A lot has already been written about “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” and its meteoric ascent into the pop-culture canon after the mixed reaction to the prequels. One of the takes I liked best was how the very idea of doing a sequel to “Return of the Jedi” and its splashy happy ending turns the Star Wars saga from fairy tale to something bleaker and more realistic, facing the hard truth that war never really ends and evil is never really defeated. “One Death Star is a horror; two Death Stars and one Starkiller Base… is something more like the inexorable logic of history, grinding us all to dust.”
There are many reasons Episode VII feels like a bleaker world than Episode IV–one of them being that the backstory to Episode VII consists of movies we’ve actually seen and characters we already love. It’s one thing to kill off an old man we met in Act I as the climax to Act II; it’s another thing entirely to kill off an old man we got to know and rooted for as a young wisecracking scoundrel over the course of three movies.
Similarly, it’s one thing to vaguely imply something about the “Clone Wars” as an old, settled conflict and vaguely posit that that peace somehow led to the war we’re in right now (and to somewhat unsatisfyingly try to fill in the details of that transition with an ill-conceived prequel trilogy). It’s another thing to give us the happy endingwe were promised at the end of three movies–celebrating Ewoks, exploding fireworks, our protagonists hugging and laughing and smiling–and then show us that happy ending collapsing into wrack and ruin years later with a new movie and a new war.