The news that the next 'Star Wars' film will be a sequel to episode six - 'Return Of The Jedi' - fills me with genuine excitement. That it will star Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew is thrill upon thrill. However, if this information makes you tut and roll your eyes, you may wish to move along. This piece will do little relieve your cynicism.
I was just the right age for the first 'Star Wars' picture - 13 years old in 1977. As a senior teacher, my mum could rarely be persuaded to allow me time off school. So I can only assume a rush of blood to the head was responsible for her decision to grant me a Friday afternoon away from lessons to make the trip to the Odeon Cinema on Nottingham's Angel Row, where this newly-arrived blockbuster was showing. Actually, I was already very aware of the movie. For weeks, the papers and TV news had carried shots of block-long queues in Los Angeles and New York, and then London. What's more, I was also a massive fan of science fiction. So my veins were pumping with anticipation as we took our faux-velvet seats in the massive auditorium with the giant screen that was 'Odeon 1'.
I realise now that my mother's sacrifice was twofold. Not only was she foreshortening my formal education, but she had absolutely no enthusiasm for any film in the space fantasy genre. I did though. In fact, I haven't been quite the same since.
'Star Wars is a fantastical saga, like the ancient legends of the Greeks, or the fairy stories of the Brothers Grimm.'
In the 1970s, movie directors and producers had to be on their mettle. This cinematic decade was so creatively rich and stunningly diverse, it's startling to reflect on its canon. 'Saturday Night Fever', 'The Godfather', 'Jaws', 'The Sting', 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', 'The Exorcist', 'Apocalypse Now', 'Dirty Harry', 'Taxi Driver' and on, and on. Many of the best films you will ever see were made in the seventies and most of Hollywood's current output might well die of shame in comparison. Nevertheless, against this superlative backdrop, George Lucas was swimming against the tide.
Sci-fi was out of favour (you'll notice none of the pictures I listed were of that genre), and Lucas struggled to pitch the 'Star Wars' concept. Perhaps it was because his screenplay was so off-trend that it attracted so much attention. Well, that and the thumping good tale he had to tell. The closest comparison, was Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey', released in 1968. Admittedly, this was a huge hit - but other than a blanket of stars, '2001' had nothing in common with 'Star Wars'. The former was an existential meditation on mankind's evolution and subsequent place in the universe. The latter, a fantastical saga, closer to the ancient legends of the Greeks, or the fairy stories of the Brothers Grimm, than Arthur C Clarke's philosophical study.
Around this time, a tremendous, one-off magazine was published which explained Lucas' influences and inspirations. From Laurel & Hardy (R2D2 and C3P0) and Dracula (Darth Vader), to WW2 dogfights (X-Wings vs. TIE Fighters) and medieval warriors (Jedi Knights) - it was fascinating to see how 'Star Wars' embodied so many of the storytelling tropes which preceded it. Good against evil; imprisoned princesses; farmboys becoming heroes; pirates and wizards, in its roots, it's a very traditional tale, but presented in an amazingly fresh and enchanting way. Without doubt, 'Star Wars' was the movie of my childhood.
While this new film excites me, it also gives rise to much trepidation. Unsurprisingly, the original picture's all-conquering success ensured sequels. Pleasingly, the first - 'The Empire Strikes Back' (1980) - was a creative triumph too. A little more bleak and grown-up than the first outing, it's regarded by many an aficionado as the best episode of the set. Even 'Return Of The Jedi' (1983) didn't let the side down. Ewoks aside, it does a fair job of wrapping up the narrative strands and of course, delivering the climactic reveal. In all honesty, by 1983, I'd matured considerably and lost some of my passion for the space-opera, but I was still reasonably content by the triumvirate's concluding chapters.
And there it would, or maybe should, have ended. Unfortunately, George Lucas was eventually persuaded there was plenty more juice left in the 'Star Wars' fruit. In the mid-nineties he digitally retouched the first three films and sent them out again; and in 1999 he released a prequel, 'The Phantom Menace'. Anyone who shared the awe I felt when watching the 1977 film will understand the dismay and disappointment which accompanied this new production. The game was up in the first few seconds. When the famous, scrolling explanatory text, rambled on about 'trade federations' and 'senate hearings', we instinctively knew this was not what we'd signed up for. Worse, the casting and script were a debacle. The saga had never really been known for its deep and nuanced dialogue, but 'The Phantom Menace' plumbed new depths of tedious, unconvincing writing. And to call Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman wooden would be to insult timber.
As a prequel, none of the founding characters featured. Instead, the lead was the young Anakin Skywalker (eventually Darth Vader). In the second prequel ('Episode Two: Attack Of The Clones' - please keep up) Anakin was played by the handsome, but staggeringly under-talented Hayden Christensen. Painfully, not only is Mr. Christensen incapable of carrying a major motion picture, I'd be surprised if he can carry a mug of Horlicks to bed. By the third prequel ('Episode Three: Revenge Of The Sith' - maybe you should take notes), even the most stalwart 'Star Wars' fan was forced to admit something had gone badly wrong, and what began as a lean and gripping adventure was now a turgid, confusing mess of CGI and scenery-chewing performances. Don't ask about Jar-Jar Binks. We don't talk about Jar-Jar Binks.
Now, we're on the precipice once more - and this time, the stakes are even higher. The ensemble from that initial, wondrous film - the one that means so much to those born in the mid-sixties - has been re-assembled. We're about to see what happened after episode six ('The Return Of The Jedi', remember?). It's entirely possible this will be a soaring, life-affirming event - perfectly crafted to whisk us back to that early-teen, captivating magic. JJ Abrams is directing and his track-record is pretty good. In recent years, he has successfully re-booted the 'Star Trek' franchise, so the signs are encouraging. But there's many a slip between a droid and a Wookie, and after those clunking prequels there's much to make us apprehensive. Not least of all the suggestion that episode seven will be titled 'An Ancient Fear', worryingly close to 'The Phantom Menace'.
If the rumours are true, we're to expect at least three more 'Star Wars' pictures, so here's my plea to George Lucas and JJ Abrams: please tread very carefully, gentlemen - for you tread on my dreams.
Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant