The release of Solo: A Star Wars Story has brought about yet another wave of reviews from fans and critics alike, and, as with all the latest releases in the franchise, there have been the inevitable comparisons to the original trilogy; the foundation from which all of these new films are being built on.
Both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi bear striking similarities to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, in terms of their plot points, as well as their structure. Rogue One, the first of these spin-off films, drew comparisons to the original trilogy because of its place in the Star Wars timeline and its attempts to mimic the style of the original film. Now the Han Solo spin-off is also facing similar comparisons. Going by YouTube and forum posts, the reviews are not overwhelmingly positive.
It is understandable that any attempt to recapture the magic of the much beloved original films will be met with reluctance and resentment by audiences, but it seems like that uphill mountain is an impossible one to climb, not least because - and I'm sorry to say this - the original films are just not that well written to begin with.
Okay, before you string me up for such a statement, let it be known that I am a huge fan of the Star Wars universe. I collected all the toys as a kid, played all the games and I have no hesitation in giving Disney my hard earned money to go see another movie in the cinema. I think the originals set the bar for special effects and fantasy films in the late 20th Century, and I'm even a supporter of the much-loathed prequels, if even just because of the technological advancements the movies heralded in the early 21st century. Without Lucas and his vision for this story-verse, the film industry would be a very different place and I probably wouldn't even have embarked on a career in it.
However, that isn't to say I think the films hold up, nor do I think that just because they are the originals, that they can do no wrong. In fact, I would even go out on a limb and say that the most harmful film to the overall franchise is one of the originals and not the prequels or the recent films, as many critics usually go for. I give you Return of the Jedi.
Jedi is just not a very well written film - pure and simple. It lacks imagination, forces banal story points on the audience and resorts to desperation in order to try and keep up with the momentum of the previous films. To top it off, the third act of the film completely undermines everything that the previous films worked so hard to establish.
Return of the Jedi was my favourite Star Wars film when I was a kid, but I don't think it's a coincidence that part of my love for that film was down to all the toys I had from that movie. Looking back on the film now, it's hard to believe Lucas ever put that script into production. The whole first act of the film is spent rescuing Han Solo from Jabba's palace - that's a whole 30-40 minutes of what was, for a long time, the final chapter of the Star Wars film. The sequence has no character development, nor does anything from that act carry over into the rest of the film - it's like a completely separate and standalone story. And that doesn't even take into consideration that the only female character up to that point and the only female character of any substance in the entire movie is reduced to a sexually objectified slave.
The main adventure itself isn't a real improvement - destroy a second death star? Real imaginative. The worst offence of the film, and why I feel it is the most damaging film in the entire franchise, is that Luke's training as a Jedi, his arc as a character for the last two films, plays no role in this film. Sure he manages to turn Darth Vader away from the dark side, but for what purpose? Don't forget, Lando Calrissian is the one who fires the killing blow to the empire. If Luke had just stayed on Endor with the others, or even just stayed away entirely, the rebels would still arguably have succeeded in defeating the Emperor and Vader. That's inexcusable from a screenwriting perspective. Say what you want about the movies that have come since, but they never committed a screenwriting sin as big as having the main protagonist's arc be inconsequential to the final chapter of the story.
Okay, enough ranting.
One could argue that this is just the result of Lucas running out of steam for the story and rushing to tie loose ends together. I get that. But we are seeing all of these same issues appearing in the new films (minus the gross sexualisation of their only female lead!). The unexpected demise of Snoke or the revelation of Rey's lineage in The Last Jedi shows how the producers are happily ready to undermine the active questions established in previous films, and the structural similarities of these last two episodes in the franchise to their original counterparts demonstrate how much Lucasfilm are clinging on to the past. It doesn't give us hope for the next instalment when, as I've just highlighted, some of the most glaring errors of the original trilogy all came from the final chapter.
The problem with Star Wars is that Star Wars is built on a foundation of sand and I get the feeling that these spin-offs are acting almost like a support beam for the original stories. Rogue One at times feels like its only job is to write away some of the weaker elements of the plot and give greater significance to some of the background elements of the film.
I look forward to every Star Wars offering that we get these days, and I can't wait to see Solo sometime this week. But if Lucasfilm wants to continue building and strengthening this universe, at some point it needs to stop and do some honest self-reflection - to realise that the original trilogy, the catalogue of films they seemingly use as a basis for every creative choice, needs to be put to rest in favour of new ideas and directions.
(Copyright of images: Lucasfilm)