Growing up in the 90's and 00's, I saw Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (1999) before any other Star Wars films, yet today I am still a massive fan of Star Wars. Despite the tidal wave of criticism Phantom still receives, at the age of five I thought it was awesome. The same goes for Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge of the Sith (2005), which I saw at eight and eleven, respectively. Years later I have come to understand people's hatred of the prequels and the glory of the originals, and now after seeing Star Wars: Episode VII -The Force Awakens (2015) I can fully understand what it must have felt like in 1977 when the words Star Wars first rolled onto the screen.
But despite the overall positive reactions The Force Awakens is receiving, the film is not perfect. Its most flawed aspect, which fans of the originals will have a hard time admitting, is its emphasis on nostalgic homage. Audiences were fully expecting to see more than a few references in this installment, but, as The Verge writes, "This is an alternate-universe version of A New Hope that just happens to be set in the same universe." The Force Awakens is so similar to episode IV that "if anyone made this movie without the Star Wars name, no one would accept it for a moment. It'd be universally derided as the thinnest, most obvious plagiarism. But because it comes with George Lucas' blessing, and because it's so obviously made by Star Wars fans expressing their joy at being given the keys to the kingdom, and because it invites viewers to become kids seeing A New Hope for the first time again, the critical community has largely greeted it with a sigh of collective relief and welcome."
So lets look back at George's second, so called "failed" trilogy. We all know the saying "if it works, don't fix it," but there is the equally popular saying "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." No one can blame Mr. Lucas for trying something different, no matter how big of a perceived misstep the result was. It must be admitted that the films of the first trilogy hit similar notes each time and were fairly simplistic in both plot and theme, although of course there is something to praise about that approach. But people look at the second trilogy and see only Jar Jar Binks, when in fact there are great complex moments in all three prequel films, as well as a thematic allegory that goes beyond simple good and evil and tries to convey the gray in a galaxy far, far away -- an effort which was surprisingly shunned. It was so shunned in fact that Vanity Fair writes, "Lucas may have been motivated to sell in part by the sometimes harsh reactions to his more recent movies. The prequels made piles of money, but the griping about them rubbed him a bit raw. 'It was fine before the Internet,' he told Bloomberg Businessweek following the Lucasfilm sale. 'But now . . . it’s gotten very vicious and very personal. You just say, "Why do I need to do this?" ' One could argue that billionaire movie moguls should have tougher hides, but most of them don’t have to deal with critiques such as 'George Lucas raped my childhood,' which has become an unfortunate fanboy catchphrase."
After such severe, and truly excessive by any standard, judgement, it's no wonder why J.J. Abrams sticks as close to the original trilogy as he does in The Force Awakens. It is an unfortunate aspect of the entertainment industry today that, with the rise of the Internet, fans' reactions and wants have a weighty impact on what filmmakers and artists create. Still, the experience of viewing the movie leads us to feel J.J. may have made the right move in his fidelity to the originals, beyond simply bending to the will of fans. Proving to the public that not everything would be Disney-fied was worthwhile on its own. Abrams has established that we are back in the Star Wars universe and restored good will among the fanbase.
Now that we have gone back to basics, hopefully there will be room for some experimentation in the next two films because, in all honesty, the best parts of Force Awakens were those that were wholly original. The repetitive pleasure of nostalgic moments will get old, and eventually new ideas and story lines must take its place. Nevertheless, fans should not at all be worried. The small amount of innovation we saw in The Force Awakens affirms that new minds and talents can take Star Wars and successfully evolve it in new ways. Whatever happens in the next films, the 5, 8, and 11 year-olds will still love Star Wars.