Being a Star Wars fan is confusing. It’s confusing because we have the original trilogy, the tie-in media, the prequels, also cartoons and video games, and now more movies are coming that will (hopefully) have some or all of the original cast in them, but that still does not explain to us what the state of Star Wars is right now. What the state of Star Wars will be in fifty years.
Star Wars is a victim of the position it occupies in pop culture. What I mean by that is—every generation of Star Wars fans has a completely unique experience with it. And that phenomenon is not going to go away any time soon.
Plenty of stories in every medium have their time in the sun, complete their tales, and retire. In this day and age, many more are revived or refit for the current culture, especially if they enjoyed popularity way back when. The phrase “not your daddy’s fill-in-the-blanky-blank” has become the ubiquitous hallmark of something beloved by the masses getting a sharp new suit. But it’s not for everyone, and different works have chosen to tackle this complex in their own manner. So we have Firefly, which ended on television and was continued with canonical comic books that many fans of the show have not read. We also have Battlestar Galatica, which enjoyed a certain niche popularity that was exploited expertly in Ron Moore’s modern re-imagining, though the shows were opposing animals, spiritually speaking. We have Star Trek, which reinvented itself in the form of new crews and new dilemmas until it was rebooted in an alternate universe. We have Peter Pan, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Lord of the Rings, which may be redrawn over and over, but will always be confined to the framework of the books they hail from.
And how has Star Wars fared in those waters? Well, to begin there were three films. There were also some odd spin-off films that most fans will not speak of. (Whatever, man, the Ewok Adventures were super cool.) And then in the wake of astounding demand, novels, video games, and comics were produced. The novels in particular made it their business to pick up with our intrepid heroes of the Rebellion and decide how toppling the evil Galactic Empire would actually affect their lives in the long run. The Special Edition was released, a reintroduction of sorts for those who had missed out.
Then the prequels came onto the scene. Certain elements introduced in the novels were recognized as canon within the new films. (I remember shrieking when I saw Coruscant for the first time at the end of the Special Edition version of Return of the Jedi. My parents were boggled, and my delirious explanations about how incredible this alteration was did not land as well as I’d hoped.) Serious retcon bandages were applied to the tie-in media to keep it in step with the canon. A cartoon was produced, and suddenly small children everywhere thought of The Clone Wars as Star Wars. Fans lamented an entire generation that would grow up idolizing Anakin Skywalker as a hero.
Now there are more films coming, a whole new trilogy and who-knows-how-many standalones. What will be done with the Expanded Universe, as it is now, remains to be seen. It could be scrapped altogether, it could be drawn from as inspiration, it could be rebooted itself. How the prequels will be thought of in twenty years, once these new films have been received, is also a mystery. People might forget all about them if there are new movies with Luke, Leia, and Han to enjoy. The young Solo film in the works is poised to become an adolescent touchstone for many kids growing up right now.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of it, but it does make for a fascinating quandary: Star Wars, as a piece of cultural media, has not remained consistent entity from generation to generation. And that truth is something that is written into its very genetic makeup.
Star Wars is designed to be the perfect pop culture franchise, with its mishmash of influences and lovely mythic arcs. It is, in effect, Arthurian legend or some equivalent for a modern age, with modern corporations to back it. George Lucas is often at odds with fans for precisely that reason—Star Wars is supposed to be popular, but he clearly never realized how seriously people would take it as a result. What he, and now Disney since they have the reigns on the Falcon these days, have always known above all is that Star Wars makes money. And something that makes money should remain fresh and viable so that it can continue to make money.
As a result, different generations of fans know the galaxy far, far away on completely different terms. Those who saw it first in the theater will often remark how its title was initially just Star Wars—the “Episode IV: A New Hope” was added later, after the second film was released and one more was on its way. Children of the 90s had the Expanded Universe novels, which arrived just before the Special Edition was released. Those who were born in the 90s might have skipped the the original trilogy altogether, or watched the prequels first and then tracked back. And now that new films are coming, there is no telling how the new generation will see Star Wars, what it will mean to them, whether its history will be worth delving into. The various tie-in media will become colorful background noise, the prequels might get lost. Even those kids who were raised on The Clone Wars cartoon will have a rude awakening in a few years, when the television show they adored is ignored in favor of fresher, younger Star Wars.
Hot new Star Wars with a three-piece suit and digitally enhanced eyes. Faster, brighter, shinier Star Wars with better pick-up lines, Star Wars who knows what music all the cool kids are listening to.
The closest analog I can find for this are the fans who have enjoyed the Abrams reboot of the Original Series and ignore all of the television shows, but that barely contends—those films are an alternate universe, not actually meant to subsume earlier Star Trek in our minds. Older Trek fans do not have to sit by as new fans invalidate their beloved shows. The world knows what Star Trek is, knows its best medium, and that’s not going to change.
Yet Star Wars has done nothing but change.
Or, to put it more personally as a matter of offering perspective, I was a kid who grew up reading Expanded Universe novels. To me and my friends, those tie-in novels were part of canon. They were the continuation of a story that we invested a large portion of our childhoods in. And in all likelihood that Star Wars, my Star Wars, will no longer be Star Wars in a few years. It will be a cute blip in its history, a great big pile of retcon that amounted to some pocket universe in the telling. Certain fans can and will keep up with all of it, but most will suffer fatigue. We’ll give up trying to know every bit of trivia, read every book, play every game. Many already have.
It’s no wonder that Star Wars fans are confused—how can we not be? My Star Wars isn’t your Star Wars, isn’t your (potential) son or daughter’s Star Wars. We are referencing an internal encyclopedia that comprises our Star Wars experience. And this pesky little problem is only going to get worse, not better. So, to future students of the Force, I salute you—you have a winding road through hyperspace ahead.