It's been an incredible year for Star Wars fans around the world, with near daily news regarding not only The Force Awakens, but also every facet of the newly-expanded universe in film. It's also been a year of surprises and controversy, as well, as Disney and rock star producer Kathleen Kennedy have plotted a new course for the canon universe that has essentially snubbed all manner of Star Wars in print media - all expanded universe comics and novels must now be considered alternate universe (much like the alternate universes of Marvel's comic book worlds).
The truth of the matter is, even after having invested so heavily in the expanded universe content like I have, I'm still fine with the new direction of the franchise. After all, what I've really wanted for the last 25 years since I became a fan was high-quality content in film, which has always been my favorite part of Star Wars.
My Journey as a Fan of a Decades-Old Film Franchise
I was born when Return of the Jedi was already in theatres, therefore, I never got to feel the magic of the original trilogy that the original fans got to feel. I had a taste of the original excitement when the Lucas remastered versions of the films hit theatres in '96/'97, and that was exciting enough, but I knew wasn't the same as when the original films released, starting two decades prior. As a bright-eyed kid and second-generation fan of the franchise, sitting in a sweaty theatre next a guy dressed as Boba Fett to see the re-hash of Empire was pretty much my top highlite of 1997.
When Episodes I-III went into production in the late 90's, I was elated with joy to get the chance to be a part of new Episodes of the franchise in theatres. Of course, we all know how those films turned out, with 2005's Revenge of the Sith being the only prequel film that added anything meaningful to the franchise and story (say what you want, but the battle on Mustafar was awesome).
Suffice it to say, like so many fans around the world, I have been not-so-patiently waiting for new, original film content from the franchise. The episodic content on Cartoon Network just wasn't doing it for me - I tried to watch The Clone Wars, but despite how dark they tried to make the content, I didn't feel as though it elevated the source material in any substantive way (also, I did not like how Lucas molded the character of Anakin Skywalker).
Disney and "A New Hope"
Disney's 2013 purchase of the Star Wars properties from George Lucas for over $4 billion actually filled me with a new hope (sorry, couldn't help myself) - after seeing what Disney and Kevin Feige have done with the Marvel properties, I was confident that Star Wars was finally in the right hands. What really blew my mind was how fast they got J.J. Abrams to helm what is essentially the most important Star Wars film ever made - and he didn't seem to think twice about jumping ship on the third installment of the Star Trek reboot (which was phenomenal in its own right). Immediately after landing Abrams, Disney wasted no time in signing virtually the whole original cast to have major roles in Episode VII. It's clear that Disney was pulling all the stops from the very beginning, in order to create the film that is singularly vital to the continued vitality of the massive franchise.
I think many fans would agree with me on a couple points here. First, it seems that Disney has chosen the right timing for the production and release of their new film, as they have found themselves caught up in a new Star Wars zeitgeist - it appears to be a certainty that The Force Awakens will be one of the highest grossing films of all-time (if not the highest grossing film of all-time, like I am seeing some film-industry analysts predicting). From Vans shoes to X-Wing kitchen knife sets to Youtube fan-fiction, it would appear that every facet of pop culture is somehow engaged with the new film and new content.
Second, J.J. Abrams is the perfect Writer/Director to steer the reboot, as well - with the appropriate mix of secrecy and scarce mouth-watering movie teasers, he has the speculators guessing and second-guessing plot points and actor's supposd roles at every turn. At their largest roundtable-event during Star Wars week, with Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy present, most of the actors of the new film (including the unreal super-prop BB-8) took to the stage in the midst of fanatical applause and excitement from the fans in the audience.
The whole of the new social/mass-media world is completely awash in Star Wars, and the excitement is palpable... but this leads me to what has been constantly on my mind since the release of the first cast images last November - Why? Rather, why is the world ready now, and/or what has Disney done right that Lucas failed to do with his own franchise and the prequel trilogy?
The Star Wars That We've Been Looking For
Disney is giving fans what Lucas was not willing to do - content that has matured, as its base fans have. Where Lucas was always focused on how to pad the bottom-line revenue of the franchise, Disney knows they must focus on elevating the source content with the new material, or be doomed to further alienate the core fan base. For this, I have an incredible amount of respect for Disney - they have taken so many similar massive risks by investing in film ventures like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, by respecting the source material of those franchises, as well as respecting the fans, they have found record-breaking success time and time again (and even proved it again, this week, as Ultron crossed the $1 billion mark in world-wide revenue).
In my humble opinion, Disney has done more for the fans of the Star Wars franchise in the last year, than Lucas did in the prior twenty - They have helped us gain back an excitement and a passion for Star Wars that has been missing for some time. It was always there, I believe, but was being slowly smothered in mediocre childrens' content. The lid that Lucas tried to smother his franchise with is off, and the strings that held back the development of franchise maturity are relatively cut - and now Star Wars has a chance to breathe, again.
I want a Star Wars that is mature. This is now a world of fans who consume much edgier content on a daily basis, in the forms of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, The 100, Arrow, and Netflix's incredible new episodic Daredevil - We are NOT COOL with another cartoon series. Hell, take any single episode even older series, like the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, and I can show you how that did more for the sci-fi genre than the last 20 years of Star Wars did. It's nearly 40 years now since A New Hope was released, and it's just time to move forward.
As a fan, I am 100% bought in, at this point. With Writer/Director J.J. Abrams at the helm and Producer Kathleen Kennedy behind the scenes, and now rumors of other directors coming aboard for future installments (HOLY CRAP JOSS WHEDON), there is simply no way for the film to disappoint... unless you're really hoping for another cheaply-animated installment. I will post/re-post breaking news on the Ronin Geek Facebook feed as we wait for the December 15 release date. Thank you for reading, and feel free to post comments and your own fan-story/history below!