I’ve been thinking about Star Wars a lot lately. Last weekend my brother and I booked our tickets to see The Last Jedi, and between my tepid enthusiasm for that and the debacle that was Battlefront 2 last month, I’ve been reexamining my relationship with the franchise as a whole. When I was six years old and the little apple-cheeked incarnation of Satan, my mom took my best friend Tristan and I to see The Phantom Menace. I fell in love straight away and Tristan lent me the original trilogy on VHS. The universe of Star Wars has felt like a second home to me ever since, manifesting itself whenever I needed it in the form of movies, video games, toys, comics, board games, novels, and so on. It seemed to provide an almost limitless amount of entertainment. When my brother and I were little we would go for walks in the woods and the countryside and use sticks as lightsabers to fight against imaginary droids. When my teenage years came around, I would spend hours in my room devising self-insert fan fiction; I would write stories of my adventures that fitted in with the accepted canonical timeline and draw pictures of myself as a Sith Lord with my very own Star Destroyer-esque capital ship. I subscribed to the Official Star Wars Magazine and to date it’s the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to. And then, when I was 20 I realized that the franchise still had me by the bollocks because no sooner had I read on Facebook that all of my teenage wishes were coming true and they were making a sequel to Return of the Jedi than I found myself sprinting out my dorm room and into Aaron’s to gush about the news.
But this post isn’t just about my relationship with Star Wars. I’m interested in what it means to all of you. It’s trendy to hate on the Prequel movies, but I feel like a little perspective is needed when doing so. The Phantom Menace, as a children’s movie, is absolutely perfect. The soundtrack is excellent and it has the best choreography of any lightsaber fight in the franchise. If you’re going into the film with the expectation of Citizen Kane in Space, then you are bound to be let down. Characters like Boss Nass and Sebulba are whacky and over-the-top, but in the context of a kids’ film they are right at home. As much as I try to forget that Jar Jar Binks exists as a part of Star Wars, I can’t deny that when I was a kid I was laughing along with every other little nose-picker in the movie theater. And in terms of pacing, the movie is great and entertaining. Attack of the Clones is often regarded with disdain for its romantic focus, but at least it’s original- which is more than I can say for The Force Awakens. I remember seeing it twice in the cinema when I was nine years old, and I remember appreciating the slightly more mature tone it had compared to its predecessor. Despite its flaws, it’s always been my favorite of the Prequel movies because it’s the only Star Wars movie that’s a thriller. It starts out like a noir full of intrigue and mystery, and builds nicely towards the best battle in the trilogy. I consider Revenge of the Sith to be the worst film of the franchise, or at least the most poorly-executed. The dialogue was at its absolute worst, the plot was a mess utterly without the structure or pace of the first two movies, and the genuinely sinister space warlock that was the Palpatine of Return of the Jedi was reduced to a shrieking Saturday morning cartoon villain.
I can be both apologetically soft and unreasonably hard on the Prequels, depending on what day of the week it is. But I cherish that my relationship to each of the movies is my own and that it belongs to me- and I accept that it means something different to me now than it did to me as a child. And that’s the message I want to get across in this post- firstly that whatever your opinions on Star Wars are, they are valid, and secondly that it’s always good to have a little perspective. The Phantom Menace resonated with me as a kid, so to disparage it so wholly at this point feels like a betrayal of my younger self. It’s telling that I liked Rogue One so much, because it’s probably the darkest Star Wars movie yet- and in the context of being an adult at the time of watching it, its more nuanced approach appealed to my changed tastes. We got to see Rebel extremists, willing to commit immoral acts in order to bring down the Empire.
My favorite Star Wars stories are ones that don’t take place in the movies at all. The Expanded Universe is full of books and video games that resonate with me on a much deeper level than the movies ever have. To me, Star Wars is a balancing act- something that serves as both a strength and a weakness to the franchise. There’s something for everyone- the movies for families, the cartoons for kids, and the novels for angsty teenagers with a vitamin D deficiency. The problem is that the movies- forever the centerpiece of the franchise- will never fully satisfy each subset. Nothing else in the franchise has come anywhere near as close to the darkness and philosophical complexity that is Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords– which tackles the very nature of the force and turns its status as a magical all-purpose problem-solver into an interesting debate on individualism and free will. But as much as I love it, it’s not for everyone. Many people won’t enjoy it because it pushes the limits of what Star Wars can be, which, if pushed any further, would simply be better suited as its own IP. But it’s important because it’s proof that there is room in the Star Wars universe for more nuanced and original narratives. The worrying tone that Disney set with the Sequel trilogy highlighted the company’s lack of faith in the Star Wars universe to go somewhere new. Don’t get me wrong, as a movie I think The Force Awakens is much better written and acted than the Prequels, but it’s let down by the fact that it’s a reimagining of A New Hope. I like Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, but the folks over at Disney are wasting their potential on storylines with no ambition.
Of course, I’d love for some of the future Star Wars movies and the planned live-action TV series to go somewhere really different. The Expanded Universe has some of the most nuanced characters in Star Wars history; the likes of Thrawn, Ulic Qel-Droma, and Kyle Katarn are crying out for a gritty, Game of Thrones-style HBO drama series- but I’m not so convinced we’ll get it. If you’re like me and you will always see the books of the EU as the true Star Wars timeline, then that’s OK. Like I said before, Star Wars belongs to each of us and no one should be judged for whatever version of it they choose to enjoy. It doesn’t bother me that the Sequel movies are the officially licensed canon. I can still enjoy them as well as all the books that depict a post-Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker reinventing the millennia-old Jedi Code in order to have hot sweaty sex with a curvaceous, red-headed Imperial assassin. Ahem. Sorry, lost my train of thought for a second. Ultimately, my point is that arguing about “canon” is as sterile a debate as it is embarrassing. You can’t say “Oh, but the events of the EU never happened”, because none of it actually happened. You’re arguing over events that aren’t real and never will be. All one has to do is look upon the many contradictory timelines of super hero comics and movies, or the way the new Star Trek movies take place in an alternate universe. Neither the events of The Force Awakens or the EU are real because none of it is real. Star Wars was created for us to enjoy, so it’s only as real as you want it to be, and only relevant for as long as you enjoy it. Don’t waste your time getting in a pathetic debate with nerds on the internet when you could be sat on a beach somewhere reading RA Salvatore’s Vector Prime…or at least sat in a dark room eating Funyans and playing through user-created mods for Knights of the Old Republic on Steam…