are beginning to present themselves, only affirm my faith that JJ Abrams and company are right on track, maintaining the heart of the franchise while evolving the world and the style of the films in awesome ways. Even with Age of Ultron about to come out, Force Awakens is now definitively the most anticipated movie for me through the rest of this year, and I have never been more excited for a new Star Wars movie than I am now.
And that applies to the whole franchise right now. I’ve loved Star Wars my whole life, with more certainty and focus than any other piece of pop culture I’ve ever seen. Right now, through every possible permutation, the Star Wars universe is stronger and more energized than I think I’ve ever seen it and the geek world should be better for it. After a few years of lapsed, removed appreciation, I’m in love with Star Wars all over again, and this time I don’t think anything will change that.