Fans of Rogue One say that it has brought Star Wars back to the feel of the original trilogy, that it has saved the soul of the franchise.

Fans of The Force Awakens say that it has brought Star Wars back to the feel of the original trilogy, that it has saved the soul of the franchise.

They also say that the other movie doesn’t count, it’s either too dark (R1) or too cheesy (TFA) to count as real Star Wars movies.

I find it highly amusing because I am old enough to have been alive when A New Hope hit theaters in 1977, followed by The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, when those arguments were first brought to bear. Yes, this debate goes that far back.

There were many fans of aNH who loathed tESB because of how dark it was, and how it ended on a downer note. Meanwhile, there were many fans of tESB who felt it was the actualization of the true soul of the world-building begun in aNH. This is why the choice of which movie a person loves more is such an important personality indicator, because despite the fact that tESB was arguably a better crafted movie, many many fans favor aNH over it. Why? Because which movie you chose says a lot about what kind of story resonates with you the most.

(I am, in fact, waiting for the next personality type analysis to appear, based not on Jung or true colors but on which Star Wars movie is your favorite. …I digress…)

But both movies were Star Wars, and there is no way to untangle them. In fact, I believe that part of the reason for Star Wars’ success is that it has been unremittingly cheesy and terribly depressing in turns. Any truly great epic saga has to be both, in fact, or it simply is not an epic saga. Even daytime soap operas know this: beloved characters have to get killed off and beloved characters have to fall in love — showy funerals and weddings are not bookends, they are high water marks. The river keeps flowing:

  • Star Wars is the epitome of hopeful optimism, of the scrappy band of good-hearted rebels fighting space nazis the Empire and actually winning.
  • Star Wars is the epitome of crushing pessimism, of heroes falling to the dark side and murdering billions of people along the way.

Personally, I favor the more hopeful, optimistic tradition, in all its cheesy glory. But I cannot disavow R1, which is a gut-wrenching call back to a basically overlooked plot point in aNH (namely, how Leia got the Deathstar plans in the first place). No one ever expected that story to be cheerful one.

Of course, there are legions (heh heheheh) of fans who love all Star Wars films fairly equally, who are not fussing about the “soul of the franchise” or arguing about what the true vibe should be. They just like the stories and the characters, la la la la la!

Serious fans, though, are building up their walls around what is “real” and I think that devalues the whole. There is no triumph without tragedy; there is no true love without loss. Star Wars has to encompass both extremes, or lose its power as an epic saga of our times.

[Whether the quality of the films lives up to the promise of the stories I leave for a different discussion, scheduled to happen never because I’m not that foolhardy.]



Also published on Medium.

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