I remember sitting in a crowded theater back in 1999, watching Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace on opening night with some friends from college, and coming to the realization that somewhere between the umpteenth viewing of The Return of the Jedi and this very moment, I'd fallen out of love with Star Wars.
It wasn't a sudden thing, or a reaction to any particular element of The Phantom Menace (although I'm sure Jar Jar Binks deserves some of the blame), but a general feeling of malaise regarding the franchise. For some reason, I now found myself with a conspicuous lack of excitement regarding what the future held for George Lucas' sci-fi saga.
Given how crazy about the franchise I'd been for much of my childhood – one of my earliest movie memories involves sitting in an air-conditioned theater watching the assault on Hoth during The Empire Strikes Back – it was a relatively major shift to go from pure, unadulterated joy at the mere mention of Star Wars to shoulder-shrugging indifference. The Phantom Menace would become the last Star Wars movie I bothered to see on opening night.
All I know for sure is that at some point my relationship with Star Wars turned into a one-sided affair. I had all the toys growing up, and for years I watched, rewatched, and bought each new edition of the original trilogy. I truly believed, for the most part, that George Lucas could do no wrong. In return, I got a series of new movies that were (at best) just okay, and a growing disconnect between the universe I once obsessed over and this new Star Wars universe that always felt a little "off" to me.
Try as I might to recover that magic feeling by rewatching the original trilogy, reading some of the Star Wars comics and novels published over the years, or playing the various Star Wars video games, I simply couldn't find that old sense of thrill when it came to any and all things Star Wars.
Until now, that is...
To say that I'm a big fan of director Gareth Edwards' 2010 breakout film Monsters is putting it mildly. I liked it enough to see it in the theater twice and watch again several more times over the years whenever I discovered that someone I knew hadn't seen it yet. Given the extent of my movie backlog these days, the decision to watch any movie more than once isn't made lightly, but Edwards' lush, personal travelogue disguised as a monster movie impressed me that much.
When it was announced back in May that Edwards would direct the first stand-alone Star Wars movie the studio had planned, it wasn't just a pleasant surprise. It was, well... exciting.
What I'd seen of Edwards' vision for Godzilla at that point had only made me more optimistic about the Star Wars news, and it felt like finally (finally!) I had something to look forward to in the Star Wars universe. And more importantly, Disney's decision to give Edwards his own Star Wars movie – a relative newcomer to Hollywood – suddenly made it feel like I had a kindred spirit among the architects of the Star Wars universe.
A few weeks later, cautious optimism turned the corner to full-blown joy when it was announced that Chronicle director Josh Trank would also be directing a stand-alone Star Wars film.
Over the last two years, I've told anyone who'd listen that Trank's 2012 film about a group of kids who develop superhuman abilities was right up there with The Avengers for me among that year's best movies. And at this point, I couldn't help wondering: Was it just a pair of happy coincidences that Disney chose two of my favorite filmmakers as the cornerstones for their new Star Wars saga?
And have I mentioned how much I love director Rian Johnson's debut film Brick and his more recent film Looper? Because I do. And I can't help wondering if they're making these movies just for me now.
When the news broke that Johnson would write and direct Star Wars: Episode VIII, all that excitement I lacked since the late '80s flooded back. Apparently, this is what I needed to get giddy about Star Wars again – not returning characters or spaceships or spoilers, but filmmakers whose work genuinely excites and surprises me.
In some ways, it feels like Star Wars is following in Marvel's footsteps, opting to put its universe in the hands of filmmakers on the rise instead of established names (with Episode VII director J.J. Abrams the exception, of course) and from all accounts, allowing them a bit more creative freedom than Marvel historically gives directors. It's a strategy that seems a lot less crazy these days than it might have seemed a few years ago, and if Marvel's success is any indication, the payoff can be well worth the risk for both the studio and fans.
And now here we are, with three of the best young filmmakers in Hollywood right now making three new Star Wars movies, and all is right with the world and the Ewoks are dancing and Han Solo shot first and, well... I can't help getting a little carried away with all things Star Wars lately.
Sure, it's hard to decide exactly what made me fall out of love with Star Wars, but it's nice to have finally fallen back into love with the world of Jedi and Sith and smugglers who can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. It's just more fun that way.
Question of the Week: What are you most excited about with the new Star Wars movies?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and his personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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