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"The Force Awakens" and George Lucas' Vindication


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I love Star Wars and have followed all things Star Wars most of my life. Naturally I saw Force Awakens three times and have followed the aftermath. It was almost seen as gospel for a long time that George Lucas was some sort of creative monster or sociopath - intentionally destroying the mythology of children with bad prequel films and repeated Special Editions which butchered the original films.

The Force Awakens, however, makes me and others view things in a new light. Unlike the loathed prequel trilogy, there were really no new ideas of any kind in Force Awakens. Sure, the protagonist is female and one of the main characters is black - things that aren't really new at all compared to either trilogy. There were some weird homages to his own Lost by JJ Abrams, such as the main characters following a map to find Luke Skywalker on a mysterious island world (Really, JJ?).

Otherwise, the formula was just a remix of A New Hope - a fun one, no doubt, but just a remix. The next Episode VIII doesn't look to be much different - the ending of Force Awakens certainly made it seem like Luke would be training Rey in isolation throughout the next film, to conclude with a showdown with Kylo Ren at the end of the film, in which secrets of her own past will be revealed. In other words, Empire Strikes Back.

Lucas said in interviews that it seemed as if the studio was intentionally keeping him out of the development of the film - and yet, there wasn't really anything in Force Awakens that didn't originate with Lucas besides Abrams' use of elements from Lost. Kylo Ren's look, attitude and lightsaber fighting style was blatantly ripped from Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. If Lucas is such a pariah, why still use his ideas? Shouldn't you have something better?

Let's compare this with the prequels. The prequels certainly had its faults. CGI was still new when George Lucas got a hold of it and so he used it as much he could. It certainly did look as if many of the actors had a tough time interacting in their green screen environment. Nevertheless he used CGI to break through in new realms of filmmaking, something Star Wars has always been about - I'm not entirely confident that we will see anything as impressive as the battle over Coruscant or the lightsaber battles from Revenge of the Sith in JJ's Star Wars.

Likewise the showcase of villains was faulty - Darth Maul showed up in Phantom Menace only to be done away with and return with menace in the TV series Clone Wars. That show worked things out for me at least though - the idea that Palpatine was sacrificing and going through apprentices as he gained power, ultimately arriving at Anakin (illustrated by Palpatine urging Anakin to kill Dooku and a line Palpatine says after Dooku dies - "I will soon have a new apprentice, one far younger and more powerful"), made sense.

If these films were seen as apart from the original trilogy, they'd be seen for fine, entertaining films. The scenes involving Anakin's mother in both Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were brilliant - in one we see a child who genuinely loved his mother, in the next we see him intensely grieve over his mother. I'm not sure how people can complain about acting when they see the scene where Hayden Christensen carries his mother's body, with Luke Skywalker's future aunt and uncle looking on. That scene gave really emotional weight to the scene in A New Hope when Luke's Uncle Owen says, "That's what I'm afraid of" after Beru says that Luke "has too much of his father in him." Many people bemoaned the sudden break towards love that Padme has in Attack of the Clones but Natalie Portman's character Padme suddenly saying "I deeply love you" after an experience that intense was not really that strange.

Meanwhile, the prequels gave us new, original costumes for the clone troopers and the Republic starships that looked familiar enough to know the empire was coming. Everything in Force Awakens looked exactly like the original trilogy, only at times a little bit more polished.

George Lucas didn't just re-enact his original trilogy, however. Most fans were unable to actually watch the prequel trilogy without some sort of mental checklist of whether this was exactly like what they grew up with. That's what many of his fans wanted - a reenactment, like Shakespeare in the Park with special effects. Lucas just made more movies with more of his ideas, because that's what Star Wars was for him, not some sort of sacred religious scripture that should not be tampered with. JJ Abrams has now given those fans their reenactment and it makes Lucas' art look great. Heck, some fans are even drafting a petition to get Lucas back at the helm of his franchise! I may just sign that petition...

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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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