In 1999, the Star Wars Universe began moving away from happy endings, and has, in many ways, continued on that path to this moment.
Right now some of you might be thinking, “Wait, what?” Bear with me.
In May 1999, Lucasfilm released Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. While the film itself gave us a happy ending, it started a trilogy of movies that would end in the style of a Shakespearean tragedy. Instead of working toward a victorious, happy ending, as in the original trilogy, these movies descended into the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the Old Republic. The release of The Phantom Menace also ushered in a series of prequel-era books that would have happy-ish endings that were colored by this impending tragedy. Later that same year in October 1999, R. A. Salvatore’s Vector Prime was published. This book, and the rest of its series, The New Jedi Order, drastically changed the tone and direction of the Expanded Universe (of that time). In this book, Chewbacca was killed and the New Republic suffered massive losses to the seemingly invulnerable Yuuzhan Vong threat. Suddenly, beloved characters were vulnerable, and an era of suffering and strife was ushered in. For me, an optimist, idealist, and lover of tidy, happy endings, this was really depressing to read (and the doom-shadowed prequel movies, books. and TV show The Clone Wars provided little relief). For me, the books were my way to explore, experience, and enjoy the Star Wars Universe. But very quickly this world I had devoured, book by book, turned into a chore to read.
(Important! -This is in no way due to the quality of the writing itself, but rather the direction of the series and my personal preferences.)
There is a reason I only read fiction (with few exceptions). I’m an extremely sensitive person, and sometimes, I can easily be overwhelmed by life’s/current events’ negativity. So for me, fiction is a much-needed respite -not a substitute, mind you- from life’s darker realities. And when Star Wars started down this foreboding, ominous path, it ultimately pushed me away. I didn’t want to read about my favorite characters suffering and dying. I didn’t want to read about them choosing the dark side. The fun had gone out of the fandom, and I left for a long, long time. Now that I’m back, I’ve been looking for that spark that made Star Wars so fun for me in the first place. I miss those happy endings.
But the truth is, the Star Wars Universe has changed.
While it isn’t the torturous reality presented in The New Jedi Order, it isn’t quite the same as the pre-prequel era reality either. Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens removed that tidy, happy ending we get in Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. And, with Episode VII’s opening scene, J. J. Abrams lets us know this is not the same galaxy we’ve seen before. While there are comparable instances of violence in both original and prequel trilogies, most of it is bloodless and implied. The same goes for The Clone Wars – any astounding acts of cruelty and violence were softened by the animation and style of storytelling. Yet the opening scene of The Force Awakens is filmed differently. While Abrams spares us the goriest visual details of the villagers’ slaughter, the gritty, sinister reality of what’s happening is inescapable. For the first time we see a Stormtrooper bleed, and we experience the fear and horror in a more visceral way than ever before. And while the rest of the film does a good job of capturing that adventurous, humorous feel of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, it’s clear that the Star Wars Universe has become a darker and more dangerous place than we remember. The violence and grittiness of The Force Awakens seems to be even more prominent in the upcoming film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (it even seems to be a selling point). The stakes seem higher, and we know now that the characters are not safe.
Even the current, Expanded Universe canon (though, I admit, I have read few of the new books out of apprehension) still has these happy-ish endings that are, again, colored by what feels like impending doom (especially where Han Solo is concerned). And, I have to admit, that we’ve come to a point where tidy, happy endings are not really an option anymore. This new take on Star Wars is nuanced. It’s more, realistic now, in terms of characterization and presentation. It has evolved the Star Wars Universe from something I always saw as exciting but safe, to something that is still exciting, but much less safe.
And you know what? I may not want to admit it, but that’s okay.
The safe stories are still on my shelf and on my kindle if I want to revisit them. But more than that, it’s important that Star Wars continues to be what it has always been from its inception: innovative. The greater the risks and the higher the stakes, the better the rewards will be. As I have said before, the Star Wars Universe is a living, changing thing, and I think, us fans, would do well to try to appreciate what the new films, books, etc. are trying to accomplish. I am sad to see my comfortable, happy endings be set aside, but this new, nuanced, and highly evocative presentation, of our beloved saga, is truly remarkable. I, for one, am trying to set aside all expectations of what I think Star Wars “should” be and instead, just enjoy the ride.
Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Feel free to comment below or holler at me on Twitter @ErrantVenturer or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, Mata ne!
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!
Images retrieved from: thrillist.com, starwars.wikia.com, inspirationrecollection.blogspot