Though I’m sure I have some foggy recollections of other movies my parents took me to before this one, the first one I really remember seeing in the theater was STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI way back in 1983. I was told we would be having dinner shortly after we got home, so don’t go anywhere. Well, I was so giddy, apparently, that I bolted over to a friend’s house to tell him I saw it. When I finally got home, suffice to say I was more than likely grounded for my exuberance. But even though it’s perhaps my least favorite of the hallowed original trilogy, as a seven year-old, it was right up my alley. It was so filled with creativity—wonderful, bizarre characters like Jabba the Hutt, awesome scenes like the speeder bike chase, and yes, even the Ewoks were fun (can I remind you I was SEVEN?).

So fast-forward to 1999, and I’m excited all over again for the soon-to-be-released prequel trilogy, beginning with THE PHANTOM MENACE. Okay, I knew even then it sounded like the title of a Scooby-Doo episode, but I had faith. The guy who brought us those magnificent three episodes of the space opera set in a galaxy far, far away wouldn’t let us down, would he? Certainly not intentionally, I don’t think, but without question George Lucas did let a lot of his fans down. Don’t get me wrong, I walked out of THE PHANTOM MENACE content enough for the moment. Darth Maul was cool, wasn’t he? And as the repeat viewings go on, Darth Maul remains one of the few successes the film managed to eke out.

Its sequel, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, I found to be a big improvement, but the continued wooden, stilted acting from actors I’ve SEEN act beautifully elsewhere bogged the experience down. Anakin and Padme’s “love confession” scene in particular is as torturous to endure as any of Jigsaw’s diabolical traps in the SAW films. A few years later, REVENGE OF THE SITH closed things off on a high point, but it’s tough to not leave with the impression that all three movies represent a huge missed opportunity littered with half-baked ideas (story by Lucas), scripts whose author doesn’t seem to know how to write dialogue (screenplay by Lucas), and a director that can’t seem to coax performances out of otherwise talented actors (directed by Lucas!).

Plot-wise, perhaps the most egregious sin in the trilogy happens to be the crux of the whole shebang—the reason for Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the Dark Side. Visions of Padme’s death haunt him, and he’ll do anything to keep it from happening. Senator Palpatine, dropping hints left and right that he’s a Sith Lord, finally promises him they can save her. So after Anakin betrays the Jedi Order, aids in the murder of Mace Windu and pledges himself to Palpatine, his first mission turns out to be this:

Palpatine: “Hey, remember that room with all the Jedi kids in it?”

Anakin: “Sure, Palps.”

Palpatine: “How’s about getting your feet wet killing Jedi by starting with them?”

Anakin: “Ain’t no thing but a gundark wing, boss.”

So I’m paraphrasing a wee bit, but WHAAAAT??? A few minutes ago he was torn apart with conflict about whether to help Palpatine or Windu, and now he’s just groovy with killing a bunch of kids because he’s afraid his secret wife might die? Erm…as something of a storyteller myself, gimme a minute to try and swallow that down. Urp. Sorry, came right back up. But moving on, the subsequent Order 66 sequence acts as a palate cleanser by managing to hit all the right notes and the John Williams score that accompanies it does wonders to make you forget that *little* issue of, you know…Anakin’s moral 180 degree turn.

Don’t get me wrong, I did like the prequels when they came out and still like them to one degree or another now, though repeated viewings are getting to be a bumpier ride each time. And I’m certainly not an irate, entitled fanboy like many who’ve claimed Lucas did unseemly things to their childhoods. Far from it—Lucas made the films he wanted to make, and as a fellow creator of a fictional universe, I applaud him for that. They simply weren’t the movies most fans were hoping to see. We as viewers can choose to watch them or ignore them.

From my perspective, at least, with the evidence presented to us with the prequels and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL that followed, it did become rather obvious that Lucas had a problem. Somewhere along the way he managed to lose his touch in his time away from filmmaking. Either that, or the collaborative spirit that ran through the original trilogy (but was notably absent from the prequels) was the ingredient that had made them so great. So when Lucas decided to sell Lucasfilm to Disney, I saw it as something I’ve wanted for a good few years now—the opportunity for new talent to do something incredible with the STAR WARS franchise again.

Which brings us to December 2015, the threshold we stand upon where we’ll see if the magic of the original trilogy can be recaptured by a new generation of filmmakers. Like many, I’m wary of Disney’s plan to kick out a new STAR WARS film every year. Franchise fatigue is a very real thing, and the pessimist in me wonders if the House of Mouse is hoping to squeeze every cent out of the series until the proverbial wheels fly off. But that remains to be seen. Right now we have THE FORCE AWAKENS right around the corner, a movie that promises to give us a distinct taste of what’s to come. The trailers have done their job, and gotten me as giddy as seven year-old me to see the film opening weekend. It certainly looks like they’ve found the spirit of the original trilogy and infused it into the new, and Jar Jar is thankfully nowhere to be seen. I’d say that’s enough to shrug off my skepticism for now and view it with an open mind in exactly one week.

What do you think of STAR WARS under the new guard? Will you be fighting the crowds, or staying home?

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