Happy (day after) Star Wars Day!

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for various Star Wars films, games, and other media.

Over the last few months, I’ve taken a few shots at the Star Wars franchise. Much of this was motivated by my intense dislike of The Rise of Skywalker, which is second only to The Phantom Menace in terms of how I’d rank the worst entries in the series. But it’s Star Wars Day today (well, it’s actually the day after… oops) so I thought it would be a great time to take a look at some of the franchise’s high points from my perspective. This will be a personal take on Star Wars, looking at my own history with the franchise and the things I’ve most enjoyed, and I’ll set aside most of the controversies and dislikes so we can just focus on the good stuff!

Yep… should’ve posted this yesterday.

So let’s start at the beginning. In the mid-1970s, a man called George Lucas… oh wait, that’s too far back. Let’s start at my beginning as a Star Wars fan. By the early ’90s I was a big Trekkie. Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the air, and I’d fallen in love with the world the series created, which spurred an interest in both science fiction in general and outer space in particular. I was dimly aware of the Star Wars franchise’s existence, but I’d never seen the trilogy of films. One of my schoolfriends at the time was a huge Star Wars fan, though, and for his birthday one year he received the three films on VHS. He invited me over and we watched all three over a weekend. The division that existed between Star Trek and Star Wars fans was prominent, however, and I remember thinking that “my” fandom of Star Trek was superior, even as I sat down to watch the films for the first time.

I don’t want to say that I was completely blown away by Star Wars the first time I saw it. It was exciting, sure, but at the time I was still comparing it in my head to Star Trek, and Star Wars’ action-heavy story compared to the often peaceful exploration seen in Star Trek, as well as Star Wars’ fantasy elements like the Force compared to Star Trek’s supposedly “real future” were drawbacks. This was really just tribalism, though, and I can recognise looking back that, with part of my young identity being tied to being a “Trekkie”, I was less keen on Star Wars than I should’ve been!

Subsequent viewings of the trilogy in the months and years after definitely improved my opinion of the franchise, and I began to collect a small number of Star Wars toys, books, and model kits (I was a big model-builder in my youth). My friend and I grew up in a small community, and him and his dad were the only two Star Wars fans I knew at that point. I borrowed those video tapes and re-watched them more times than I can remember, finding something new to appreciate with almost every viewing.

Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia became the archetypal heroes for me going forward. Their steadfast loyalty to their cause – even when it seemed like everything was going wrong in The Empire Strikes Back – was inspirational, and I’ve never forgotten that aspect of the films.

It was in the mid-90s that I got to play some Star Wars video games for the first time. On the SNES, which was the first home console I owned, I got the Super Star Wars trilogy of games – 2D action-platformers which were made for that console. They were difficult (and still are, if you’re tempted to track down copies today) but great fun nevertheless. After upgrading to a Nintendo 64 in 1998 I picked up a further two Star Wars games: Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron, both of which are absolutely fantastic, if somewhat dated by today’s standards. By this point in the late ’90s, helped in no small part by the video games I’d played as I was a big gamer at the time, I had definitely become a Star Wars fan – just in time for the prequel trilogy to kick off with The Phantom Menace in 1999.

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was released on the SNES in 1993.

While I wasn’t impressed by The Phantom Menace itself, it did generate a lot of buzz around the franchise, as well as churn out a couple of surprisingly good games. I first played the Nintendo 64 version of Star Wars Episode I: Racer, which I enjoyed. That title is still celebrated by fans of both Star Wars and the racing genre today as being good fun, and despite the podracing sequence in the film not being my favourite, the game surprised me by being great fun, especially with friends. The second title I greatly enjoyed that shared The Phantom Menace’s setting was Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles, which I picked up on the Dreamcast. This action-fighting title was another great one to play with friends, and both of these games went some way to redeeming The Phantom Menace and helping me get over the disappointment I felt at the film itself.

Up next in the prequel trilogy came Attack of the Clones, which, despite what many people at the time and since have said, was scarcely any better than The Phantom Menace had been three years earlier. Once again, however, the aftermath of the film led to three great games – which I’d still hold up as being among my all-time favourites. First was 2003’s Knights of the Old Republic, which I picked up on the original Xbox. The Dreamcast had died by this point, and with no new games on the horizon I traded it in for an Xbox. The second game was the original Battlefront, which was absolutely amazing, especially with another player. And finally, there was Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.

The two Knights of the Old Republic games must be my favourite entries in the Star Wars franchise – far exceeding several of the films in terms of creating an exciting and engaging story. These two titles are basically the only part of Star Wars’ former Expanded Universe that I’d consider worth reviving – the story of Darth Revan and the Jedi Exile are outstanding, and showed off what story-driven, cinematic role-playing games of the time were capable of. Fully voice-acted with a great art style and genuine player choice that affected the way the games unfolded, they stand up even today as being better than many of the current generation’s offerings. The twist in the first game that the player was Darth Revan was stunning – at least on a par with the revelation of Darth Vader being Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back. At that moment I put down the control pad and just sat for a moment in awe.

2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remains one of my favourite video games to this day.

Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005 and was the high-water mark of the prequel trilogy. While it was still an imperfect film, and as I’ve previously written I feel that we didn’t need to see Anakin Skywalker’s fall play out in such detail, because the original trilogy told us everything we needed to know, it was an alright film nevertheless. I might even be convinced to say it was a good film.

I read in an article or review some time ago (it may even have been in 2005 when the film was released) that Revenge of the Sith could – and perhaps should – have been the whole trilogy; that there was enough material in the final part to spin out into three parts, and that it was the only part of the story worth telling. I’m not sure I agree on that last part, because as I said I don’t necessarily feel that anything in the prequels was a “necessary” story, but on the first part I agree. Revenge of the Sith thus laid the groundwork for the original films, and the prequel trilogy was complete.

After picking up Battlefront II in 2005, which was far better than the original game and another great title to play with friends, the only other games I picked up were 2007’s Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Empire at War, a Star Wars strategy game for PC that I couldn’t coax my ageing machine to run correctly at the time! Lego Star Wars was amazing though, and incredibly funny. It’s a great title to play on the couch with a friend, and it has a great sense of humour. A new Lego Star Wars game is coming out in the near future, and I’m sure I’ll give that one a try too!

Lego Star Wars is a ton of fun.

The Star Wars series seemed complete after the prequels were released. I even bought a DVD box-set called something like “the complete saga”, so it seemed for years that Star Wars was done and dusted: two amazing films, two okay films, and two crap ones, with a bunch of video games and toys to go along with them. So when rumours began swirling in 2012 that Disney was planning to purchase Lucasfilm, and with it the rights to Star Wars… suffice to say it piqued my interest!

JJ Abrams had led 2009’s Star Trek reboot, and Star Trek Into Darkness was due to be released. While Star Trek was different in many respects to what had come before, and I knew several Trekkie friends at the time who refused to watch it (some still haven’t, as far as I know), I felt that Abrams had done what he set out to. The franchise had been rebooted, and the film had succeeded in bringing new people to Star Trek for the first time in a long time – something that was necessary if we were ever to see anything more. So there was great optimism on my part that he could do something similar for Star Wars, optimism which peaked after Star Trek Into Darkness came out and was much better than the first film. George Lucas had been given too much free rein with the prequels, in my opinion, thanks to his legendary status as the franchise’s creator. With someone tried and tested at the helm in JJ Abrams, and with a big studio behind him to keep things in line, the sequel trilogy was lining up to be amazing.

The Force Awakens is the last Star Wars film I was able to see at the cinema. Despite being in pain and finding the experience difficult, I did manage to get there despite my worsening health – I couldn’t see myself waiting another six months! I’d do something similar for Star Trek Beyond in 2016, but after that I finally had to call it quits on going to the cinema in person, sadly. But to get back on topic, The Force Awakens was amazing. After the disappointment of the prequels a decade earlier, JJ Abrams put together a film which re-told Star Wars’ greatest hits for a new generation of fans. I was in love with Finn, Rey, and Poe – they felt different to the characters we’d seen before, but similar in some ways too. And Kylo Ren was an amazing villain, not despite his somewhat whiny and childish behaviour, but because of it. On display with Kylo was an aspect of the dark side we’d never really seen – Vader and especially Palpatine were so composed, and that was intimidating. But Kylo was conflicted and his emotions were right at the surface. Adam Driver played the role perfectly.

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.

2016 brought us Rogue One, which I didn’t get to see until a little later. I would go on to name it as my favourite film of the 2010s when I wrote a list back in December, and with good reason. For the first time, Star Wars stepped away from the Skywalkers and largely left the Force alone. While I’d argue the scenes with Darth Vader were unnecessary and perhaps a little too much fan-service, the rest of the film was astonishingly good. Sticking with a single story – the race to capture the Death Star plans before the station could be unleashed – basically the whole cast are killed by the end, which was a major change in direction for a Star Wars title.

Jyn Erso is such a well-written protagonist, as is Cassian Andor – who will be the lead in a new series coming to Disney+ in the future. Jyn’s arc, from the jaded, apathetic criminal to the inspiring leader of a suicidal mission was beautiful to witness, and the death of each of the film’s heroes was tragic, with all of them given their own moment of heroism. Rogue One is a great reminder that every war leaves behind scores of dead heroes, and that the amazing deeds of the survivors are never the only stories worth remembering. The sacrifice of the crew of Rogue One paved the way for Luke being able to destroy the Death Star – setting up the fall of the Empire.

A Star Destroyer hangs over Jedha City in Rogue One.

I know that The Last Jedi was controversial, and that controversy didn’t feel great heading into 2018. Many Star Wars fans had come to detest the franchise, and some would even start making money cashing in that hate for advertising revenue on social media platforms like YouTube. I had low expectations for The Last Jedi as a result of all the controversy, and again this was a film I didn’t get to see until months after its release. I knew the outline of the story heading in, and because so many people had been so vocal and genuinely angry about the way the film played out I lowered my expectations – and came out pleasantly surprised.

What I admire most in The Last Jedi is the way the story explains what happened to Luke. This single storyline shows how anyone – even someone we want to put on a pedestal as a hero – can fall into depression. Mental health is incredibly complicated, as anyone who deals with it or cares for someone dealing with it can attest. Luke made a mistake – again, something which can happen to anyone – and as a result of his one mistake he fell into a deep depression that left him “waiting to die” on Ahch-To. To me this was a powerful message, one that I related to. To anyone who says “but my hero could never ever become depressed!”, I will always say that mental health can affect even those we think should be the strongest, and that mistakes, flaws, and failures are all part of being human. Anyone who can’t understand that has been very lucky in life to never have to deal with mental health or see a loved one go through it, and perhaps that’s why they had a hard time with the concept.

The characterisation of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi may have been controversial, but it resonated with me.

The Last Jedi also threw a curveball in how Rey’s lineage unfolded. By saying she had no connection to Star Wars’ “great families”, the film showed how heroes truly can come from anywhere. Any of the young girls watching the film could be as great and powerful as Rey – again, that was a powerful message, one which finally steered the franchise away from the concept of inherited power, chosen ones, and destiny.

In 2018, I picked up the most recent Star Wars game I’ve played – the much-maligned Battlefront II. I got the title on sale at a deep discount, and as someone who isn’t much of a multiplayer gamer, I just played through the campaign. I enjoyed my time with the single-player story, and felt that for the discounted price, Battlefront II was worth it. However, the controversy surrounding the game’s incredibly poor in-game monetisation is legitimate, even if Electronic Arts has since restructured some aspects of that.

I also had the opportunity to watch Solo: A Star Wars Story in late 2018, and I found it to be an enjoyable heist-crime film with some Star Wars trappings. It doesn’t fundamentally “ruin” Han Solo’s character, but nor does it really add much to his story. I saw the Mandalorian in November/December last year – it was actually the first subject I wrote about here on the website – and finally, of course, I have recently watched The Rise of Skywalker.

So that recaps my personal history with Star Wars – but already there’s more on the horizon. A couple of weeks ago I picked up Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on PC, and I’m going to be playing that very soon (assuming my PC can handle it!) There are of course more projects in the pipeline for Disney+, including the aforementioned Cassian Andor series, as well as an Obi-Wan Kenobi series which will see Ewan McGreogor reprise his role. It’s definitely a great time to be a Star Wars fan right now, with so much going on and the franchise very much alive.

Star Wars began with a story about this trio, but grew to be much bigger than any of them.

When I think back to what Star Wars was when I first encountered it – a geeky trilogy of films that you’d be bullied at school for being associated with – and compare it to where it is today, the change is astonishing. Star Wars has fully entered the mainstream in a way science fiction and fantasy stories usually don’t. Along with the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films and Game of Thrones, Star Wars has not just crossed over successfully, it’s been a trailblazer for many other sci fi and fantasy projects to become a success. More than that, it’s popularised both genres in a way that they never had been, and transformed what was once a fairly small niche into something that big companies are happy to invest vast sums of money in. The entire world of sci fi and fantasy owes a lot to Star Wars’ success, and it’s hard to envision how many great shows, films, and games we’d have missed out on were it not for the franchise.

Star Wars also has an aesthetic all its own, inspired by earlier science fiction in some regards, but putting its own spin on them. The ships, weapons, and even costumes of the Star Wars galaxy are instantly recognisable. A Star Destroyer or a lightsaber couldn’t possibly come from any other franchise, and this visual style has carried through every iteration to date.

Speaking for myself, Star Wars has had hits and misses, but there were definitely more of the former than the latter. I’ll always be excited to see what the franchise has to offer next, and I’ll always be ready to tune in to the latest film or series or try the latest game if at all possible. The setting Star Wars created, with Sith and Jedi and the Force, and with hyperspace, blasters, and droids, remains a genuinely fascinating and enthralling fictional galaxy to escape to, and I’m happy to go back and re-watch my favourite films and re-play my favourite games time and again.

May the fourth (or fifth) be with you!

The Star Wars franchise – including all films, series, and games mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.