The first three Star Wars movies, like the first Indiana Jones movie, were the products of a brilliant conceptual leap. Lucas and Spielberg decided to makes films based on the B-movies they loved as kids but in a different register — with the magic they remembered from their childhoods but treated with the wit and visual poetry they were capable of as adults.
They thus delivered this remembered movie magic out of the realm of nostalgia and made it new and alive for modern audiences — and for themselves, too, undoubtedly. They didn’t copy the old films that had once so inspired them — they recreated them not as they were but as they remembered the experience of seeing them for the first time.
It’s too bad in a way that the Star Wars films were so successful, became such a cultural institution, because they outlived as a phenomenon and as a commercial property the impulse that led Lucas to make them. When he came to make the second Star Wars trilogy, prequels to the first, he seemed to have lost touch with the imaginative roots of the first three films . . . he seemed to be trying to recapture the creative thrill of making those first three films, not the childhood memories that gave birth to them.
In a curious paradox, the second trilogy became actual B-movies, a recapitulation of the re-imagined formulas of the first trilogy — exercises in nostalgia for films that had transcended nostalgia.
The second trilogy is creatively flat, fun without being exhilarating or fully alive. The action sequences remain dense with excitement and visual poetry — the stories and the dialogue thud along as though no one cared much about them. The imagined worlds depicted are elaborate and inventive without being enchanting. The films work as entertainments on many levels, but they lack the spark of genius, of full-on creative commitment.
Someday, perhaps, kids who grew up on and enjoyed the films of the second trilogy will try to make movies that capture their youthful excitement about them, turning those B-movie dreams into something that transcends them. They will be doing what Lucas did when he made the first Star Wars trilogy.