I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am so flipping excited about The Force Awakens. It looks like a true return to form for the Star Wars franchise. J.J. Abrams seems to be utilizing practical effects over excessive CG, John Williams is back scoring the music, and the original cast is back. It’s going to be amazing, and blah, blah, blah.
You get it. I get it. We all get it. Star Wars is amazing, and Episode VII is going to break all the box office records of past, present, and future.
I’ve gotta be honest, though. I’ve never been the biggest Star Wars fan — at most, I’ve always been a casual fan. I remember renting the VHS tapes and playing the crap out of the SNES games from the local movie shop when I was kid, and my siblings and I would watch Episode II on repeat when my family went on vacation. (Because apparently that movie was always circulating on cable?) I also saw Episode III on the big screen with a friend of mine, whose dad accused me of being a terrible movie-goer for audibly reacting to the movie and unwrapping my Starbursts during the quiet bits of the film (I’m not proud of Young Tim).
Outside of these fleeting memories, I have only ever held a moderate level of care for the decorated franchise — and, over time, that care gradually turned into disdain.
Despite watching (and enjoying) the Prequels, I was eager to hop aboard the “let’s hate the Prequel Trilogy because Anakin and Jar-Jar” train. It was fun and easy to do, so I ran with everyone else, not bothering to stop and form my own opinion about Episodes I-III. Because why would I? Everyone else hated those films, shouldn’t I too?
Groupthink is scary that way. Everyone is so afraid of creating discord or facing the wrath of the collective that we all agree with each other — even if that means agreeing to hate something with a vehement and unrelenting passion.
I joined the Sainthood of Star Wars Purists, and I made it my mission to praise the Original Trilogy above all else, while simultaneously bashing anyone who liked the Prequels.
But then I grew up, and my opinions about Star Wars began to change.
A few years back, I went to a Star Wars viewing party at my friend’s house, where I watched the Original Trilogy (the Special Edition, Lucasfied DVDs) back-to-back for the first time in several years, and…
I couldn’t believe how terrible the movies were — and not just because Lucas added a bunch of CG creatures and made some script and sound effect changes. I legitimately thought the acting was terribly over-the-top, the script was laughably weak, and the almighty-forever-to-be-praised practical effects were absolutely ridiculous.
All at once, everything I thought I knew about Star Wars was reduced to a pile of sludge — and even though I wasn’t the biggest Star Wars fan (I had plenty of friends who could take me to church on the now-defunct Expanded Universe), it was still jarring to think that the movies everyone thought held up so well could be so bad.
I didn’t dare to share my newfound opinions. After hating on the Prequels for so long, if I were to suddenly turn my back on the The Holy Trinity of Sci-fi, I would be branded as a hypocrite and my opinion on movies forever rendered null and void.
I remained silent about this for years, confiding in only a handful of friends that I actually hated the Star Wars movies (including #NoOcothorpe‘s illustrious G. Keenan Schneider). Thankfully, none of them flayed me.
I should mention here that, at the time, I didn’t hate the Star Wars universe. I really enjoyed some of the games, and Drew Karpyshyn’s Darth Bane Trilogy absolutely blew me away. I loved the lore of Star Wars, and the concepts behind all six of the films. I just couldn’t bring myself to love the films themselves.
Then Disney announced that they were purchasing Lucasfilm and were starting production on a new Trilogy, and between the time of that announcement and the first teaser trailer, there was an awakening.
I don’t know if it was nostalgic childhood memories, or the exciting idea of a post-Prequels Star Wars film, or even the Force itself! Whatever it was, it struck a deep and resounding chord within me that brought what little love I still held for the films bubbling back to the surface.
And I fought that feeling.
I couldn’t really love those movies. I’d already mentally branded myself as a rebel, the near-lone wolf who dared to be subversive and hate what everyone else loved. I viewed myself as better than the herds of Star Wars sheeple, because I watched good movies with tight scripts and awe-inspiring performances. I could never love Star Wars because, on a fundamental level, I believed them to be inferior, low-quality films.
That is, until I stumbled across Star Wars Oxygen: The Music of John Williams.
Star Wars Oxygen is a monthly segment hosted by David Collins and Jimmy Mac on Rebel Force Radio, a podcast about all things Star Wars. I discovered it thanks to an article IGN’s Brian Albert ran back in August, titled “9 Things You Didn’t Know About Star Wars’ Music.” Being a music lover — especially orchestral soundtracks, and especially John Williams’ music — I clicked on through to the article and subsequently had my mind blown.
Did you know Darth Vader had his own theme in A New Hope before the Imperial March was composed in The Empire Strikes Back? Or that Williams wrote a TON of music for Episode V that was left on the cutting room floor? Or, better yet, that the parade music at the end of The Phantom Menace is actually the Emperor’s theme composed in a major (instead of minor) chord?
Amazed, floored, and craving more, I went and downloaded every single episode and began a weeks-long binge of two guys critically researching, analyzing, and discussing John Williams’ breathtaking music for all six Star Wars films.
Over the course of 19 monthly episodes (Episode 20 just aired before I started writing this), they dissected Williams’ musical scores in ways I never thought possible, and brought to light character themes and leitmotifs I had never even heard before, all while making connections within and across the two trilogies.
Did you know that C-3PO and R2-D2 had their own theme in Episode V? That Princess Leia’s Theme in Episode IV seamlessly builds into Han & Leia’s Theme in Episode V? How about the fact that the classic Star Wars/Force Theme that plays when Luke ignites his new lightsaber on the sand barge in Return of the Jedi is the first time that theme is played in the movie, literally signaling the return of the Jedi with just the music!
The attention to detail Lucas and Williams had for the music in these films is astounding. They didn’t just add a soundtrack. They built a cohesive, enduring, living world of music. Lucas wanted to approach the films like silent movies, allowing the music to tell a story that words could not, and Williams provided that music masterfully, giving the films the force that they needed.
The most telling example of this is Anakin and Padme’s love theme (Across the Stars) from Attack of the Clones. It is an incredibly moving piece of music, communicating the entire relationship between Anakin and Padme — from the first time they fall in love, to the conflicted, forbidden nature of their feelings, and then their eventual marriage.
But, beyond the musical exposition of their relationship, their theme also reaches out to to the Original Trilogy. It has the exact rhythm of the main Star Wars/Force Theme, which was originally titled “Luke’s Theme.” It also shares a lot of DNA with Leia’s Theme, which means that all the themes for the Skywalker family are related.
It’s a revelation that completely took me by surprise, and it’s just one of several that I experienced while listening to the podcast. What really took me by surprise, though, is how much I wanted to watch Star Wars. As I finished each episode, the desire grew stronger and stronger until I finally broke down and bought both Trilogies on Blu-ray and marathoned them with my family (we watched A New Hope one weekend, and then V, VI, I, II, III in one sitting the next weekend).
And you know what?
Those movies are freaking amazing.
I immediately took back everything negative I had ever said about Star Wars — both the Originals and Prequels — because they are each one of them a masterpiece in their own regard.
Yes, that includes The Phantom Menace.
Yes, I’m aware of Jar-Jar.
And Baby Vader.
Look, I’m not here to convince you why I think you should love these movies. I’m sharing my own journey of falling away from and returning to the Star Wars family, and I largely attribute my new found love for all of these films to Star Wars Oxygen. That show resonated with my music-loving soul, and it opened my eyes to just how rich and vibrant the Star Wars films truly are.
Also, if we all want to pull of the gloves and have at it, I will say this, and only this: to all of you people saying that the practical effects utilized in the Original Trilogy are superior to the CG-fest that is the Prequel Trilogy, check yourself. The Original Trilogy literally used plastic toys, rubber faces, and stuffed animals.
If you stop and think about it, each Trilogy is a product of its own time. The Original Trilogy used the best practical effects available at the time. The Prequel Trilogy used the best digital effects. The way I look at it, they both have their strengths and shortcomings, and I believe it’s unfair for anyone to point fingers and say “these Star Wars films are bad and these Star Wars films are good” because they’re all amazing! They’re all Star Wars! They’re all a part of a story about a galaxy far, far away — a story that has endured generations, has grown exponentially, and is finally getting ready to begin a brand new chapter.
That’s not to say I think these movies are perfect, grand masterpieces of cinema. There are some pretty laughable elements in all of them… but I think that’s okay! Not because they’re just a set of fun popcorn flicks, but because, in a way, they reflect a little bit of our own laughable world. Despite the puppets and the robots and the computer generated aliens, there’s still something in Star Wars that’s relatable, something transcendent that speaks to a greater narrative, a stronger story.
I think watching the films back-to-back-to-back helped me see this, because you really don’t get a sense of the greater picture if you only watch The Empire Strikes Back, or if you decide to omit The Phantom Menace. Each film is an essential part of the story — a story that I can finally say that I love.
That’s why I’m most excited about The Force Awakens. Not because Abrams is directing, or the effects look amazing, or even because John freaking Williams is composing the score.
No, I’m excited about Star Wars Episode VII because I finally get it. I finally believe in the story, and I’m ready to see what happens next.
In short, I have a new hope.