Editor’s Note: Guardians of the Galaxy is currently in theaters.
Every day that passes brings us one step closer to Episode VII. As the owner of more than his share of Star Wars action figures, several different Star Wars videogames on a multitude of platforms, the original trilogy on VHS, the special edition and prequels (I guess I’m just a completist) on DVD, and a Death Star ice ball mold (because even a tumbler of scotch can be nerdy); that sentence should excite me to no end. Nevertheless, as each Star Wars news article flits across the web and gets endlessly linked on Twitter, I can barely muster more than a smirk of excitement. Some may argue that I was burned by the prequels, but in actuality I don’t harbor all that much hate for them. The truth of the matter is that as I have grown, the continuing cinematic and televisual output of Star Wars has failed to grow as well. What began as a film embraced by all ages has now remained largely in childhood. In the meantime, generations weaned on the Force and Skywalker has come of age, producing the best Star Wars movies that aren’t actually Star Wars.
in this statement, Mr. Lucas shows an apparent ignorance to what made the original trilogy so beloved. Star Wars isn’t about Luke Skywalker. It’s about the Rebels.
Before Disney bought the Star Wars franchise, George Lucas would often get asked if he planned to continue the story past Return of the Jedi. On the question, Lucas answered, “…there really is no answer for that. The movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, and when Luke saves the galaxy and redeems his father, that’s where that story ends.” While I am not one to argue with creators, with this point I must quibble. For in this statement, Mr. Lucas shows an apparent ignorance to what made the original trilogy so beloved. Star Wars isn’t about Luke Skywalker. It’s about the Rebels.
In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker is an annoying and altogether useless boy. He whines and complains, showing no real talent for anything. There is progression through the series, with the Luke of Return having very little in common with the Luke of New Hope, but he still remains only a piece. The audience comes to care for and connect with all those aboard the Millennium Falcon. Without Han, Chewie, Leia, or even C-3PO and R2-D2, it truly wouldn’t be the same. The prequels lost this sense of comradery. They chose to focus on Anakin’s fall into evil, or the laborious political machinations of the Republic. Gone was the friendship. Gone was the heart.
Thankfully, the reach of the Saga exceeded its own limitations. As an audience we are not encumbered by the strict beliefs that Lucas had tied to Star Wars. Instead, the pieces that connected with us and fostered our amorous relationship could act as our influence. Luckily, in the right hands, this had the possibility to surpass the doldrums of fan fiction and serve as the inspiration for new work.
Joss Whedon’s Firefly is often described as a western in space or, and more fittingly for this article’s purposes, Star Wars with a bunch of Han Solos. The show’s concept began to develop after Whedon read Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels, a novel about the Battle of Gettysburg that served as the basis for 1993’s Gettysburg. He set out to tell the story of a group of people on the losing side of a war and how they managed to get by as their world changed hands. This choice to focus on a group, something readily apparent in pretty much all of Whedon’s work, allows the audience numerous entrance points. Each of the nine main characters has a distinct background and personality, and as much as the series is about their heists and scavenging, it is even more concerned with how this group interacts and survives together.
Like Firefly, they are each offered hints at a larger backstory with deeper emotional scars that can only be glimpsed in one feature length. These backstories fuel their individualistic personalities, offering the audience numerous points of connection.
This past weekend’s Guardians of the Galaxy has many thematic similarities. Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot are all misfits that don’t really fit in anywhere. They are content surviving on their own. However, they approach greatness when they are forced to come together. None of them wants to work with the other, but they recognize that together they can help one another. Like Firefly, they are each offered hints at a larger backstory with deeper emotional scars that can only be glimpsed in one feature length.
These backstories fuel their individualistic personalities, offering the audience numerous points of connection. While some of the marketing material may posit Star-Lord as the focus of the film, and the opening flashback does little to dissuade this notion, writer-director James Gunn always keeps in mind the title of the film. Guardians of the Galaxy is about that exactly; this group of unwanteds and misunderstoods fighting against a greater power to preserve their way of life.
This core idea of us versus them and an evil that blinds in its power, is of the utmost importance to Star Wars. Star Wars is about the little guys coming together to overthrow something bigger. It’s about a group of awkward and uncaring scamps that have no choice but to band together to survive. It’s about the non-genetic family with an unshakeable bond. These are the elements of Star Wars that enchant its audience.
Joss Whedon and James Gunn see the heart of Star Wars and in their careers as writer-directors have been able to craft series and films that continue this legacy.
Admittedly Star Wars did plenty for the genre of science-fiction. It popularized the space setting for telling largely human stories. Star Wars’ legacy is not restricted by its own brand, for it has been able to touch so many. While, the prequels may have lost sight of what made Star Wars a sensation, those inspired by it have not. Creators like Joss Whedon and James Gunn see the heart of Star Wars and in their careers as writer-directors have been able to craft series and films that continue this legacy. While many will wait with bated breath for what J.J. Abrams is able to produce with Episode VII, and perhaps even more for Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII (and maybe IX?), I argue that we have been served some of the best new Star Wars films that we could hope for. They just had different names.