Another Happy Landing: The Endings of Star Wars Films

One of my favorite things about Star Wars, ever since I first saw it when I was a child, was the endings of the movies.

As I got older, I saw the endings as slightly corny, but they still satisfied me. Why? Because while George Lucas created endings that were corny or too-nicely-tied-up-in-a-bow, there was a sense of hope and happiness…sometimes more weighted on one than the other – but still there, nevertheless.

With ANH, Lucas did not know if he would be able to continue Star Wars or if it would be a big flop. He opted to make a story that had a clear and decisive beginning, middle, and end. Sure, he left some ties open (we don’t know the fate of Darth Vader) but overall, the Rebellion won. It had hope and happiness handed to us on a silver platter. It was an ultimate feel-good ending.

I believe that ESB is the only film under Lucas’ hands that has the most question marks. We have no idea if Luke and Leia will be able to get Han back. We don’t even know if Han is alive. In a more subtle way, we don’t know if we can still trust Lando. What about Luke’s training on Dagobah? Will he go back? Is Darth Vader really Luke’s father? How did Leia sense where Luke was? Does she also have the Force?

Yet, despite all these questions, we watch Luke get a new hand and exchange smiles with Leia. They move to look out the window to an infinite galaxy. Threepio and Artoo stand on one side. It is one of my favorite shots of all time. Instead of looking at the camera, everyone is facing away, and it gives more credence to the loose ends of the movie. But it’s beautiful. And it’s an ending. When they look out into the galaxy, I have a feeling of hope and inspiration.

ROTJ is the corniest, in my opinion. Lucas thought this would be his last (or at least for a while – he did continue to have thoughts about telling Anakin’s entire story) Star Wars film and everything is nicely tied together in a bow. The Rebellion won (again)! Darth Vader was redeemed! Leia and Han are together! The Emperor was destroyed! We see almost the entire cast surrounded by dancing Ewoks and smiling benevolently into the camera. Happiness! Hope!

When Lucas filmed the Prequels, he continued his trend of concise endings, using the themes of hope and happiness.

With TPM, the ending is almost as exuberant as ROTJ or ANH. There are some lingering questions in the background presented by the Jedi at Qui-Gon’s funeral, but overall, the celebration of Naboo is nothing short of glorious. Everyone is looking at the camera and the corny level is quite high.

AOTC is the only film out of every Star Wars film under Lucas that strays furthest from the theme of hope. I think it’s happy, yes, but in a bittersweet way. You are happy for Anakin and Padmé but the hindsight you have as an audience member, pangs you with bitterness. I do not think hope is lost entirely however. It may not be the first emotion you feel, but you know this union is necessary because “a new hope” is what arises from this wedding. Without this marriage – there would be no Luke and Leia who end up saving the galaxy further on down the line. In some ways, I think the Jedi were headed towards combustion, Anakin was the catalyst, and I believe the wiping out of the Jedi had to happen. It was doomed. So knowing that Luke and Leia are coming out of this ill-fated love match is one of those strange things where hope is present in this scene, though it may not be dominant.

As an ending, ROTS leaves us complete only because we know the entire story already. The sunset gaze by Beru and Lars evokes hope and the weight of responsibility as well. Lucas deftly wraps it up with that Tatooine sunset and closes the film and saga with a sense of satisfaction. We see baby Luke and know that the new hope has arrived.

And where does this leave TFA and Rogue One?

TFA breaks the tradition. It’s such a small thing, the ending of a movie. Yet, if you think about it, you expect a satisfying ending to probably 95% of the movies you watch. There has to be a conclusion of some sort.

Disney leaves me a little jaded with TFA. Their over-confidence (…is their weakness) in knowing that they don’t have to really give us an ending frustrates me. Unlike the other films in the saga that were under Lucas’ direction, TFA does not leave me with hope or happiness. I’m not sure what feelings I take away from it now. It’s neither negative nor positive. I am apathetic for this ending that is not an ending but more like you are putting a bookmark in a book. I know Finn will survive because it’s too early in the Sequel Trilogy to kill him off. Rey is standing there with a strange look on her face and an outstretched arm to an older, grizzled Luke Skywalker who has an even stranger look on his face. Then we have this strange moment where the camera spins around them on the island where Rey is standing there with the arm outstretched trying to hand Luke his lightsaber. Too much movement compared to the other endings!

I didn’t notice the lack of an ending at first. In fact, the first time I watched it, I remember thinking as the shot spun around Luke Skywalker and Rey, “This had better not be the end because we just saw Luke for the first time.” But it was. I was discombobulated but I chucked it up to seeing the new Star Wars film and having a lot to think about.

Yet every time I watch it again, I get more annoyed and I blame Disney and Kathleen Kennedy for most of this. I did not realize how entrenched the Star Wars endings are in my psyche and how much I yearn for them until I compare the Lucas films to the new Disney films.

Rogue One has an ending, but I find it contrived and forced. A CGI Leia says, “Hope,” and it’s a good whack on the head of forcing us into what we should feel. Their effort on the ending of the film should have been less focused on a CGI Leia and more emphasis placed on a beautiful shot with a decent ending that evokes feelings instead of shoves it down our throat. You could argue that the hyperspace jump right after Leia says that is the shot but…it’s action. It’s not a still moment where we appreciate the end of a Star Wars movies.

When I compare the endings, I almost see George Lucas as a more humble director who wraps up each film nicely…just in case. Just in case no one wants to see another Star Wars movie or he never gets to do one again. He gave us a small moment at the end of each film to reflect on what we had just seen. There was no crazy spinning shot, no ships jumping to hyperspace – only his way of saying, “Did you enjoy my movie? I give you time to digest your thoughts and what you saw.”

We have now broken that with TFA and RO and I miss my feeling of hope and happiness at the end of a Star Wars film. I miss the ending being clear cut. I miss the beautiful, panoramic shots that were breathtaking. I miss that still, quiet moment of reflection.

Will we never have that again? Since Disney is planning on creating Star Wars films until I’m old and grey and no longer blogging, is their overconfidence going to extend to the point that we’ll never have that corny Star Wars ending again?

If so, RIP endings to Star Wars films that brought me hope and happiness. You will be missed.

 

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17 thoughts on “Another Happy Landing: The Endings of Star Wars Films

  1. These comments are very astute. It’s something that never occurred to me to consider – a comparison of the endings. One point that I feel differently from you on was that I did feel very moved by the soundtrack at the end of The Force Awakens and found the music Jedi Steps, and camera work breathtaking. Where I agree 100% with you is on the contrast between how humble Lucas was and is, with the general backslapping and self-congratulatory tone of Lucasfilm now. In particular I find they take normal thinking fans for granted a little and, as you say, tell us what we should feel/think/understand in the way they position certain things. I will always love Star Wars, and I have a very big soft spot for TFA (not so much Rogue One). That said they are not without fault in the custodianship of aspects of Star Wars; and I increasingly think the Story Group approach is stifling creativity. I worry it is being led by fan voices as opposed to leading fans with brave new directions. That rather than directorial duties is what troubles me most as a fan (across the film, books and comics at the moment). A general lack of daring and innovation. Great piece (as usual).

    • I am definitely not commenting on the soundtrack! Far from it. The Jedi Steps is one of my favorite pieces EVER in Star Wars music. I love it. I purposefully did not want to comment on the soundtrack.

      I did like the camera work UNTIL it started spinning around. And now that I’ve watched it more, I think it takes away from the Lucas-endings which were previously about giving the viewer a brief moment to soak in everything that happened with a STILL, closing shot that left you with happiness and hope. I did not feel like that with TFA. I felt nothing. I didn’t feel happiness, hope, despair…it was just, like, “oh. that’s it?”

      On your other note – I too have a soft spot for TFA and do love it, though I generally find RO to be boring and slightly horrible. LFL definitely has a self-congratulatory tone since the Disney takeover and sometimes they seem more focused on making the money and being well-loved by all instead of going into the great unknown and doing something different. I hope that one day they will but I don’t think it will be for another 10 years, sadly.

      I really wonder what these directors were doing that made Disney fire them. They could have been onto something very fresh, new, and different. But Disney may want them to stay within the box which is frustrating, because at the core of it, these are films and films are art. The films that stand the test of time are not the cash-cows but the ones that break the mold – even if they are in a well-loved series like Star Wars.

      • Exactly. People forget that Lucas was a renegade in 1977 going against the studio and fighting with most of the top brass at every turn. To my mind he was equally groundbreaking with the Prequels. There are elements of Rogue One I love but my rather harsh assessment is that it feels like the SW equivalent of a rock tribute act. Not so much Rolling Stones as Rolling Clones. Finally, and on a related point: while the use of Luke Skywalker for one shot in TFA may have been done for dramatic weight it seems like a waste of such a complex character. A waste that has carried over into the novels where he is deliberately ignored for tactical “StoryGroup” reasons. I suppose the decision in TFA was daring on JJ’s part, but it does seem that the one act that doesn’t “cash in” on the big three (Luke, Leia, Han) had a deleterious effect on the quality of storytelling and range of the new rebooted franchise.

  2. The end of ANH is just something that’s going to burned into my memory forever. The Throne Room music is one of the first soundtracks I picked out on a piano by ear well before even taking lessons. I was like three or four. ESB has a depth to it that nothing of the other endings hit. I remember watching it before Return of the Jedi came out and just feeling hopelessness and hope mixed together. I was just a kid, bad things didn’t happen in the movies I watched.

    ESB is definitely my favorite ending, but I’m suddenly stuck on something that I never noticed or really thought about before. I always just assumed that what they are looking at out the window is THE Galaxy, being the entire galaxy that the Star Wars narrative occurs in, but now I’m questioning it. That could just be a really big star and its accretion disk. Would the rendezvous point be that far outside of the galaxy? I mean, that’s WAY outside of wild space, that’d have to be deep space, the Intergalactic Void, for them to be able to see the entire Galaxy like that. Yeah, hyperspace travel and all that – but is it logistically feasible for a ragtag fleet of rebels to be casually hanging out that far outside of the galaxy?

    I kind of remember something about the Rishi Maze and the Yuuzhan Vong having to bypass some anomaly that prevented intergalactic travel, but I could be making it up. I don’t have time for a Wookieepedia rabbit hole today.

    Not that I have a problem with whatever the intent was … It’s just one of those random things that changes perspective suddenly and irrevocably.

    • Interesting! I always assumed it was an entirely different galaxy. Haha it’s funny… I never thought about that either.

      And yes I love the ending of ESB! Just because though it’s dark, it’s also full of hope and happiness. Luke got handed a pretty bad stack of cards but he seems okay and ready to face life. Leia’s smile is magical. It seems so genuine that it fills me with warmth.

      I like anh too and the music is awesome. But it’s pretty corny.

  3. ROTJ is my favorite, so I guess it makes sense that it’s my favorite ending. It’s kinda cheesy, but I love it. Especially with the original music. Compare that to TPM, which is cheesy and I dislike. I think it’s the weakest.

    ESB’s ending definitely makes it feel like a “middle” movie, not really a cliffhanger or anything, but not quite complete either. That’s kinda what they did with TFA also, only more so, and what I would expect from TLJ coming up. I had never thought about how much TFA’s ending differs from the rest of the movies; I was too excited about the location and seeing Luke haha.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of CGI Leia in RO, but I appreciate their intent with that ending. It’s hard to end on a light note after everyone just died.

    • I know you love ROTJ! And I miss the original music. It was so wonderful.

      TPM always seemed a little forced to me, but after reading about the Ring Theory, I do have a better understanding of it.

      I didn’t mind the ending of TFA or RO in the beginning. I think I was obsessing about the plot too much. But now that I’ve had time to digest, I realized how bummed I was that the endings were so much like a question mark – TFA especially.

      I miss the corny endings that give you time to pause and reflect and understand that it’s really the ending.

  4. I read this post this morning over breakfast and have been thinking about it ever since. First, I LOVED Lucas’s endings. I’m with you 100%. ‘Return Of The Jedi,’ for all it’s cheese-factor, is my favorite ending too. I love it because it’s SO happy. The heroes have officially won! The story is over! It’s the “Happily Ever After” moment and it honestly makes me feel warm and fuzzy just thinking about it. I have so much love and respect for him as a filmmaker!

    As to ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘Rogue One’…I’ve never thought about it in this light but you are exactly right! Reading this was a sort of revelation, like you brought to light something that had been unsettling to me but I never knew just what it was or why. Your analysis is spot on and I share your grief over the seeming end to the happy endings – and all they brought with them – in the Star Wars films.

    • Yeah, I hadn’t thought much about the endings either until I re-watched TFA and felt a little unsettled. Then, unrelated, I decided to write a post about all the different endings….annnnnd that’s when I connected the two! It was the ending that was slightly amiss for me.

      There are still many more films to come though so perhaps we’ll get a Lucas-like ending once more. After all, we should have hope right?! That’s what the endings taught me. 😉

      • I was just having this conversation with a friend at work! We were talking about ‘The Last Jedi’ and the future of Disney’s Star Wars Saga and I said, despite having….my own issues with TFA, I was still getting excited for ‘The Last Jedi.’ I have to! My hope carries me there :).

      • Well, I did see I had a post of yours I’d missed and I did intentionally wait to save it so I could enjoy it with breakfast so, yeah, that fits! You made my morning reading thought-provoking too. Thanks for that!

        • I realized why I was flattered yesterday. It’s because people used to read newspapers over breakfast and newspapers were important news. So reading my blog over breakfast means important news. Kind of. But it does explain it better!

          • I do tend to read the news (albeit not an actual newspaper anymore) over breakfast most days so the connection works. Welcome to that club :). You just carry that sort of gravitas (and assurance of exciting writing) with your work!

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