The Series Project: Star Wars (Part 3)
If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today, you’d better go in disguise. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic.
There was a time in the film industry, before 1977, when merchandising rights for a film (that is, toy tie-ins and other similar licensing rights) were called “garbage rights.” Sure a movie could make a little money off of toys and other marketing deals, but it was rarely anything substantial, and studios felt that such deals were so insignificant that they openly referred to them as garbage. Many people back in the 1970s thought that filmmaker George Lucas was a little bit nutty for fighting to retain the garbage rights to his Star Wars franchise, which was, I must perhaps clarify, not a sure thing by any stretch. One of the many things that was sparked by the success of Star Wars back in the ’70s was the notion that marketing, toy-making, and other similar kiddie-friendlies were actually something of financial merit. Star Wars toys were so bloody popular in 1977 that the toy companies could not meet demand. They were reduced to selling empty boxes to kids, instructing them to fill them later with the toys that would eventually come to them.
Star Wars toys are still popular today. As are ancillary novels, costumes, models, piggy banks, t-shirts, sneakers, ice cream cakes, and Hallmark Christmas tree ornaments. The notion of popular Star Wars toys also set the unfortunate precedent for all kid-friendly blockbusters to come. No blockbuster these days – or at least the ones rated PG or PG-13 – would dare hit theaters without first ensuring a money-making product tie-in of some kind. A sweepstakes, a toy, a collector’s cup, a Jamba Juice® product, or a particularly obscene Denny’s menu. Sometimes a blockbuster film will feel like it came from a creative place; like it was actually borne of a creative mind trying to tell a new or interesting story. But mostly you’ll find that blockbuster films, especially in recent years, are covered with the stink of marketing. Many movies don’t feel like movies anymore. They feel like business decisions. It’s easy for critics and audiences to resent an otherwise harmless summer entertainment for feeling like a money-making endeavor rather than an actual movie. The marketing machine has become so insidious, especially toward children, that $200 million movies often feel like ads for themselves rather than proper movies.
I think this is why so many Star Wars fans hate Ewoks.
Well, I’m not sure if it’s still outward hatred, or if it’s been reduced over the years to a stale pop culture resentment. An Ewok, for the uninitiated, is a species of forest-dwelling teddy bear that is native to an unnamed moon, orbiting the planet of Endor. They are usually three to four feet tall, wear leather hoods, and speak in a cute little chittering patois. In the Star Wars movies, Ewoks are played by little person actors in fur suits. They are completely nonthreatening, but are capable of heroically violent acts. They are so very cute and cuddly, these little Ewoks, that their toy marketability was readily apparent even to the kids they were being marketed to. Ewoks were not Star Wars characters, many felt, but toys. Cute, cuddly toys for the kiddies.
Many also resented the Ewoks for altering the tone of the Star Wars series from “serious” to something much more kid-friendly. I have been, if I may reiterate at this point, spending the last few weeks watching and commenting on all of the Star Wars films, in specific episodic order, as part of The Series Project here on CraveOnline. The first week, I covered The Phantom Menace through Revenge of the Sith. The second week, I somehow involved The Star Wars Holiday Special, and I feel like it will take a great many months to recover properly. In this third and final week, you and I, dear reader, will be celebrating an Ewok-Palooza, as I will cover the three films to heavily feature Ewoks, including Return of the Jedi and two made-for-TV movies that center very heavily on Ewoks. I will be explore the phenomenon of the Ewoks, and their influence on the series at large, and I’ll even give a brief word on their short-lived animated TV series from 1985. Indeed, let me start there. Since I’ve been tackling these films in episode order (that is; by the chronology from within the series), and the TV show (and its sister) takes place in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Lets take a very, very brief look at…
Star Wars: Ewoks (1985 – 1986) & Droids (1985-1986)
You can find episodes of “Ewoks” on YouTube. Much of the series was aired on ABC as part of “The Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour,” which was a Saturday morning double-feature with the cartoon show “Droids,” which, actually, take place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope; I apologize for neglecting it last week, but I have little to say about either of these shows, having seen so little of them.
Ewoks featured none of the human or robot characters from the Star Wars movies, and focused entirely on the magical and playful antics of an Ewok named Wicket (Jim Henshaw). Ewoks live in trees, carry spears, and don’t have access to industrial technology. They travel via hang glider, and eat the many flora and fauna that live in the woods. The entire planet, by the way, is wooded. Ewoks are also mystics, and can cast occasional spells. It’s never made clear if the Ewoks possess Midichlorians or have access to The Force, or if their magic comes from other sources. Later in the series, we’ll meet an evil sorceress, introducing the notion that it’s not just Jedi who possess mystical spiritual powers in this universe.
There was no inherent continuing drama throughout the “Ewoks” series, and only the first season tried to skew toward a broad adult audience. The series followed Wicket, a young Ewok, and his relationship to his tribe. The villain of the series was an evil witch named Morag, who was constantly doing battle with the Ewok shaman Logray. The second season changed its theme song and became much more kid-friendly. All of this Ewok stuff could easily be in perfect canonical line with the rest of the Star Wars series, as it contains no common characters with any of the movies so far. There is no mention of The Empire, The Rebels, The Old Republic, Jedi, Yoda, Darth Vader… nothing. It’s a completely hermetic world of alien teddy bears. I imagine it takes place during the gap in between Episodes III and IV, but it could just as easily take place earlier or later. For clarity’s sake, I’ll say it takes place in between Episodes V and VI (which I’ll get to in a minute), as the gap between the two may be larger than you think.
“Droids” didn’t last as long as “Ewoks.” “Droids” followed R2-D2 and C-3PO after C-3PO had been memory-wiped by Jimmy Smits, but before they met Luke Skywalker. So, essentially, the exact same time as “Ewoks.” The series only lasted 13 episodes. It was made by the same animation team behind the sort-of-neat animated sequence seen in The Star Wars Holiday Special. The two central droids were passed from owner to owner, and found themselves in various misadventures. They often encountered Boba Fett, the mostly-silent bounty hunter son of Jango Fett.
These shows were either caught accidentally by children of the 1980s, or are sought out at bootleg booths by particularly rabid Star Wars fans who missed it the first time around. I haven’t met anyone who was a big, big fan of either show, or even who were closely familiar with them. There seem to be more genuine fans of the more recent TV program “The Clone Wars.”
And now we come to the final numerical theatrically released Star Wars film, which hit theaters in 1983. Let’s look at…
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (dir. Richard Marquand, 1983)
Just to remind you, I am writing this article from the perspective of someone who has now seen all the canonical episodes, in order, from I to VI. That means all the revelations in Return of the Jedi are already known to me, as I saw them unfolding in real time several films ago. I know about The Force, about Jedi, about Sith, about Jabba the Hutt. I will not reiterate them here. That said…
While I prefer A New Hope over all the other Star Wars films, and most Star Wars fans prefer The Empire Strikes Back, it seems to me that Return of the Jedi is sort of what most people refer to when they talk about the notion of a Star Wars mythos. It finally, you see, reveals all the needed information to all the characters. Luke (Mark Hamill) finally learns that Leia (Carrie Fisher) is his sister. We also hear from the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), who reveals why he referred to Darth Vader (body by David Prowse, voice by James Earl Jones) and Anakin Skywalker as two different people; it turns out that Darth Vader sort of “erased” Anakin when he was knighted as a Sith. It’s kind of unclear why Obi-Wan Kenobi waited so long to tell Luke this information. Also, we knew at the beginning of A New Hope that Leia had somehow met Obi-Wan between that film and Revenge of the Sith, but he didn’t tell her that she and Luke were twins. But by Return of the Jedi, all the information is finally revealed to all of the characters, a lot of characters die, and there’s another run on The Death Star. It feels a lot like a concluding chapter. I’m not entirely certain why the filmmakers chose to stop here. Why wasn’t there a Star Wars: Episode VII – The Something Or Other in the 1980s? A mystery to me.
Oh yeah, The Death Star is back. The Empire is building a second Death Star, only this time it’s much smaller. The last one, seen exploding in A New Hope, was the size of a proper moon, and could blow up an entire planet with a single blast. The second Death Star is in the midst of being built in orbit around the unnamed moon of Endor, and it’s much smaller than the moon in question. What’s more, the last Death Star took about 20 years to build; we saw it being built at the very very end of Revenge of the Sith, and it was only barely completed at the beginning of A New Hope. I’m guessing that 20 years have not passed since The Empire Strikes Back. Either The Empire had already been working on the Death Star II for many years, and just weren’t talking about it until now, or this one was made in a rush. I’m guessing that Return of the Jedi takes place about seven years after the events of The Empire Strikes Back (although it’s never made clear), and the tiny li’l Death Star II was rushed into production.
At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke had just learned that Darth Vader was actually his father, and he freaked out about it. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was frozen in stone and taken by Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) to the slug monster gangster Jabba the Hutt (voiced by Larry Ward) not seen since Star Wars: A New Hope [Special Edition]. Return of the Jedi opens with an extended sequence inside Jabba the Hutt’s lair, a desert-bound palace on Luke’s home planet. Jabba’s palace is a wonder of special effects, as the place is entirely populated by creatures. Seriously, I think there are extended sequences wherein every single character is a monster of some kind. No one is not a creature. The guards look like the boar men from Deathstalker II, and Jabba has a right-hand man that looks an awful lot like Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Jabba also has a pet gremlin, droids, green-skinned dancing girls (shades of Star Trek there), and a pit in the floor below him, where he throws underlings to be devoured by the 20-foot creature that lives therein. In previous Star Wars movies, the clutter of creatures and robots was ungainly and visually abrasive. Here it’s still kind of a traffic jam of potential toys, but it still looks kinda fun. I think it helps immensely that the monsters are mostly created with actors in rubber suits, rather than CGI. It’s with all the new creatures, though, that some fans began to get strong whiffs of marketing. Each new monster was now intended to be a toy, rather than springing organically from the scene.
Luke and Leia break into the palace separately pretty much just to rescue Han. Chuy the Latino Bigfoot is back, and is still played by Peter Mayhew. Lando (Billy Dee Williams) is also part of the team now, although he seems a lot less cool than last time. Leia, disguised as a bounty hunter, manages to find Han. Luke gets thrown into the monster pit, but escapes. Leia unfreezes Han, but he’s temporarily blind. I guess that’ll happen when you’ve been frozen for years. Leia is still in love with Han after all this time. It would have been more interesting, I think, to have some new human characters mixed in. Maybe Yoda (Frank Oz) could come back. I’d love to see what happened to our heroes over the last seven years.
Our heroes are all captured. The men are sentenced to be thrown to a desert-dwelling giant that lives at the bottom of a pit in the desert. The giant looks a lot like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. Leia is forced into a sexy bronze bikini that you likely know about. This bronze bikini has been seen on just about every sexy female to stride through the doors of a Comic Con. It was the fantasy garment of almost every Star Wars fan from the instant it appeared. It’s a lovely garment, and Carrie Fisher looks dynamite in it, but it brings up a very vital question that I’ve always had about certain sci-fi scenes: Why is it that non-human aliens – especially ones that look like giant slugs or something – always find nude human women so attractive? Surely Jabba the Hutt should be more attracted to women of his species, right? The same goes for Ferengi on Star Trek. Ferengi are troll-like monsters with lumpy heads, crooked teeth, and enormous ears. Why is it they lust so powerfully after human women who have smooth heads, square teeth, and little ears? Maybe I can understand a Ferengi, as they are still bipedal humanoids, but Jabba the Hutt? He looks like slug with a face. Why is he attracted to gangly, legged women one-eighth his size? Can he even have sex with them?
Here’s a nice obnoxious cockeyed theory: There are a few mentions of spice mines throughout the Star Wars movies. Maybe the spice is actually Melange, and Jabba has been toking it. He started human, but is now mutated like in Dune. No? Nah, I don’t quite buy it either. Moving on.
Anyway, eventually our heroes escape, Han gets his sight back, and Leia strangles Jabba to death with a chain. These opening scenes feel sleazy and a bit weird. They also feel like narrative stalling, since so little involves the actual Empire. Why do we need Han back at this moment, after so many years have passed? We don’t actually. He was needed for a mission that, I think, almost any rebel could do. It was just an excuse to have the same characters back. I complained a lot about the first four Star Wars films, and how they were visually overstuffed and narratively sparse, but they at least felt of a piece. This is the first Star Wars film that feels tonally off. The next two will be in their own universe altogether.
Anyway, the mission Han was needed for was twofold: Han, Luke, Leia and Co. were to be sent to the moon of Endor in order to blow up a shield generator that protects the Death Star II. As soon as they blow it up, an armada of Rebel ships, led by Lando, would charge in and blow it up. Pretty dang simple, actually. That’s the entire story in a nutshell. Well, there’s also a subplot for Luke, as he returns to Yoda’s swamp hideout to complete his Jedi training. I wonder why he didn’t return for so long. He’s too late, though, Yoda dies shortly after he arrives. Yoda, like Obi-Wan, vanishes when he dies. I guess he ascended. It was here that Obi-Wan’s ghost appears and reveals everything to Luke. I’m still frustrated that he didn’t tell Luke all this stuff earlier. Luke will eventually tell Leia, but it’ll take him a few scenes. I’m guessing they both immediately thought of that kiss Leia laid on Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s also something they very likely didn’t want to talk about. I certainly wouldn’t in that situation. It turns out you’re my twin sister. So all that weird sexual tension we had going on? Can we somehow mutate that into a healthy, non-twincest version? We cool? Fistbump?
Anyway, while on the Endor moon, there’s a really, really awesome flying motorcycle chase, which is probably the coolest in the series. It’s also here that our heroes will meet the Ewoks, which are never named in the film, except in the credits. The Ewoks are a friendly, cute, chittery, teddy bear-y lot all right, and they protect our heroes when they mistake C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) for a deity. A long, long time is spent with the Ewoks. I should perhaps mention that Return of the Jedi is 136 minutes long, the longest in a while. We don’t learn the Ewok language, or any of their names, but C-3PO can talk to them. One of them is Wicket from the cartoon show, and is played by Warwick Davis, the Leprechaun himself.
Anyway, I’m running long myself. I can conclude by saying that the Rebel plan goes off as expected. The Death Star II was not supposed to be operational, but it was unexpectedly, causing a small twist, but that doesn’t stop Lando from blowing it up. With the constant repetition of the word “operational,” I got the further impression that this was a more kiddie-friendly film than the others; it spells things out a little too clearly.
Also, we finally get to see Darth Vader redeemed. Part of the climax is the final confrontation between Luke and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) now much older. Palpatine keeps tempting Luke to feel anger and hate, sensing that he’s a prime candidate for The Dark Side. Luke had been warned that his impatience may make his all Dark and Sith-y, but Luke isn’t really hungry for power, so there’s nothing to tempt him. Palpatine argues that if Luke kills him, Luke will instantly be Dark Side. Over the course of this film, Luke had already murdered a lot of bad guys. Why Luke doesn’t kill Palpatine and pretty much destroy the Empire singlehandedly is beyond me. When Palpatine fires lightning bolts at Luke (which he did in Revenge of the Sith), Darth Vader has a change of heart, and kills Palpatine. The lightning somehow shorts out his breathing mask, though, and almost kills him. Before he dies, Luke removes his mask, and they look each other in the eye. Darth Vader, now Anakin again, and now played by Sebastian Shaw, looks like Hell. He’s scarred, yes, but also aged and pale. It’s a sweet moment, actually.
Darth Vader, then, was played variously by six actors: Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christiansen, Matt Lanter, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, and Sebastian Shaw.
Sadly, this means that all those prophecies we heard spoken about Anakin Skywalker in earlier movies weren’t true. Destroy the Sith and bring balance to the force? Guess not. Just kill a guy. Unless Destroying the Sith meant also becoming a Sith and destroying himself.
When the Death Star II is blown up, there’s a very brief montage where we see planets across the galaxy celebrating the fall of The Empire, and we see Naboo and Coruscant for the first time in four films. Word of the Emperor’s death must have traveled fast. Surely there was another emperor lined up, right? Didn’t Palpatine leave The Empire to an heir or some kind? Nope. Empire = Gone. What’s to take it’s place? That’s never discussed. Time for an Ewok party. The end.
It’s simple, it’s a bit kiddie-fied, and it’s too long, but I still kinda like Return of the Jedi. I don’t mind the Ewoks. Seriously, I don’t. I don’t think they’re annoying, and I don’t mind that they’re market-ready teddy bears. I think they’re kinda cute. Plus they took down some Empire vehicles using logs and rocks and stuff, meaning they’re resourceful. I was also sad when one Ewok mourned the loss of a comrade. Poor li’l teddy bear. Never hurt no one. Except for bad guys.
This will be the end of the story for Luke and Leia, et al, but there is more for Wicket. Let’s look at…
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (dir. John Korty, 1984)
Caravan of Courage was a 1984 TV movie, the first of two, to focus almost entirely on Ewok tribes and their adventures on the moon of Endor. Since they were made for TV, the violence is much less intense this time around, there are a lot fewer characters, and the budget is much, much tinier. Indeed, the film is so insular, it becomes almost a pastoral idyll in the previously busy and noisy Star Wars universe. Now that we’ve sat through the chaos and cacophony of seven feature films and a TV special, we’re finally treated to a rest. Caravan of Courage is kid-friendly, wonderfully cheap, and kind of nice. Which is not to say that it’s terribly good, but it is at least very easy to watch.
Wicket (body of Warwick Davis, voice of Daryl Henriquez) is recast as the sort-of guardian of a pair of human children who have crashed their space ship on the moon, and become separated from their parents. The children are Mace, played by the pretty awful Marc Singer-esque Erik Walker, and the Kewpie-faced Cindel, played by Aubree Miller, who would, after two Ewok-centric TV movies, go on to nothing else. I wonder what Aubree Miller is up to these days. Call me, Aubree. Maybe we can put you on a podcast. Anyway, Mace is a grumpy impetuous teen who thinks everything is stupid, and Cindel is a cutesy five-year-old. They soon come under the protection of the Ewoks, who are brave and open about taking care of these kids. I don’t know why the Ewoks bother, as Mace is clearly ungrateful, demanding, mean, and belligerent. The Ewoks give him a magical gift, and he flings it aside the first change he gets. Mace is an asshole, and I kind of hated him. What’s more, he’s an awful actor. I guarantee you will giggle at the scene were an Ewok uses a crystal ball to show him his parents. Mace shouts, without any real pauses or inflections, “They’re being held by a giant or something big!”
The story of the film is gently narrated by Burl Ives (not joking about that), and it follows Wicket and the other Ewoks as they form a caravan to rescue the kids’ parents (Fionnula Flanagan and Guy Boyd) from an evil and very distant mountain giant with plans on eating them. The giant lives so far away, you wonder why he trekked so far from his home, just to pick up two adult humans and keep them in a cage.
The film is, perhaps predictably, very episodic. You’re probably also wondering about the magical artifacts, the evil mountain giants, and the mystical crystal balls. Ewoks, as I explained, are magical beings. This is a new wrinkle in the Star Wars universe, as all wizardry was previously relegated to a spiritual connection to The Force. Here, it’s more shamanistic, and feels way more like Dungeons & Dragons than Star Wars. Indeed, Caravan of Courage was broadcast at a time when fantasy films were huge, He-Man was reigning supreme, and magical spells were talked of commonly. It was a wonderful time for little person actors, anyway. I wonder if an Ewok can become a Jedi? Can a Jedi, then, learn Ewok spells?
There are scenes with spells, and there’s a truly bizarre scene where Wicket, other Ewoks, and our two human children are beset by magical pixies who sparkle like Tinker Bell. The pixies are sucked into a magical candle. Why? Dunno. What happened to them in that candle? Couldn’t say. But everyone seems happy that it happened, so I guess it’s okay. There is a scene where Mace falls into water, and a magical staff is needed to extract him. There’s a big rat monster. When they finally get to the Hall of the Mountain King, they all do battle with some really, really fake-looking spider puppets, and eventually take down the mountain giant.
It’s sweet and its largely a pastoral, but the adventure kind of drags. I almost would have preferred if the entire film had been a faux documentary about Ewoks, with Burl Ives merely describing their everyday activities like in a Disney nature film from the ’50s. The action is all TV level, but it still looks better than most TV productions, and I appreciated the location shooting. Indeed, actually being outdoors and seeing real live animals in the background was kind of jarring at this point in the Star Wars narrative. So much of what we had seen in the background had been created artificially, either using puppets or CGI. Real animals is not something we’re used to seeing in this world. I nearly freaked out at the sight of a chicken. After seven films of dazzling special effects, a chicken caught me off-guard.
Aside from the magical elements, Caravan of Courage adds little to the Star Wars mythos. It was just a cheap TV epilogue to the Star Wars movies, but was mercifully much better than The Star Wars Holiday Special which is about as much fun as vomiting, but without the feeling of accomplishment.
There was one final hurrah for Star Wars, though, and a surreal one at that…
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (dir. Jim & Ken Wheat, 1985)
Four words: Wilford Brimley buffalo shot. Just let that sink in for a few moments.
I mentioned that Caravan of Courage felt like a fantasy film – compare it to, say, Willow – more than a Star Wars film. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor feels like it even more. There are more spells, an actual medieval castle, real swords (no light sabers anymore), and even an evil shape-shifting sorceress. It’s also even more calm than the last film, despite this film’s lack of Burl Ives, and it’s unnecessarily violent introduction. Most of Battle for Endor feels like a cross between a very gentle sitcom and Krull.
The violent intro: Cindel (Aubree Miller) and Mace (Erik Walker) have been living with the Ewoks for the last year. Wicket (body by Warwick Davis, voice by Darryl Henriquez) can now speak a lot of English, and has become good friends with Cindel. The human father (now played by Paul Gleason from The Breakfast Club) has spent the last year repairing the damaged ship, and it’s now ready to take off. Right when Cindel and Wicket are saying their goodbyes, though, a team of evil alien marauders invade Wicket’s village and burn it down. In the last two movies, Ewoks lived in the treetops. Now they’re on the ground. I would perhaps have recommended they stay in the trees. The marauders are looking for the battery that powers the human ship. They take it and, get this, actually kill off all the humans except for Cindel, and kidnap a lot of Ewoks. Cindel’s father practically bleeds to death in front of her. Did I mention that Cindel is about 6 years old? She’s resilient, though, and only cries once or twice over her dead family. I guess she hated Mace as well, leaving her ambivalent.
The marauders are led by Terak (Carel Struycken), who believes the battery – referred to as The Power – will, I dunno, grant him magical powers or something. He has in his employ a wicked sorceress named Charal (Siân Phillips) with a magical ring that allows her to change shape. She changes into a crow often, and spies on the Ewoks. It’s distracting to see Phillips play an evil sorceress, seeing as she essentially played a very similar role in Dune; she was the Bene Gesserit high priestess. Charal is ordered to find Cindel to make the battery “work.”
Cindel, meanwhile, is on the lam with Wicket. The two of them wander into an abandoned cabin, led by a furry dog-faced creature named Teek (Niki Botelho). The resident of the cabin is actually a grumpy old human named Noa (Wilford F*cking Brimley) who has been stranded on the moon for years. His ship only needs a battery, and he can leave. He is a curmudgeonly old codger, who will, perhaps predictably, warm to the cuteness of Wicket and Cindel, and they will form an ersatz family before too long. Brimley acts the heck out of this, even though he clearly thought all of it was silly. I read that Brimley hated the directors, and all his scenes were directed by Joe Johnston, the second unit director, and the guy who would go on to make Captain America: The First Avenger.
Look out for the Brimley Buffalo. There’s a scene wherein Brimley has to clumsily get out of bed wearing nothing but briefs and a nightshirt. You can see right up it! Shudder shudder.
Kidnappings ensue. Break-ins, break-outs, revelations of love, etc. The story is hardly worth mentioning from this point onward. Eventually the battery is retrieved and put into Noa’s ship, the bad guys are defeated by the assembled Ewok army, and Cindel leaves Endor with a dead family and Wilford Brimley. Wicket is very sad, but understands. Here’s something I wonder: if the bad guy already has access to a sorceress and a magic ring, why does he need the battery? What does he expect it to do? Does he need a second trinket? And if you have a ring that allows you to shape-shift, why hand it off to an underling? Something else: these marauder aliens all have ray guns like everyone else in Star Wars. If they’re living in a castle, under a king, and are clearly in the agrarian stage of their civilization, where did they get ray guns?
I’m also a little baffled as to why the two Ewok TV movies chose to be so far-removed from the rest of the Star Wars universe. I understand that the Ewoks are a microcosm unto themselves, and don’t necessarily have too many dealings with The Empire or the Republic or Jedis or anything else we’ve seen, but that there is so little connection is a mite confusing. I don’t necessarily want to see any of the old characters anymore; indeed, I admire the new character approach, but perhaps some sort of reference to The Force or to the events of any of the previous films would have been nice. The Ewok TV movies are so bloody autonomous that they almost count as a separate entity with their own canon.
And that’s it for Star Wars. Ten feature films in all.
I’ve noticed this trend throughout the Star Wars films as a whole, observing them, as I did, in episodic order: They start massively complicated, and get simpler and simpler as they go along. The Phantom Menace had four climaxes, dozens of characters, and an unknowable villain with unclear motives. The story was murky at best, and would only come together after four more films. By the time we’re on Endor, spending time with teddy bears and listening to the dulcet tones of Burl Ives, the entire universe has calmed down to a pastoral. An Empire rose and fell, a wizard fell and was redeemed, and the world only became more easy to understand.
Now it’s time to sort of drop the game. How do I feel about the Star Wars movies when seen in chronological order, rather than in episode order? Individually, I feel the same. I like the movies just fine.
But, like most of you, I feel that Episodes I – III don’t work as well without the larger pop culture context of Episodes IV- VI. The first three episodes depend far too heavily on what we already know from previous Star Wars experiences. Likewise, the first three Star Wars films seem to work better with the information they give us, and are not necessarily enhanced by the complex backstory. Why is Darth Vader so bloody important in this world? Because he has 20 years of pop culture history and legions of rabid fans who already love him and have memorized his every word.
George Lucas created Star Wars, and directed the bulk of the movies. He is the master of this universe. He knew he had created not a film but a cottage industry. He had the money, the clout, and the wherewithal to improve his films, and went about doing so, fond of the new digital technologies, and gung-ho about the future of digital filmmaking (which he proved to be right about). He looked around at his fans, analyzed what they liked, and intuited what they wanted to see. He then put those things (things like Yoda fighting, a young Darth Vader, the rise of Palpatine, etc.) in a movie. His fans immediately turned on him, claiming that he did it wrong, and started lambasting him as a terrible person for ruining Star Wars, even though he made it to begin with.
Indeed, there has been a lot of talk as to whom Star Wars “belongs to.” George Lucas created it, and, until recently, owned the rights to it, but the fans have built an entire community around it. Star Wars fandom has grown bigger than Lucas could have ever imagined, and Lucas doesn’t control his fans. Star Wars, in many ways, ran away from him. When he tried to get it back, the fans became toxic. I would argue in favor of Lucas. He’s allowed to make whatever films he wants. Even if they’re not very good, they are his. It was his idea, his vision, and the films are his to re-edit. I don’t agree with the re-edits, and I’m especially baffled (as are many) by Lucas’ stubborn refusal to release older versions of the older Star Wars movies on newer video releases (the digitized Special Editions are the only versions available on Blu-Ray). But he owns/ed the rights. How much does he owe to the fans who made him a billionaire? Does he have to kowtow to their demands and compromise his ideas in order to appease a picky lot that could never be appeased? I admire him doing what he did, and I support it. I’m just not very fond of his more recent movies. George Lucas did not rape my childhood. Did he rape yours? Maybe he did, but your childhood shouldn’t be hanging out in your adult body.
Lucas washed his hands of the fans, essentially, when he sold Star Wars to Disney a few months back. He took the money (over $4 billion!) and gave most of it to charity. Disney is now stuck with Star Wars. They are poised to make another few billion with the property, but are now the ones trapped in the pop culture mire of dealing with angry fans, and tasked with the notion of a Star Wars “legacy.” Best of luck to them. Maybe they’ll make good movies. Maybe not. Whatever they make, good bad or adequate, they’ll be discussed by fans for the rest of time, defended, attacked, debated. The storm will continue to blow. The dust will never settle.
Lucas, meanwhile, seems like he’s free. An ambitious filmmaker was put on hold for 40 years while he babysat his most famous movie. Now he can get back to what he ought to have been doing years ago: making new films that he wants to make. Star Wars was a fun journey, for me but there are other journeys to take.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on Twitter at @WitneySeibold