It's hard to believe that Star Wars Episode VII is going to be a real thing about a year from now. It's probably the most enduring science fiction of all time.
I know for sure that I saw Return of The Jedi in the theater, and maybe even Empire. The only other movies that really stuck with me that long was the Indiana Jones series. The original three movies are an epic part of our culture, even when George Lucas messed with them to "improve" them. The three prequels get a bad rap, and while it's hard for me to disagree with the criticism, they were definitely a story that I think we all wanted to hear. It's just that they would have been better as one single movie. The story of the rise of the empire (and by extension the rise of the emperor and Vader, along with the disappearance of the Jedi) was certainly important.
And if we're being honest, at the time that Episode I came out, we were all clamoring for it, and could only be so critical. It was a universe that was new and at the same time familiar. We're all grateful that it didn't ruin Natalie Portman's career.
When Disney bought LucasFilm, it was pretty obvious that there would be new Star Wars movies. Then they made everyone even more happy when they declared there would be three sequels that continued the story arc, interspersed by origin stories. Still, that's a lot of pressure. I think fans tolerated the prequels because they were kind of already in Lucas' head as established, if not published, canon that set up the original films.
Having JJ Abrams take over, I think, is the right move. While I'm not sure that his Star Trek reboot made "instant classics," (seriously though, other than Wrath of Kahn, were any of the originals classic?), the thing that I most respect about him is that he's an excellent storyteller. If you've never seen Super 8, it is in my opinion one of his best works. Mind you, he cast the perfect kids to carry that movie, but it's so well written. His touch on many of the TV series he produced is also comforting.
Today we got the first trailer for the next film. It doesn't really tell us much, but it's instantly recognizable as Star Wars. We know it takes place 30 years after Jedi, and that Han, Luke and Leia will be in it, appropriately aged. The rumors suggest they're there largely to transition to new, younger stars.
What's great about it, as a fan, is that we have so many questions about what happened in those 30 years. It certainly appeared that the empire was done at the end of Jedi. And yet, we see storm troopers, dudes flying X-wings with rebel logos on their helmet, and one scary looking dude with a light saber (that has already been torn apart by the Internet as being unsafe for the user and ineffective against adversaries). In a post-empire galaxy, it seems like not everything turned out as expected.
I think the first film worked because it was unlike anything we had ever seen before in terms of scale and imagination. You don't get the opportunity to create something like that very often. The closest we've come since is Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter, both of which were books first. Everyone knows that this new Star Wars will print money, but what everyone really wants is for it to be the kind of art that the original was. We all want it to inspire and make us stand up and clap when it's over. I give Abrams a 4 in 5 chance. I think he can do it.