Comic-Con: Should New 'Star Wars' Have An Old Trilogy Focus?

The Empire Strikes Out
<p>Someone or something is attacking what appears to be the next generation of the Galactic Empire &mdash; but who?</p>
Much of what has been seen so far is stuck in a very narrow part of the past.

When the original movie debuted, the opening words of Star Wars felt contradictory to everything that followed: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…" The presence of Chewbacca and the Cantina scene underscored the "galaxy far, far away" part, but "a long time ago"? With space ships and Death Stars and lightsabers? No, this felt like the future, like the world ahead of us. 

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the announced — yet unnamed — subsequent two chapters carry the space opera forward, there's no getting away from the fact that almost every other part of the Star Wars property is stuck in the past… and a very narrow part of that past, at that.

The standalone Anthology films concentrate on characters and situations from the original trilogy (The unnamed Han Solo movie directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord explores the pre-Star Wars past of that character, while Rogue One fills in the backstory of how the Rebel Alliance had those Death Star plans in the original movie, anyway), while Marvel's Star Wars comics are all centered around the chronological orbit of the first movie. (The novels, too, seem to have retreated to that general period, with titles like Tarkin and A New Dawn.)

Similarly, the Star Wars: Battlefront videogame centers around conflicts from those first three movies, and even Star Wars: Rebels, the Disney XD series targeted at an audience too young to be filled with happy memories of the 1970s/1980s original trilogy, is set in the era immediately predating the original movie.

During the Friday Lucasfilm panel at Comic-Con, Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams emphasized this shift in focus by pointing out that episodes IV, V and VI (which is to say, the original trilogy) are "canon," underscoring a point not previously been considered in any doubt. The power of the Dark Side may be strong, but apparently, it's nothing compared with the power of the nostalgia in those currently tasked with the direction of the Star Wars franchise.

In a way, we're in a third age of Star Wars ancillary material. When the original trilogy was being released, comic books and prose tie-ins centered around those characters and that period, because that was what Star Wars was at the time. By the time the prequels had come out, things had changed; the larger mythology had grown beyond the movies thanks to Dark Horse Comics and Del Rey Books' success with their licensed titles, and subject matter had expanded to explore stories set thousands of years before, and hundreds of years after, what audiences had seen onscreen. That "Expanded Universe" ended last year, when Lucasfilm declared everything outside of the movies and Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars non-canonical, and refocused efforts into the years surrounding the original movie, for the most part.

(The announced Journey to The Force Awakens line of comics and prose will break from this thinking when it debuts this fall, but even that will begin with the immediate aftermath of 1983's Return of the Jedi, proving that the original trilogy's gravitational pull cannot be denied.)

To many fans, this renewed focus is a good thing, with the original Star Wars trilogy remaining the motherlode of what Star Wars should be, without the awkward dialogue and overuse of CGI that plagued the 1990s/2000s prequel trilogy. Certainly, those are the more charming of the movies so far, but there's a risk of it turning Star Wars into something that it was clearly never meant to be — a story so concerned with respecting its own history and mythology that it forgets to move forward and surprise its audience.

The original Star Wars trilogy was hardly original, drawing inspiration from all manner of sources and translating them into a fun, over-the-top melting pot of a movie, and the concern isn't that the new movies aren't inventing enough new things. It's that, in constantly looking to its own past for inspiration and education, it runs the risk of being unable or unwilling to screw with its own mythology enough to offer the same kind of contradictory revelations as Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father, or Princess Leia turning out not to be his daughter a movie later.