Matt Hackmann


The thoughts and goings-on of some programmer dude.

In a Galaxy Far Far Away

I've been binging lots of various video essays about the travesty that was The Last Jedi recently and it it got me thinking: what exactly does Star Wars mean to me? Now, I'm not talking about what it means to me in terms of how it has affected my life, but more what do I consider to be Star Wars.

After exiting the theater and for a bit after, I really liked The Force Awakens a lot. It was actiony, it had things that vaguely reminded me of the previous movies, and some of the characters as well. However, as time's gone on, my favor of that movie has decreased. Nothing to be said about the fact that it's nearly beat for beat A New Hope, but it was lacking... something. Maybe it was the characters, maybe it was the story, surely there were a lot of plot items that were simply not explained, which is frustrating when we're coming back to this galaxy that has, canonically, six movies that chronologically fall before this. It looked like Star Wars, but it didn't feel like Star Wars. (As an aside, the constant merchandising and hype machines eventually just wore me down.)

Interestingly enough, this is not a problem I had with the prequels. Granted, I was twenty years younger at the time, but this felt like it belonged in the same universe as the other three movies. It began filling in gaps that had only been eluded to before; the Jedi, the Republic, the Clone Wars. All of these were things mentioned in A New Hope and we were finally seeing those events unfold before us. Now, I'm not going to defend the actual writing of the prequels (the dialogue is god awful), but they had something that these new movies don't.

And I think the answer is George Lucas.

Say what you will about the man in terms of screenplay writing and actor directing, but when it comes to building a world and visually telling a story about that world, there's a lot of good. The first six movies, even for having a twenty-something year gap between filming them, generally feel like they belong together as a series. When taken as a whole, the prequel trilogy sets up a rich world for the original trilogy. Informing us of what the pre-Empire world was, how Palpatine rose to power, what happened with the Jedi. It's not perfect and arguably the weakest point is Anakin's arc which could be considered a failure since he's supposed to be the focal point. But still, this leads into the sequel trilogy where we get to see just how much everything has gone to hell. The scale of the story goes from a grand focus on everything to the only two things left that actually matter: the Rebellion and the Empire. Knowing what was to be lost enriches the story of trying to gain it back. Granted, while the OT can stand alone all by itself (and did for a couple decades), the prequels would've been absolutely nothing without it. They're flawed, but they get the job done.

On a more technical level, both trilogies manage to feel mostly cohesive in the visual and pacing departments. Both (largely) use classic style camera shots (static, dolly, tracking, etc), those classic wipes betwen scenes, and have that John Williams score accenting the mood. Pacing-wise, all six movies are pretty damn similar and are arguably far slower than any of the recent films. They actually stop and give you a moment to breathe every now and then, just stopping with little to no dialog and letting those sweet, sweet John Williams notes basically have a guitar solo.

Compare that to the new movies which are basically just modern films with a Star Wars veneer. Sure, those nice wipes are still there, but there's something about the quality of the image that's... too rich? Has too much movement? It feels fake wheras the OT felt very real and, to a much lesser extent (especially of Ep 2/3), the prequels. In terms of pacing, once Force Awakens gets started, it never really stops, not even to let us feel sadness at a major character's death. It drops a whole bunch of terms and things but never really expands on them. Granted, A New Hope did much the same, but none of that was immediately relevant to the story and other films in both trilogies filled out what was important to those stories. Last Jedi... ugh. It's like that film just said "nah, fuck this. Let's go do a bunch of needless shit for a while with a bunch of people you've never met nor care about and... THROW THAT AWAY TOO!". Rogue One is a little unique in that it starts off as a modern, gritty movie and then progressively becomes A New Hope universe.

Finally, there's the cast of characters between the two movies. All the characters in the OT are great. Luke is naive but steadfast and hopeful, Leia is diplomatic and iron willed, Han is the rogue with a heart of gold, Vader is evil, the emperor is even more evil. This is, of course, the prequel trilogy's biggest failing. Only Obi-wan and Palpatine are really done well over there. In these new movies, there's Rey who had a shit life, but apparently could've become a Jedi whenever she wanted. Finn was a stormtrooper and defected... and that's only really relevant when it the plot demands instead of being part of what drives him, otherwise he's mainly comic relief. Poe had less screen time than Darth Maul in the first film and was just angry at everybody in Last Jedi (I'd argue rightfully so). Kylo Ren has the possibility of being interesting, but he's just angsty most of the time... until he's not and wants to be best friends with Rey... until he doesn't again. And Snoke... is a throw away. Captain Phasma? She's basically Darth Maul 2.0 (but way less cool). And I refuse to acknowledge that Rose exists. Oh, and nobody in Rogue One matters or has character.

In your standard essay format, you have an opening thesis, a bunch of arguments to support it, and then re-iterate that thesis statement in the closing. Well... at some point, this just became a "Why I hate new Star Wars and the old stuff (even the prequels) is best". My original plan was to even dip into the Expanded Universe and explain that, even without pictures, those stories also felt like Star Wars. Probably because they had to more closely follow how characters act and incorporate the bits and pieces known of the story's world just so that you feel like you're still in there. It also helps that I grew up with those stories and let them shape my view of what Star Wars is.

There we go. Brought it back home.