When I left the cinema on that May evening in 1983 after seeing Return of the Jedi for the 3rd time it somehow seemed clear: the Era of Star Wars was over. A tragic melancholy filled my mood as I didn’t want it to happen. When I entered the cinema on that May evening in 1999 to see The Phantom Menace I was happy I had said my ‘goodbyes’ 16 years earlier … even when it had just been a ‘Goodbye Original Trilogy’ in the end.
Your focus determines your reality
The Force Awakens is a nostalgia trip for many and most movie-critics reviewed the film essentially against the criterion whether it lived up to that aim. Although initially the popular press resoundingly answered that with a ‘yes’, in later weeks more scrutiny was applied and the initial rosy views wore off. The Force Awakens is a great film, but not very original in any particular way. Both of these responses however come from that nostalgia addiction. Because this is what nostalgia does with you: first you fall in love with that former love again … but then the feeling creeps up to you that it can never be the same again. So off you go longing for that next nostalgic moment.
The response I just described is what you typically see among those who were nostalgic for a ‘Original Trilogy revival’, many of whom were already disappointed terribly once when their nostalgia-bubble burst in the very first few minutes of The Phantom Menace. When George Lucas set out to make the Prequel Trilogy he had no intention to serve the fans a plate of warmed-up microwaved Star Wars from some bygone age. He wanted to go to a place closer to what he had been envisioning all those years.
J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy played a risky game with this group of disenfranchised Star Wars aficionados but it seems to have paid off because they understood very well how nostalgia works. So they put Episode VII into the market as ‘doing everything the old way’ while leaving just enough of ‘but it is totally different’. They banked on disenfranchised ‘Original Trilogy’ fans to be unable to contain their appreciation and enthusiasm for what seemed a nostalgia-dish upon first viewing. They equally took into account that if the first warm feelings would wear off after a couple of viewings, these fans would be glued back to the franchise and their ego’s would prevent them from acknowledging weeks later that in fact Sequel Star Wars is different from Original Trilogy Star Wars.
The best illustration of that denial is the response you widely see to the ‘CGI cat that has come out of the sack’. Although The Force Awakens contains more effect-shots than either The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones and less miniatures than any of the Prequel films this no longer is a problem as ‘digital and practical effects mesh so much better in The Force Awakens‘… yeah, that is what 10 extra years of technological innovation typically do. Only very grudgingly will you hear people admit that as a result The Force Awakens looks as if it was entirely shot on Earth … oh wait, it was. The only non-Earth-like planet we see in the film is blown up within 20 seconds and … looks like Coruscant even though it isn’t.
This is how nostalgia works if it is exquisitely played upon by expert-players, which Kennedy and Abrams really are. It allows you to go on bathing yourself in that warm glow of nostalgia for as long as you don’t see it for what it is now … and then it feeds your hunger for the next bath. The ‘Original Trilogy generation’, of which I am one, should have collectively said ‘goodbye’ to their childhood Star Wars in 1983. That would have allowed them to also collectively engage with and enjoy the Prequel Trilogy as that unexpected gift of returning, yet different, Star Wars that it was. Unfortunately however, plenty of them didn’t and hence fell out with the franchise when it turned out Lucas was not working to please them, but to create his own.
Prequel Trilogy Nostalgia
It is interesting to compare the nostalgic reception of The Force Awakens by ‘stuck’ Original Trilogy fans that the response among Prequel Trilogy fans. There you find debates whether the pod-racer flags at Maz Kanata’s castle are enough of a tribute, whether the fact that you can’t fight on Prequel world in the new Battle Front is an offense against Prequel fans, whether the lack of plans for more Prequel Era comics is a sign of worse things to come. Many of the Prequel Trilogy generation are as deeply wrapped in nostalgia as those Original Trilogy fans were in 1999. The main difference is that during the marketing campaign for The Force Awakens they were told time and again that there would be no Prequel Trilogy ‘feel’ to the film as all signs were pointing backwards. This too put many of the Prequel Trilogy generation on the defence.
The typical response to The Force Awakens I saw among ‘stubborn’ Prequel fans was one of ‘well it surely isn’t as creative and epic as the Prequels, but it isn’t to bad either’. Abrams and Kennedy had no intention to please the Prequel Trilogy fans, but unlike George Lucas 16 years earlier, they made this absolutely clear from day 1. Prequel Trilogy aficionado’s weren’t overcome by anger at their nostalgia-bubble bursting in the opening shots of The Force Awakens, they had that grown used to that feeling already from the start of the marketing campaign. As a result, again, nostalgia could do its work albeit in the right direction this time. Ticket sales indicate that the Prequel Trilogy fans also went for the multiple viewings of The Force Awakens. Even now, a good one-and-a-half months after the film’s premiere it still regularly sells-out the London BFI Imax.
Kennedy and Abrams must have realized how this works. It is when you are going to meet that childhood love and a few days prior to the meet-up you hear they are with someone else now. After you have digested that, the actual meeting takes places nevertheless because your ego doesn’t look kindly on openly admitting you were hoping for something else. Yet after the meeting you are at peace with the state of affairs even when you might still think the two of you together wouldn’t have been bad either. That is of course conditional upon you being able to ‘say goodbye’ to that childhood love and to open yourself to what different opportunities now lie ahead.
‘Goodbye Prequel Trilogy’
The Original Trilogy fans have now had two chances at saying ‘goodbye’ to their childhood trilogy. Many failed to do so prior to the opening of The Phantom Menace and were filled with vitriol. For more than a decade they behaved as party-poopers that use every opportunity to tell everyone their ‘ex is just a total disappointment’ … objectively! Mates … if there were any objectivity in that assessment you wouldn’t have needed to harass everyone with it for 16 years. Own it: you felt rejected … that was all. I think Kennedy and Abrams successfully got most of those back on board even though these same fans will realize in quiet moments alone that Sequel Trilogy Star Wars is as different from Original Trilogy Star Wars, as Prequel Trilogy Star Wars was.
Prequel Trilogy fans now also have to say ‘goodbye’ to their beloved childhood trilogy. This is especially important as I expect that also in Star Wars: Rebels we will see events unfold this season that will finalize a few storylines that are connecting the Prequels with the Originals. Either this or next season we will see the ‘end’ of Ahsoka’s storyline through the Prequel and Original trilogy era. Whether she survives or not isn’t so much the question. Even when she survives, the focus will shift towards her impact on the Sequel Era. The same will be true for Darth Maul, but of course also for Rebels’ Ghost Crew itself.
Dave Filoni is excellent at sowing things together, whether it was connecting The Phantom Menace to The Clone Wars through Maul, or connecting the Prequels to A New Hope through Ahsoka, Rex, Maul and Anakin/Vader. I would not be surprised to see Rebels cast a shadow forward to The Force Awakens and the Sequel Trilogy. I would also not be surprised to see Star Wars: Rogue One doing the same. But by the time Episode VIII arrives I think all Star Wars fans, no matter of which generation, should be well advised to have arrived in the Sequel Era and to have stopped living in the past. Maybe then we can finally start discussing the Sequel Trilogy films not with regards to our nostalgic cravings, but rather with respect to what they are; a new era of Star Wars different from the two previous ones.
18 thoughts on “It’s time to say ‘Goodbye Prequel Era’”
Um, there’s no need to say goodbye to any SW era. Even when making the prequels Lucas still released OT era merchandise, novels and DVDs. Disney can still make PT era merchandise even when making the ST. And believe it or not, OT fans are starting to realize that the prequels were better than TFA for having stories that kept SW fresh. You can’t compare the different generations because one was run by Lucas and the other is run by Disney. I work with children and just yesterday I overheard 3rd grader talk about Luke and Anakin losing their limbs. There isn’t much talk about The Force Awakens because there’s no originality to begin with.
Oh and I suppose your the ultimate arbiter of taste Steven? Only your opinions are right and everyone else that disagrees is wrong? I think your ageist totalitarianism is showing. And acting can never make up for a bad script.
Saying goodbye evidently is not meant as never watching any dvd’s or blue rays of the 6 previous films, neither does it mean that we will never again see the release of PT era or OT era action figures or toys. All that it means is the realization that the Star Wars story is moving forwards into the Sequel Era time period and that we should judge the value of Sequel Era stories or films on the basis of whether or not they successfully bath us in nostalgic warmth of our favorite other era. Rather we should look upon the Sequels as a new era. I find most of the criticisms of TFA being ‘unoriginal’ just as much a symptom of nostalgia addiction as the comments that it was the most awesome one because it was so ANH. Neither is true, both opinions put he nostalgic value as first and only defining characteristic.
But there hasn’t been any toys from other eras lately. Most toys (if you can find any are strictly OT toys or TFA toys. I would know because I collect action figures. And what’s worse is Disney has avoided the most of the female characters – even the ones from their era. I never had trouble looking for an action figure of Leia, Padme or even Mara Jade when Lucas was in charge.
The lack of female action figures is indeed despicable. That OT and ST toys are now the main output is not so surprising given the timeline of the trilogies. And who knows, maybe in 10 years from now we’ll get a prequel trilogy to the prequels?😊
Disney did the same thing with the Marvel characters – especially Gamora from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and both the Black Widow and the Scarlet Witch from “The Avengers” films.
Love for a film or any other work of art isn’t unto itself “nostalgia.” Art doesn’t spoil; a great work remains a great work no matter how old it is. Conversely, criticism isn’t necessarily motivated solely by “nostalgia.” Most of the criticism I’ve read of TFA (I don’t watch tedious YouTube ramblings and ravings) were far more nuanced, thoughtful, and fair than 99.99% of what was aimed at the prequels. That still goes on to this day, by the way.
There were prequel fans who embraced TFA and there were OT-only fans who didn’t. It’s not that clear cut. Anything else you’re talking about are prequel fans reacting to being treated like crap for 16 years. Some are justifiably worried that the new regime is determined to stuff a significant part of what they loved about Star Wars into the memory hole. Who wants a future where you can’t even get the PT on any platform? As it is a friend said that on a recent trip to a Disney park, you could get any SW poster printed on demand…except for anything from Eps I-III.
There’s no evidence at all that Disney has any intention of moving on from exploiting the OT anyway. There’s no indication there’s a whole new ST aesthetic coming around the corner with new ship designs or anything. The spinoffs are all based on the OT. The merchandising is still mostly OT if it isn’t TFA. *Shrug.*
There were very few ships or vehicles in TFA anyway. But I expect that to change. JJ has done the whole trilogy-nostalgia in one film so VIII and IX will have no choice but to do something new.
Plus I don’t watch Star Wars to get “a nostalgic feeling”. I watch because they’re good stories that take me to another world. I’d never even heard of Star Wars as a kid. I was introduced to the OT as a teenager. I felt that the “new era” of the Sequel Trilogy was all in the now defunct Expanded Universe.
Well … hardly anything of TFA came from the EU, or at least not as far as we know. The First Order is not some Imperial Remnant and Hux is not a Thrawn. I also watch Star Wars because I like the stories, but in response to TFA there was plenty of nostalgia-talk in the reviews … both positive & negative ones.
Enjoyed the post! I was initially annoyed at the “avoid the PT” marketing of TFA, but they have since let more PT trickle through. Like the Obi-Wan & Anakin comic (in a time period hardly touched on before) and allowing Filoni to add Clone Wars characters to Rebels (making it infinitely more watchable for me – I dislike the main cast) and hopefully more PT will be on the way.
Personally, I enjoy the characters, themes and worlds of the PT more than other eras but would have loved a sequel trilogy that was even more wildly different from anything thats come before. EU works like Legacy or Tales of the Jedi felt completely different from what had come before, but also still definitely Star Wars. It’s the lack of imagination that made me enjoy TFA less than the other movies in the saga. But I still enjoyed it. I disagree about the EU. I felt they lifted a lot from it. Enough that they had no choice but to make it all “Legends”.
Glad to see Filoni is still working bits of it back in when he can though
I think Filoni is the Star Wars story-teller of this era. I think you can even tell the difference hen he directs a Rebels episode and thus has even more impact on what we actually see. He has adopted so many of the good things of George while adding his own sensibillities & heart. I really liked TFA but it lacks somewhat in that heart that Filoni adds to his work.
I don’t see any need to say good-bye to any Star Wars era. I certainly did not embrace this attitude when the Prequel movies first hit the screen. I enjoyed the 1977-83 movies as much as I did the 1999-2005 movies and treated all six movies as one long saga. And I am still doing the same.
During the time when the Prequel movies were being shown in the theaters, I didn’t watch the Original movies out of nostalgia. I watched them because they’re damn good movies, just as the Prequel movies were damn good.
Now, I’ll tolerate “The Force Awakens” because it’s now part of the saga – part of the continuing story. Even if I found J.J. Abrams and Disney’s product dissatisfying. I can only hope that Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow will produce better movies.
I am not suggesting anyone should watching or stop appreciating the Prequels nor the Originals. All I am saying is that we should expect that the frame of reference against which we judge the Sequel Trilogy should be … the Sequel Trilogy.
Although the first two trilogies are evidently connected and intertwined, it is nevertheless good to appreciate them as two distinct elements of a larger whole. I think to really get into the Prequels one needs to appreciate them within their own frame & their own language first. Not everything in the prequels derives its meaning and value from resonance with the Originals. There are themes and visuals which are truly unique to the Prequel Trilogy and I would wish more people would appreciate those.
It almost sounds like you’re saying the, shall we say, prequel-disregarding tone of the advance marketing was a good thing because it didn’t create unrealistic expectations on the part of prequel fans. Do you agree?
I think it definitely helped to ensure Prequel Trilogy fans were not expecting much in terms of Prequel nostalgia. I found the ‘prequel-disregarding tone’ quite annoying and at times it felt offensive. But it surely prevented me from having any illusions about the ‘prequel-vincinity’ of TFA. As a result I found every connection I recognised very positively surprising and enjoyable 🙂
This is a great post, and I’m glad to have just discovered your site.
I share most of the feelings/views you express here. The dismissive attitude towards the PT that is being displayed by Disney and the new guard is kind of offensive to me, no doubt because I’m a great fan of the PT – I love that trilogy just as much as I love the OT, even though the OT was such a central love of my childhood.
As much as I enjoyed much of TFA, it was curious that most of what I found lacking in it was the absence of Lucas himself and his vision, his world-building, his imagination, etc. This was even evident in the lacklustre music – this being the first SW film to date to have a completely uninteresting soundtrack. There were so many moments where I was watching and thinking, ‘Boy, imagine what Lucas would’ve done with a scene like this!’.
I too am bittersweet at the idea of the prequel era being over, but mostly because of the dismissive, disrespectful attitude so many people show towards it. Having said that; since TFA came out, I’ve watched TPM twice, AOTC and ROTS once each, have re-read the ROTS novelisation, and have watched far more Clone Wars than Rebels – so maybe I’m personally going in the opposite direction! Maybe a lot of us will find ourselves doing that…?