I remember when the second teaser for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released. I was at work, in my office and one by one people around the building saw it and spread the word. It was a HUGE deal, even more so than the first quick teaser that had come out months earlier. That was just quick shots of Finn, Rey, BB-8, Kylo Ren and the Millennium Falcon with a creepy Supreme Leader Snoke voice-over. I mean it was awesome, but it paled in comparison to the second teaser that featured a voice-over from Luke Skywalker himself with even more footage of the title characters and the triumphant John Williams music, before bringing a lot of fans to tears with Han and Chewie at the end, "We're home."
We were ALL excited then, at least as far as I knew. The movie came out in December of 2016 and cruised its way to $2 billion worldwide at the box office without breaking a sweat. Star Wars was BACK and better than we could have hoped from the disappointments that the prequels had been for many of us.
Then the complaints started coming in about it. It was almost like the Honeymoon was over and now we were settling into the marriage that gave us pause initially some years back when Disney ponied up $4 billion to buy the rights to the franchise and immediately start working on bringing new episodes of the story to the screen. How would Disney treat the Star Wars franchise? Would they overdo it and run it into the ground? Would they make it too kid-centered and forget the adult audiences? People had questions and for a time, it seemed like those answers were good for us.
Not anymore though and it starts with heavy criticism for The Force Awakens (TFA), called by many a lazy copy of Episode IV: A New Hope (ANH). As someone who has seen both movies dozens of times, there's more than just a few similarities between the two, from the fact that the plot is centered around important data being carried around in a small droid that was dropped off on a desert planet to find a force-sensitive companion that would help it get to the rebellion/resistance, all the way to the super-powered destructive space station with a giant laser than can destroy planets and is aiming to destroy the rebellion/resistance next. That's really just the tip of the iceberg, there's so much more that TFA does lift from ANH.
So my question is, do we all HATE this now? Seriously? Because when I saw it twice in IMAX 3D with sold out theaters both times, I didn't have these complaints and I didn't hear them from other people either and it wasn't like it took me a few viewings to see these comparisons. I saw them from the first time on, all the big ones at least. They really didn't try to hide them at all, especially when it came to the Millennium Falcon and its really convenient placement on the desert planet for our heroes and their important droid to use for their escape, as just another example. Ok, sure I thought that it was too convenient at the time and I had a tinge of cognitive dissonance about it, but that flew out the window once they started fighting The First Order and I got to see one of my favorite spaceships of all-time take flight for the first time since I was a kid. I loved it, my friends loved it and the audiences I saw it with twice loved it.
Now I've got people telling me they would rather watch the prequels instead of TFA. That's right, they'd rather put up with Jar-Jar Binks and the Midichlorians than face how much Disney has defiled their beloved franchise. I mean, you have every right to feel that way but...really? TFA became THAT bad within a year? I tell you, it looked like we ALL loved it when it came out. Alright, maybe not all but A LOT of people. Complaints were few and far between for it and that's just not the case now. What changed with these fans' opinions?
The comparisons between TFA and ANH aside, the Disney thing might really be a factor here considering some of the opinions expressed about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It didn't come close to TFA box office numbers, but it did pass $1 billion and was praised by many fans, myself included, but there is this groundswell of fans that consider the movie anything from "okay" to "terrible," for a variety of reasons. It's difficult to come down on that opinion as well because not everyone is going to like movies that are widely acclaimed, and not everyone is going to hate movies that are widely panned, but when you hear people talk about how "Disney is ruining Star Wars" you start to get a sense of where a good amount of the disdain comes from.
When TFA was released it effectively rendered the Expanded Universe stories from the Star Wars franchise as non-canon, meaning that great stories like Timothy Zahn's "Heir to the Empire" book were now not part of the universe. From a business and franchise standpoint it makes total sense because you want to tell new stories and not rely on adapting work that has already been published and read, but fans that loved the EU were obviously heartbroken and upset to some degree because the stories they know and love will never see the cinematic treatment. Not only that, but it seems clear for anyone that has seen TFA and knows even a bit of the EU that Disney is still using elements from those books to tell a different story on screen altogether and make their own new canon. Not everyone likes this idea obviously, and when you start off with a movie that in many ways is just a two hour and fifteen minute long homage to ANH, those people that wanted to see something completely fresh and different were not going to be happy about it.
The thing is, Episode I: The Phantom Menace was "fresh" and "different" and it's considered by a lot of people to be one of those movies that proves how bad movies can still make a ton of money. The last thing people wanted after the Prequel Trilogy was more of the same, and so many comments were made about how a return to form was needed, namely with using less CGI and more models and telling a more "force-centered" story instead of trying to push "boring" politics and scientific explanations for how The Force works, that J.J. Abrams and his crew were almost forced to do something that looked almost exactly like ANH, or else the fans would have had their heads. Instead, it seems to be yet another Kobayashi Maru (yes, I'm crossing franchises) for the filmmakers involved with Star Wars now.
There are people on social media that are actively campaigning against anyone seeing the new Star Wars movies, pointing the finger squarely at Disney and calling them the scourge of the franchise, when the reality of it is that just like with many other franchises, Disney is taking a direction that those are who are upset did not want them to take, and that includes making the first new movie a heavily-veiled tribute to the very first Original Trilogy film. As with anything else, not everyone is going to like it and there are still plenty of people that do, it's just amazing to see something like Star Wars turn on a dime like this with a lot of people.
At the end of the day, we all will like whatever it is we will like no matter what others think about it and that's as it should be. Disney has committed itself to releasing a new Star Wars movie every year, whether it's an actual "episode" or a "story" movie. We will have Episode VIII: The Last Jedi coming out this December and the Han Solo story movie coming out next year and I'll be front and center for both of them as I am still excited to see where this franchise is headed, but it will be interesting to see where the fan base goes for Star Wars as it gets deeper and deeper into the realm of being a top tier Disney franchise.