Column – Star Wars: Do We Focus Too Much on Backstories?

Written by J.T. Johnson

SPOILER ALERT! In this article, I definitely talk about spoilers featured in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. If you have still not seen the movie, then STOP reading, go watch the movie, and come back here when you’re done.

Now, before I begin this article, I would just like to say that I’m not here to try and change anyone’s minds about any “Star Wars” film, particularly “The Last Jedi”. Whether someone liked the film or not is completely his/her opinion. This article is simply to raise a question I’ve had about one of the major complaints I’ve been seeing about how “The Last Jedi” dealt with questions that the fans started asking after 2015’s “The Force Awakens”.

It’s me wondering and attempting to explore just how important those burning questions from “The Force Awakens” really were in the first place to the overall story being told. Let’s begin…

I have a question about Star Wars. When did we become so obsessed with background information that we can’t seem to just enjoy the film being presented to us? I ask this because a big majority of what is bothering fans about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the fact that writer and director Rian Johnson has basically taken the time to tell us that the questions we had going into the film are largely irrelevant.

I’ve since come to realize that the things that make me love the film are the very same reasons that others have issues with it. Who is Snoke? Well, in the films, we’ll never know because Johnson decided to kill Snoke in order to firmly establish Kylo Ren as this trilogy’s main Big Bad.

Here are the bigger questions asked after “The Force Awakens”. Who is Rey and who are her parents? According to Johnson, the parents are nobody significant and to me this is also a great thing. Instead of being tied to some sort of “privilege” such as being the relative of one of our legacy characters, she is a hero in her own right and now she is free to forge her own destiny. I’m so grateful that Johnson didn’t rehash old material and we didn’t get some sort of “I’m your father/mother/brother/cousin from Wisconsin” moment.

Many of our expectations before the film also came from the fact that we’ve seen the original trilogy. There is the famous “I am your father” scene in “The Empire Strikes Back”, so fans were expecting a big moment such as that concerning Rey. When they didn’t get it, they got mad, which I also think is funny considering that the one complaint I see the most about “The Force Awakens” is that it was too beholden to the original trilogy, particularly “A New Hope”.

It feels like everybody wanted a rehash of “The Empire Strikes Back” and the moment Johnson didn’t give them that, the fans got mad. But again, my main question is why does all this background stuff matter to the film at hand in the first place?

Let us go back in time for a moment. In fact, let’s go back to a world pre-1999. It’s a world where none of the prequels or sequels exists. The only thing we have is the original trilogy of films. You’ve just watched the entire trilogy and now I have some questions for you based on the three films you just saw. Ready? Here we go…

Where did Darth Vader come from?
What exactly seduced him to the dark side of the Force?
Who were Vader’s parents?
Who was Anakin’s wife/lover and what happened to her?
How were Luke and Leia separated and hidden from the Empire?
Who is the Emperor?
What is the Emperor’s name?
Where did the Emperor come from?
How did he and Vader manage to wipe out the entire Jedi Order and establish the Galactic Empire?
How did Yoda get to Dagobah?
Who taught Luke to use the Force in order to get his lightsaber in the Wampa cave?
How did Anakin become Darth Vader and get so injured that he needed a metal suit to survive?
Where did Boba Fett come from?
What were the Clone Wars?
When did they happen?

If you’ve just watched the three films, then you should realize that none of these questions are fully answered in the movies and keep in mind, after “Return of the Jedi” was released, we weren’t supposed to get any more movies at the time. Granted, in the novelization for “Return”, Obi-Wan says to Luke that he and Vader had a fight on a volcanic planet and that’s how Anakin got injured, but that was never filmed or it was at least deleted from the movie. This may lead some of you to start shouting, “Expanded Universe!”

However, that actually adds more to my point. A lot of the back stories that we eventually got from things introduced in the original trilogy was answered in other media and not the films themselves. We know that Disney has had several novels written and they have also established a successful line of Marvel comic books. I guess my final question is why can’t the new movies simply introduce certain characters & events and give us deeper answers later in the new Expanded Universe? That seemed to work fine for the original trilogy.

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