Earlier this month it was announced that there will be two new programs for television created from the Star Wars universe. One will be “The Clone Wars,” which will be a CGI animated full-length film on Cartoon Network which will cover events between “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”; the other is an as-yet unnamed series described in the New York Post as “Deadwood” meets “The Sopranos” in outer space.
The first Star Wars movie was, as we all know, but one fraction of the story George Lucas says he wanted to tell, yet it was a completely satisfactory moviegoing experience. It took us into a completely new universe that was at once strange and familiar at the same time. The story had a beginning, a middle, and an end, a backstory, a broader universe, and a conclusion and resolution. It did have an open ending, unfinished business, but one could write one's own ending. The foreground conflict had been completed.
The second movie continued the story and developed the characters that we had grown attached to in the first movie. It took us to new places and we learned new things about the characters and the universe in which they lived. But it was not the end of the story. The conclusion, as it were, was merely the set up for the climax to the greater story arc, which would come in the next film.
The third (and some thought, the last) film wrapped up the great drama, but gave us very little that was new. It made a few choices, answered some questions, but for all the sound and fury, thrill and excitement, it was really little more than a juiced up rehash of all the elements that made the first movie so new and fresh.
Yeas passed, and the technology of film making improved. Star Wars had become a cultural phenomenon that redirected popular culture. Yet eventually there were adults who had not been born when the first movie was released. A “special edition” of the Original Trilogy” was created, in which Lucas allegedly gave us the Film He Always Wanted to Make. But part of the brilliance of the first film was how he had made so much of so little. Many of the additions to the original film were quite unnecessary.
Finally, Lucas decided to tell the backstory. Sure it what we all wanted to see, but would it still have the magic?
Sadly, no. Was it the dependence on CGI? Was it that George had lost his touch for writing and directing? Was it the political incorrectness and sheer annoyingness of Jar-Jar Binks? I'll let everybody decide for themselves. The succeeding films continued to give us more lightsaber fights, more space dogfights, more alien races, and so much CGI that a rumor was spread that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would categorize it as an “animated” film.
This does not even take into account the comic books, comic strips, radio show, novels, fan fiction, Ewok adventures, Droid cartoons, and the notorious and infamous “Holiday Special.” Let's face it: we loved that original movie so much we just couldn't get enough. Fortunately the Star Wars franchise shattered Harlan Ellison's rule: less than 90% of it was crap.
So now there is almost no more room for debate, or creativity with regards to the Star Wars universe. We no longer have the freedom to wonder what made Luke's father go bad, who is that “other hope,” what happened to the Empire after the Death Star went kablooey, or even how one measures The Force. All these questions have been answered. The first movie was so brilliant for giving all these little hints and little mysteries, and we all could create our own little answers to all those question, much like the way that one would imagine the face of someone described in a book.
But lets face it, we want to see more stormtroopers in white plastic armor. We want to see what the Clone Wars were all about. We want to see a young, virile Obi-Wan face off against the future Darth Vader. We want to see Luke and Leia's parents. We want to see And we want to see our favorite badass with a purple lightsaber. Look at the prequel trilogy again. Doesn't it show you all those things you wish you had seen in the original trilogy, they just didn't have the budget to give you?
We were lucky with that first movie. It is not easy to make a perfect fantasy adventure movie, as you can tell by looking at “Battle Beyond the Stars,” “Deathstalker,” “The Sword and the Sorcerer,” “Star Crash,” even the various versions and chapters of “The Lord of the Rings.” Sometimes the best we can hope for is that the film is well produced and enables us to forget our world for a while. And instead of having to watch that same movie over and over again, we now have a large and ever-growing library of adventures in that universe, so by having established a universe we are familiar with, we can explore further concepts in that universe. We don't have to create a whole new universe for every new story.
So is it necessary to have a never-ending, ever developing universe based on a modestly produced but wildly successful sci-fi fantasy film from the 1970's? No, but it sure makes life more pleasant.