I’ve written before about “Star Wars” being my first movie in a theater. It’s a bit odd to think this week’s release of “The Rise of Skywalker” ends the story arc that began all those years ago.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that’s happened. In 1983 it looked like things had wrapped up, too. Fans knew George Lucas had originally planned three trilogies, but there wasn’t much hope they would ever be done. Then, in 1999, Lucas launched his prequel trilogy. A lot of fans blasted those films. Some of the criticism is justified. But other complaints boiled down to “I wasn’t 10 years old anymore, so they didn’t grip me the same way as the originals.”
What’s striking, though, is how Star Wars became one of those few true cross-generational stories that drew families in for decades. My dad enjoyed the originals, though I suspect he may well have enjoyed my reaction to them more. Now my children are fans, and I’ve had the fun of watching them embrace stories I grew up with.
The phenomenon of movie series having such an appeal is comparatively new outside of a couple franchises. The Bond films are an obvious example, though those movies weren’t part of a single, overarching plot. And there were certainly films that families watched together generation after generation before, but those tended to be single stories. “The Wizard of Oz,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” come to mind.
We’ve seen more attempts at epic franchises recently. Part of that is because of changes in the strategies movie companies are using. The newer examples include Harry Potter and the Marvel movies. Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films took a shot at it, but the lackluster Hobbit trilogy likely put paid to that.
We’ve watched film change in the past few decades. If you look a little deeper, though, that’s not surprising. Film has always been evolving. Think back about 100 years. There was definitely an American film industry, but it wasn’t necessarily the world’s leader.
Studios in Hollywood weren’t quite a decade old and many were still based in New York and Los Angeles. French and German companies were easily the rival of any American studio, having already created landmark works like “Nosferatu” and “Metropolis.” Even Soviet film was rising. In 1925 Sergei Eisenstein directed “Battleship Potemkin,” which became hugely influential on filmmaking.
What changed things? World War II had a huge effect. The United States was the one western nation whose industry was intact after the war, and American filmmakers took advantage. Hollywood became synonymous with film, and not just in the U.S.
The point is that change has been one of the few constants in film over the decades. So those rare times when a film breaks out and becomes something more than a transient that passes through pop-culture (and given the number of films made each year those remain a small portion of the whole) can become something more. They can become touchstones that last generations, welcoming new fans and families for years.
With Disney now in charge of Star Wars, there can be little doubt more stories from that universe are on the way. There’s a good chance my grandchildren, assuming I have any, will see their own Star Wars movies.
That means this isn’t the end. It’s just the end of the beginning.