In a decade long ago on a continent far, far, away I was joyfully oblivious to all major cultural events. It was 1977 and I was vaguely travelling around Europe. By June more young people were drifting across the ocean, huddling together at hostels, and whispering, “Have you seen it yet?” I soon learned that everyone in North America was flocking to see ‘Star Wars’.
By early September I was back in a drizzly Vancouver taking stock of my new budget. I decided to splurge on a matinee. A few hours later I stumbled glazy eyed to the street smiling about those flight scenes and the cool hairy co-pilot, Chewbacca.
The Academy Award and popular success of that film allowed creator George Lucas to expand the vision. By 1979, the first movie was subtitled ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’ and the decision was made to create a series of prequals and sequels.
Now here we are, 42 years later, waiting for ‘The Rise of Skywalker’- the final film of a trilogy of trilogies.
For people, like me, who get lost in the chronology, episodes 4-6 came out between 1977 and 1983. They introduced us to the young idealistic warrior Luke Skywalker and gave us the fictional canon that guide the trilogies - the spiritual Jedi warriors and the evil Sith, the Flash Gordon meets Greek mythology style, and Darth Vader’s words to our hero, “No, I am your father.”
Episodes 1-3 came out between 1999 and 2005 and took advantage of new CGI technology. These stories take place 30 years earlier and gave us the mythological ‘origin story’. Darth Vader isn’t just a force of evil; he’s Anakin Skywalker, an impressionable youth who loses true love when he’s seduced by the dark side.
Moving forward 30 years from the first series into the sequel episodes, ‘The Force Awakens’ from 2015 brought us new conflicts between the emerging Resistance and the First Order. They also introduced us to Rey, the pilot, mechanic, and swashbuckling heroine with a mysterious past. As is expected with any reluctant saviour warrior, she has command of the Force, if she can just learn how to use it. In 2017’s ‘The Last Jedi’ Rey tracks down the elusive Luke Skywalker and convinces him to train her. He’s had a few setbacks in the intervening years but, once a Jedi always a Jedi. He and Rey are the new best hopes and he returns with an impact. Now we come to Episode IX ‘Rise of Skywalker ‘, the culmination of moral and epic battles, and the end of the series.
But why does a film saga that spans generations continue to catch our interest?
Lucas told us, "I love history, so while the psychological basis of Star Wars is mythological, the political and social bases are historical". We go to laugh at the imaginative bar scenes and to share the excitement of futuristic dogfights, but it’s the characters, settings, and overarching themes borrowed from iconic movies and historical imagery that create the bond.
Cinematically he wanted to do a Flash Gordon series in 1971 based on the 1936 movies so both the style and major characters inspired the first Episodes. We’ve met Jabba the Hutt before as Sydney Greenstreet’s character in ‘Casablanca’. The desert shots mirror grand images from Lawrence of Arabia. When the High Lama died in the 1954 ‘Lost Horizons’ we see it mirrored in ‘Return of the Jedi’ when Yoda dies. Going back further we’re familiar with Luke’s special gifts and youthful quest for justice from the King Arthur legends. All of these reflect the original writers love and knowledge of cinema.
This final episode is directed by J.J. Abrams who also directed ‘The Force Awakens’. But he’s taking over from Rian Johnson who directed ‘The Last Jedi’. Staying true to the fictional universe that emerged in ‘A New Hope’ has required respect from a variety of writers and directors. So, to help him stay consistent he brought in co-screenwriter Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for writing Argo.
When Rolling Stone Magazine talked to Terrio about the responsibility he told them “You want to keep the spirit of the Flash Gordon adventure serials that the main saga films have but there are times you want to go off on a tangent and explore something that is more obscure.”
In the end Abrahms explained that this episode is “a far larger movie in terms of scale. Narratively, there’s much more going on everywhere I look.” But like his co-writer it was important to develop the characters as much as it was to give us a visual joy ride. “The idea was to tell a tale of a young woman who was innately powerful, innately moral, innately good, but also struggling with her place in the world and forced to fend for herself in every way. All I can say is that the main characters in this trilogy felt naturally connected to those characters that came before.”
And that’s why we’ve enjoyed Star Wars movies for over 40 years now.
‘The Rise of Skywalker ‘plays at The Civic Theatre all through Christmas up until mid-January.
Brian May is Director on the Nelson Civic Theatre Society