For the first time in the history of the world, we are in the second consecutive year of a Star Wars film release. This is no small deal. There aren’t many other film franchises that resonate with people on such an emotional level—I love the Marvel movies but they don’t create benchmark memories the way Star Wars films historically have. I’ll never forget the feeling in my stomach just last year, as I sat fully-reclined in a mid-level seat, in a jam packed theater, watching the opening crawl for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, soundtracked so powerfully by John Williams’s iconic theme music. “This will begin to make things right,” says Max Von Sydow, the first spoken words in a decade for a franchise that never really went away, but may as well have been gone for an eternity. This wasn’t just a night at the movies. This was a moment. And this Friday, I have a strong feeling it will return again.
Let’s go back to the beginning. I was born in 1993, so I never was gifted the experience of seeing the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters, as I’ve heard of so many doing—over and over and over again. However, I was gifted a box set of the original trilogy on DVD at a very young age, and these were essentially my bible, the way I filled 95% of the free time of my youth. I had the VHS of the bizarre EWOKS spinoff. I had one sippy-cup in the mold of Darth Vader’s head, and another of his trusty Stormtrooper army. For better or worse, this was a building block of the nerd I became.
How blindingly in love with Star Wars was I? Well, let’s say this: I didn’t realize that the reaction to George Lucas’s prequels was… lukewarm… to put it lightly, until years after their release. I was in Kindergarten when The Phantom Menace came out, and I worshipped that movie. My teacher devoted a lot of class time to drawing in coloring books, and, when the year came to an end, I would say 90 of my 180 pages were blessed with crude drawings of Darth Maul, his double-edged lightsaber only barely recognizable due to my complete lack of artistic ability. It was more of the same when it came time, three and six years later, that Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith came out. I loved these. I was deaf and blind to the outside criticism of overdone CGI, bizarre plotlines about intergalactic bureaucracy, Lucas’s blocky dialogue, and Hayden Christensen’s terrible acting (Yeah, I had the rug pulled out from under my feet in the following years). But it didn’t matter. These set a standard, and completed a story that I hadn’t even realized needed completing.
From day one of Disney-operated LucasFilm, I needed no convincing. With a director I adored in tow, and an awe-inspiring cast locked-in, I knew before I saw the finished product that this would be special. Chock-full of star-making performances—from leads Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, as well as villain Adam Driver and scene-stealer Oscar Isaac—Force Awakens checked every box I needed in my thirst for more tales from a galaxy far, far away.
Perhaps the most intriguing part about the Star Wars franchise, though, is how the films know to grow with the times. Last year, I wrote a piece for Esquire that questioned why, through six cinematic experiences, not one major character to wield a lightsaber contained a Y chromosome. And then—Surpise!—if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, you’re probably not still reading this piece, but nonetheless: SPOILER ALERT! Daisy Ridley’s Rey was a natural with the iconic weapon, and her fight scene with Driver’s Kylo Ren in the snow was among the film’s most engaging moments.
The brand is limitless in its value, and Disney knows this—hence the reason why, now, we will be getting a film set in the Star Wars universe every single year. This year, it’s Rogue One, set in the time leading up to A New Hope, and featuring an iconic character as a hook—Darth Vader is a narrative piece. It’s the first time that a Star Wars film is its own contained narrative, and will hold fans over as they await Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, which will debut next December (this time around, there will be two years between trilogy volumes—a change from the three years between prequel and original trilogy films). Also planned are 2018’s Han Solo film and the new trilogy’s conclusion in 2019. There had been talk of a singular Boba Fett film, but no official word on that has come—though a brilliant WIRED story last year detailed that LucasFilm and Disney plan to put out a new Star Wars film every year. Period. Indefinitely.
The lone concern—and I’ll find this out as soon as Rogue One’s opening scroll kicks in on Friday night—is the question of whether or not the magical feeling of a new Star Wars will diminish when it’s something that is experienced every single year. When that scroll started rolling for The Force Awakens, yes, I felt a good bit of nostalgia, but I was also overcome with awe. It was finally back after ten years, and it was good.
It wasn’t just the fact that something I was obsessed with as a child was again new (although that may be the case with the prequels), and I had evidence. In the leadup to last year’s release, I showed a friend of mine all six original films in their release order (which for some unthinkable reason he had never done, nor even seen a single one). After a binge-watch of all six, I had a convert on my hands. On opening night for The Force Awakens, as this friend sat next to me, he could not stop himself from taking out his phone and and snapping the very opening scroll that gave me chills, too. This friday, that same friend will be sitting next to me as I open my eyes, for the first time, to Rogue One. It’s Star Wars, man. That, in its singularity, is just what it does.