I know I'm going to get crap for this--but before you throw that crate of tomatoes...
Say what you will about the George Lucas' Star Wars prequels (episodes I, II, and III), one thing that you cannot take away from them, despite flaws in the story and Jar Jar Binks, was that they were infinitely more creative than The Force Awakens.
I loved The Force Awakens and am a fan of the original trilogy, but visually, from a design and production standpoint, the prequels were stunning to look at. The new characters were exotic and interesting, even the ones that smacked of racial stereotypes. All our criticisms of those films had to do with story and casting, but the costumes, headdresses, ship and set designs, and characters were extremely novel, and Lucas directed them expertly. Lucas showed us a Jedi order in its infinite diversity--knights from all over the galaxy in all shapes and colors. The pod races on Tatooine were fun and exciting. Yes, the race might have been shorter and been written with more important context to the overall story, but Lucas has said over and over he always saw Star Wars as a soap opera for kids. Kids loved the pod races. Staying true to his belief, Lucas, as an artist, delivered the vision he intended.
No one will argue that Star Wars in its entirety is somewhat derivative of the science fantasy that came before it. But Lucas added his own twist, his own personal touches to the ideas he borrowed. He showed us a thriving Republic led from Coruscant, an homage to Asimov’s Trantor in Foundation. The husk of the sand worm on Tatooine was a nod to Frank Herbert's Dune. Queen Amidala's shiny chrome ship harkens back to the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers' days, but looked better than anything done on screen before it. Star Wars is a love letter to all the literary fiction that inspired Lucas' generation--pulps that created fantastic worlds before Hollywood found the ability to depict them realistically in film.
Those of us in our 40s and 50s whined because we wanted the prequels to be for us, generation X, and instead Lucas made them for a new generation, which, (hold on to your hat) thinks those movies are great. But that does not change the fact that they were incredibly creative. Lucas pushed the envelope to make new things even as his story suffered and his casting of Anakin (in both cases) was dismally wide of the mark.
In The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams delivered to us a competently told sequel, steeped in nostalgia. It was enjoyable for all the same reasons Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back was enjoyable because it was essentially a retelling of those movies. I was a teenager when I watched Empire for the first time in 1980. I had never seen anything like the battle with the Imperial land walkers before. It blew my mind, not just because the visual effects were state of the art for their day, but because of the idea of them. I was in geek heaven. When push came to shove, the very existence of the walkers is silly and the premise to use them was flimsy. The rebel base had a shield and Vader needed to take out the generator? Really? Couldn't a bunch of Tie fighters have done essentially the same thing? Isn't there a cannon on a Star Destroyer that can match the firepower of a walker? (I mean these are the same guys who created the planet killer ray of the Death Star, right?) Lucas didn't even show the Empire getting the walkers down to the planet...they were just there in the distance. It was Lucas presenting a beautiful visual...a new thing--this exquisite land battle with giant machines.
By comparison, Abrams' most creative (risky) decision in The Force Awakens was to cast a white woman and an African as the leads. This is simply pandering to the zeitgeist of diversity, which is all the rage in Hollywood. (They even made Jimmy Olsen black on Supergirl.) Abrams' film was superb in its execution and action sequences, but the story is all stuff we've already seen in Star Wars, repackaged and updated.
As mad as we were about midichlorians, Jar Jar Binks, and Hayden Christensen's flat/and whiney performance, on the creativity scale the prize goes to George Lucas. I wish we could blend Lucas and Abrams to create a vision that embodies the best of both approaches. Money, when it comes to Star Wars should not be part of the creative decisions anymore. The films will make money no matter what, and toys will be sold no matter what. It's a strong franchise. I hope that going forward, J.J. will reach out to George Lucas and pick his brain; bring him on board as a consultant. Many will not continue to see the films if they just continue to rehash Lucas' old ideas. The potential for this franchise is great. Let's not forget the creativity that made it so.
Edward Lazellari is the author of the Guardians of Aandor fantasy series from Tor Books.
These books are available at
Book 3, Blood of Ten Kings, Coming In Late 2016