Where were you ten years ago today, on May 19, 2005? If you’re a reader of this blog, I’m going to guess you were where I was: seeing Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith on its opening day.
By then, of course, six years had passed since the release of Episode I, so your expectations had to have been low. For me, I was mostly curious to see where Lucas was taking this thing. He faced a daunting task with this final movie. Not only did it have to be dark, as we watch Anakin’s descent to the dark side and the collapse of the Republic, but he also had to create a movie that could be compelling despite the audience going in knowing exactly what would happen. By just about every measure, he of course failed in these goals, creating what is arguably the worst of the prequel movies.
Again, I’m going to assume that, like almost everyone else, you left the theater that night with a mixture of disappointment, anger and, yes, relief. Disappointment, of course, at the smoldering wreck that was the prequel trilogy, now visible in all its ugliness. The anger was primarily over the single scene of Luke and Leia’s birth, because, dang it, did Lucas really not even see Jedi, where Leia states that she remembers her mom? But also relief, knowing that the prequels had at long last come to an end, and that for all of their considerable failings the prequels had at least given us the backstory on the fall of the Jedi (and, much less interestingly, the rise of Vader).
But let’s take a moment on this, the tenth anniversary of the end of the nightmare that was the prequel trilogy, and look back on all of the good that the revival of Star Wars has brought. Compare the last ten years with the period from 1983-1993–the ten years following the release of The Return of the Jedi–and I think you have to come to the conclusion that, as bad as they were as movies, the prequels really did end up being a net good for the franchise.
The highlight, of course, of this past decade came on October 30, 2012, when we got the fantastic news that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm. While there was some amount of doom and gloom that day, the fact is that Star Wars Rebels would likely not have happened with the Disney purchase. Episode VII would not be nearing release. It’s clear that, in addition to lots and lots of money, Disney has injected into Lucasfilm a new energy.
Let’s talk about Rebels. I know a lot of my fellow Star Wars nerds ignored it, because after all it aired on Disney XD and thus must have been a kid’s show, but please believe me when I tell you that it is the best thing to happen to Star Wars in 30 years. Yes, I get all of the praise heaped on Clone Wars. And I’m not even arguing that Clone Wars is in any way bad. It isn’t. (More on that in a moment.) But while the Clone Wars told a lot of really great stories, and had a lot of really great characters and really great animation, it didn’t feel like Star Wars. And that, I think, is the greatest strength of Rebels: it is the first property in the franchise since Jedi that actually feels like it’s truly part of the same franchise. It has the grittiness of the original films. It has the closeness–instead of telling grand, sweeping, galaxy-wide stories about the people running the galaxy, Rebels tells stories about a small band of friends fighting their own little war in their own little corner of the galaxy. It brought back Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Anthony Daniels, and added Brent Spiner, Tiya Sircar, David Oyelowo, Freddie Prinze Jr., and even Paul Reubens to the franchise. It is the continuation of Star Wars that I’ve been waiting for since 1983.
But singing the praises of Rebels in no way detracts from Clone Wars. More than anything else, I think it truly helped keep the Star Wars flame burning over these last ten years. It gave us hope that it was in fact possible to still tell good stories in compelling ways in the Star Wars universe, something that both the prequels and the seemingly endless stream of barely readable novels both sought to disprove. It gave us great new characters like Ahsoka and Asajj, and pulled in some incredible talent like Katee Sackoff and Jon Favreau.
But, most importantly, it gave us geek parents something to watch with our kids, something to keep their interest alive in Star Wars without having to sit through another scene with Jar Jar or with Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman pretending to have even the slightest bit of chemistry. Clone Wars gave us the backstory that I think we all wished we had gotten from the prequels.
Of course, by far the most exciting development of these ten years was the announcement not just of a new trilogy–the long, long awaited final three movies–but of Disney’s plans to start making new Star Wars movies an annual thing. To be honest, I’m almost as excited about Rogue One as I am about Episode VII.
So, as painful as it was to watch The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, or Revenge of the Sith, we do have to be thankful for them in that they did restart the Star Wars franchise. Without them, we probably wouldn’t be looking forward to season 2 of Rebels this fall, and we might never have gotten to see Harrison Ford once again don the black vest. All in all, the ten years since Sith have been good ones for Star Wars fans, and the next ten years promise to be even better.