Before the Dark Times, Before the Prequels
2022 is shaping up to be the biggest year yet for the Star Wars franchise in terms of just the sheer volume of content to be released. The Book of Boba Fett concluded in February, Obi-Wan Kenobi will air later this month, and we’ve still got Andor, Bad Batch Season 2, and The Mandalorian Season 3 ahead of us. That’s a lot of Star Wars, man.
But it wasn’t always like that.
For nearly a decade following the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, fans of the Star Wars franchise wandered through the desert with nothing to satisfy our hunger for more Star Wars stories except a few weird Ewok movies and a couple of pretty unsatisfying cartoons. By the time the sun set on the 1980s, it seemed as though the Star Wars franchise was pretty much done.
But interest in the movies and the world George Lucas thought up never really went away.
In the near decade that the franchise lay dormant, TV broadcasts and home video helped keep the franchise alive in the popular culture, while a generation of kids went on filling in gaps left by the films—with a little help from Kenner Star Wars action figure line.
More by accident than design, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi left fans wondering about a seemingly more complex backstory only hinted at in vague, even contradictory, dialogue.
We had questions.
What were the Clone Wars? What were the clones? What was the Republic? Who was Luke and Leia’s mother? What was Yoda’s backstory? What really happened between Anakin and Obi-Wan? How many Jedi were there before the Dark Times? What is a Dark Lord of the Sith? What is a Sith? Why didn’t Palpatine have or use a lightsaber? Why was his face all jacked up? Who were Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru really? Were they actually Luke’s aunt and uncle or just guardians? What were the Clone Wars?
WHAT WERE THE CLONE WARS?
Of course, we weren’t completely on our own.
Aside from those snippets of dialogue, Lucas gave several interviews in the intervening years, dropping (again, often contradictory) hints to many of these questions. You have to remember: there was no internet then. We didn’t have easy access to a database of all the interviews Lucas gave hinting at further potential Star Wars movies, and since many of us were kids anyway and were getting all of these bits and pieces second hand from our parents, we didn’t really care or even notice that a lot of it didn’t make a lot of sense. We took what we could get, wove it together with a healthy dose of rumor and our own imaginations, and kind of filled in the gaps as best we could. And for nearly a decade, that’s what Star Wars was for many of us.
A world that existed in our imaginations.
An Invitation to Create
I started writing my own fiction when I was about 14 or 15. It started as a writing assignment for school, but I ended up enjoying the process so much that I decided to write something on my own. Tim Zahn’s Heir to the Empire had come out around that same time, rekindling my interest in Star Wars; I figured if he could write a Star War, why couldn’t I? (I wasn’t the brightest teenager, okay?)
I think I wrote around a half dozen pages of my Star Wars novel-to-be (it was titled Nemesis) before moving on to something else. But the fire had been lit. And after that, there was no going back. As the years went by, interests came and went, but the act of creating my own stories, designing my own adventures, and building my own worlds stuck with me. I’d fallen down the rabbit hole of creativity, and things would never be the same again.
But I don’t know if that would have happened without the original Star Wars. And I don’t know if that would have happened if Star Wars the franchise hadn’t gone on a sabbatical. If Lucas had continued making movies after Jedi, would the children of the 80s have had the space to imagine our own answers to those lingering questions? Would Star Wars writ large have started so many writer, filmmakers, producers, and other artists down their own creative paths?
It seems to me now, looking back on it, that the best thing that ever happened to Star Wars was the worst thing I could think of at the time. The lack of Star Wars movies at a time when that’s all I wanted was actually like a tacit invitation to be a part of creating Star Wars. The absence of Star Wars forced us all to engage with our imaginations and become storytellers ourselves. Were it not for that fact, I don’t know if I would have ever picked up the pen.
That’s what Star Wars means to me.
What Star Wars Means to Us
It’s hard to put into words what Star Wars means to me. One of my earliest cinematic memories is seeing the 1997 20th Anniversary re-release of Star Wars in theaters. I wasn’t quite old enough to understand the majesty of what I had just watched, but I did somehow understand that I had witnessed something special. My true and deeper love for Star Wars didn’t materialize until my early adolescent years, when I finally came into my own as a movie fan. It quickly emerged as a standout example of the heights that can achieved within the medium. Like many others, Star Wars represents my first introduction into the concept of fandom. Nowadays with the proliferation of franchise filmmaking, fandom is essentially all around us. Back in the day with Star Wars it still felt uniquely special.
If you ask me, the original is still the best. Not only did it kick off the whole thing, but it’s easily the best Star Wars movie as a standalone film. Much of the beauty of Star Wars lies in Lucas’ ability to keep the familiar fresh. Yes, there are talking robots and glow up swords, but at its core Star Wars is the familiar hero’s journey tale that ends with the overmatched good guys triumphing over pure evil. To me that’s something always worth revisiting. Which is why Star Wars remains one of my all-time favorite flicks and one that I rewatch on an almost monthly basis.
Star Trek will always be a part of my heart because it’s something my grandparents shared with me, but Star Wars was the first thing I loved for myself. The original Star Wars—A New Hope was just a part of the opening crawl, not a movie title then—was the second or third movie I ever saw in the theater. In a story it would have been the first, but this is real life and it wasn’t. We weren’t even going to the movies to see that film, it was some Disney thing, Swiss Family Robinson maybe—stuff came late to the Maine boonies. Whatever it was, it had moved on and Star Wars was there instead and for some reason my mom decided it’d be okay for us to watch it.
If I’m honest, I don’t really remember much about that first viewing. I just remember the fire in my imagination afterwards. Space ships. Light sabers. Wookies. Droids. Darth freakin’ Vader.
I spent so much of my childhood chasing that dream, that thrill of the first experience. I was Luke, or Han or sometimes even Chewie. I had no idea what cultural zeitgeist was, but I understood I was caught up in something that everyone else was just as caught up in. Every kid I knew would play Star Wars with me. I know there’s probably something like this for every generation, some touchstone media of your childhood that informs what you become and what you love. Star Wars was that for me, and while nothing that came afterwards every burned as bright—your first love is always just that—I still have a fondness and appreciation for the setting and everything to do with it. That’s something that isn’t really diminished by the vagaries of the property itself. Some movies are good, some aren’t, same with all the other stuff, but Star Wars—that undefinable light from a galaxy far, far away that somehow jumped off the screen and into my soul—remains a part of me.
I think it always will.
—Bob Cram Jr.
By any metric that one would use to define what “the greatest of all time” is, Star Wars more than meets it. It’s the most popular, most influential and most watched movie ever made. More children died making the merch in whatever sweatshop Disney uses to pump out their cheap products to sell to nostalgia obsessed Americans than the Vietnam AND Korean wars combined. It’s spawned more religions than Jesus and Buddha and essentially created geekdom. It singlehandedly shaped pop culture into what it is now (for better and for worse) and now that Lucas sold it, it’s never going to die.
It’s done more for the industry than any other movie and it’s been in my life forever and yet, I have never given a shit about it.
I fully acknowledge and admit that the majority of the shit I’ve loved from the past thirty years probably only exists because the creator was inspired to write or direct or develop due to their love of Star Wars. I also love the fact that Lucas not only loved all the fan films it inspired, but he actively encouraged them. I love that it created a universe that felt vast and filled with unlimited possibilities for stories. It had characters that, while all archetypes, were still fully fleshed out and memorable. The story is just simple enough to hang mythology and world building on, and the script is filled with instantly quotable dialogue. It’s a perfect piece of popcorn entertainment that could’ve been and maybe probably would’ve been my favorite thing ever if they had made it a stand alone film or cut the series off after Empire.
I truly think I’d love Star Wars if it wasn’t for the fans and the fact that I know that it’ll never end. It’s impossible to get invested in something you know your children’s children will never see the end of, and it’s even harder to love something when the other people who love that thing are the fucking worst. Let me be clear, all fandoms are terrible (I’m looking at you Rick and Morty and Steven Universe fans), but Star Wars fans are the absolute worst of the worst.
And they always have been.
They’re a plague that will outlive Covid and leprosy and one of those things Jesus himself cured personally. They’re everything wrong with fandom, geekdom, and any other dom that’s not of the BDSM variety. They’re so bad, I can’t look at the series with objective eyes. It’ll always have baggage attached to it, and that’s not including the other baggage in the form of its terrible sequels.
It’s a massive series spread across every medium, but how much of it is actually good?
There’s more terrible video games than anyone can possibly count, the novels and comics are hit or miss, the animated shows are all pretty great, while the live action ones are mediocre, and the films are almost all varying degrees of bad save for a couple of great ones. It’s a franchise that’s creatively flatlining, and yet the nerds will still defend it.
Lucas sold Disney a dying horse, and they’ve been slowly killing it for almost a decade now. It’s a shell of it’s former shell, and it’s only going to get worse. I will forever have to endure its existence. Like a wart that won’t go away, I just want to burn it to the ground. I’m tired of being locked in a hellscape made by Lucas. I want to be free of this prison. I want to live in a world without Star Wars. I want it to just end. But it won’t and it never will.
What does Star Wars mean to you? Love it? Hate it? (Want to burn it to the ground like Sailor?) Share your opinions in the comments below.
Long live Jar Jar.