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.