In the grab bag of my fading memories about my late father is the first time I saw that scene in Return of the Jedi when Jabba the Hutt’s thugs are about to dump Luke Skywalker into the Sarlacc pit, and the Jedi suddenly makes a break for it.
“Look, he’s got his lightsaber!” my father said, trying to get me excited. Those few frames when Luke catches his Jedi weapon and ignites it, a look of exhilaration on his face right before the burst of action, is forever inseparable from my memory of the man who raised me. The moment will outlive you and me and everybody who reads these words, but it is also uniquely mine.
I understand when fans of Star Wars get defensive about the property, even if I can’t understand why anyone would outright vilify it. I also understand that to find joy in it is to share in half a century of storytelling built across 10 films, a vast expanded universe, and the basic premise that a farm boy or scavenger or scoundrel can fight evil just as readily as a princess or legendary warrior mystic.
Topher Grace and co-editor Jeff Yorkes seem to agree, and they’ve put that thesis forward in the “Star Wars: Always” video released on YouTube on Monday. In just over five minutes of sharply edited footage pulling from every Star Wars movie to hit theaters, they have managed to distill every major theme of the series into a showcase of how each chapter resonates with all the others – even the ones you don’t like.
If you were to break Star Wars fandom down into different schisms and sects, you could firmly put me (a 35-year-old) into the “old Millennial” camp. I’m among those who deeply scorn the prequel trilogy and most of its spinoffs, lament the ending of the Star Wars Legends expanded universe, and have mixed feelings about how Star Wars has moved forward under Disney’s stewardship.
Yet I was recently in a long elevator ride with a couple co-workers who were maybe a decade younger, and overheard them enthuse about the The Phantom Menace scene at Qui-Gon Jinn’s funeral and how it foreshadows Chancellor Palpatine’s true role. I probably won’t ever watch that film again, but to them that detail resonates with the grander story that we share.
Grace and Yorkes’ trailer begins by immediately drawing parallels between the original trilogy and the prequels, matching Obi-Wan Kenobi’s stories of the Old Republic and the Jedi Knights with their appearances in Episode I-III. They’re saying this is what’s going through the mind of a fan. The kids who hold those much-maligned prequels in their hearts are remembering the Kenobi who clashed with Darth Maul as they see the wizened Old Ben begin to mentor Luke.
They connect the fall of the Republic with the rise of the Empire and the beginnings of the Rebellion, showing how Jimmy Smits’ Senator Bail Organa connects with Luke’s hotheaded friend Biggs Darklighter (in a scene cut from Episode IV), which all connects to Rogue One’s gritty war story. This is three eras of the series’ storytelling building on each other from its very first film to one of its latest. They connect the foreshadowing of Luke’s surrogate parents – “He has too much of his father in him…” – with the hero’s darkest turns and fiercest tests, all while working in lines from his father’s losing struggle with the Dark Side.
Some of those moments are ones I’ve snidely dismissed for years. Yet edited here, they seem inextricable from the broader narrative. To some fans, they are: Anakin’s rage is reconciled with Obi-Wan’s memory of him as a friend. Something nitpickers have fixated on for more than a decade is being shown as a tragedy. The video also brings the newest films into sync with the original, as when Luke’s journey into the cave to fight the shadow of Darth Vader is held up next to Rey’s own journey into the dark. A straight line is drawn through Han Solo’s journey from devil-may-care flyboy to another believer in the Force.
For those who couldn’t stand Star Wars: Episode VII – The Last Jedi, (and I can’t believe there are such people) “Star Wars: Always” connects the clashes of master and apprentice in that film and A New Hope, where the whole story began, placing Rey at the vanguard of the ongoing story.
On other, blighted branches of the Star Wars fandom family tree you’ll find the truly aggrieved – those who edited out all the women from The Last Jedi, who harassed Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram, who cry “Mary Sue!” every time Rey does something competent. More than any grand attempt by Disney, this fleet little fan film is the strongest rebuke I’ve seen to that segment, just as it’s a rebuke to the purist, anti-prequel snobs like me who have been waving our canes shouting “NO, IT WAS KYLE KATARN!!” at the mere mention of Rogue One’s plot.
For me the video highlights how, despite some stumbles and missteps Star Wars remains a mythos greater than the sum of its parts. Grace and Yorkes have shown how you can wrinkle your nose at The Phantom Menace’s dialogue but still find a thrill in the story of a noble Jedi who fell to evil and was redeemed. You can have misgivings about The Last Jedi’s treatment of Luke’s character but still appreciate how his heroic sacrifice parallels his master’s. If you’re a younger viewer who isn’t as into the original trilogy, you’ll see how it echoes the epic battles that came before and after.
The slickly edited trailer ends with a series of shots of all our heroes, across all the Star Wars eras, glorying in their adventures and striking their baddest poses. However you came to the story, Star Wars: Always says you can come share in it.