Star Wars: A New Hope is a genre-pushing, medium-elevating film that stands as one of the greatest cinematic achievements we will ever know. The film would bring millions to the movies and become a phenomenon of immense cultural importance. forever etched into our hearts and memories. A film made both for the present and for posterity.
Now, with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker fast approaching, it's time to look backward, to celebrate the origins of this seminal epic. But let's take this a bit further and examine projects that, Lucas-approved or not, enrich the experience of watching the original trilogy. You will recognize some of these entries, but hopefully you'll also come to appreciate the original films in ways you didn't expect.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2003 Micro-Series)
Who knew that a single line in A New Hope—uttered by Obi-Wan Kenobi-- would expand into an epic war which spanned two television shows and a slew of really great books? I don't need to defend this one too fiercely because you probably agree with me. Years before the computer-animated series hit TV screens, The Clone Wars was a series of action-packed 2D shorts fitting cleanly between Cartoon Network's other scheduled programming. It followed the Jedi and their then-loyal clone troopers as they fought the Separatists.
One could quite easily argue that this supplemental series enhances the prequels more than it does the originals, but I'm of a different mind. The Clone Wars marked the first time (one of them, at least) we saw the conflict after it began in Attack of the Clones. From gorgeous shots of Yoda riding an unnamed beast through a desert to visually distinct representations of Obi-Wan and Anakin, the series showcased Genndy Tartakovsky's sharply-contoured art and defined that fictional time period for an entire generation.
For slightly older fans, it meant something more. It meant expansion of an idea that stretched back decades, a promise the franchise made that it ultimately kept. Even The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson took inspiration from the Clone Wars era.
The Empire Strikes Door ( A Star Wars Mystery)
Journalist and long-time Star Wars fan Jamie Stangroom gave us a gift. The Empire Strikes Door is a silly-but-earnest documentary that pursues the answer to a decades-old question: who knocked his head against that Death Star door? Shockingly, multiple people have claimed to have been the one who did it, prompting Stangroom to put together a 40-minute documentary that seeks the truth and has a blast doing it. His conclusion will surprise you, but I would argue that simply taking the journey with him is far more rewarding. And yes, I would die on that hill.
The Empire Strikes Door not only answers a question that has interested fans for years, but it also adds hilariously unnecessary context to a blooper that ended up in the final cut. Having been hired to cover Star Wars Celebration 2017, Stangroom has plenty of experience covering the franchise, but this is his most ambitious project yet, and he does an incredible job.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Star Wars sequel trilogy has polarized fans, with some praising its sleekness and emotional resonance and others outright condemning its derivative approach. But regardless of where you stand, The Force Awakens makes the original trilogy even sweeter. The film molds Rey into an incredibly likable heroine, but aside from that, it relies heavily upon the feelings of nostalgia A New Hope evokes. Still, it's a solid Star Wars film that isn't at all what people hoped for or expected. Unoriginal (which translates to stale for some) but solid.
But if that's the logic we're going with, it would probably be more fun to just skip the sequel trilogy and head straight back to the franchise's nascence. I'm not knocking The Force Awakens. The film works for me in ways other people may find ingratiating or silly, but I do love it. However, it's not unfair to say that when many of us watch the film, all we're thinking about is how much more we appreciate A New Hope.
Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama
In 1981, NPR produced and recorded a radio dramatization of Star Wars: A New Hope. The first two episodes expanded upon the movie in unexpected ways; in fact, the first two episodes take place before the opening scene of A New Hope and add some great depth to a film that was already incredibly fleshed-out.
In 1983, NPR released the radio adaptation of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which proved incredibly popular. Return of the Jedi received the radio treatmentin1996,more than a decade after the film's initial release. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprised their respective roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, but rather than have Carrie Fisher and Han Solo voice their iconic characters, the producers brought in Ann Sachs and Perry King to portray the two lovers. In fact, the cast largely consists of new actors and actresses, a fact I don't really see as a problem.
The official radio series is currently available on Google Podcasts. Spoiler alert: It's really, really fun.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This one is a no-brainer. The reason for its existence is to explain away the gaping, unguarded opening in the Death Star, a convenient way for Luke to destroy the space station, temporarily save the galaxy, and get a shiny medal. That's all fine, and Rogue One is serviceable on its own, but an entire movie for one fan gripe? And now we're getting a prequel series about the movie's most unlikable character? Tell the stories you want to tell, not the ones you feel like you have to tell. So, why am I recommending it?
Personal complaints aside, I do think Rogue One enhances the original trilogy because it broadens our knowledge and understanding of the Force, putting Obi-Wan's strange explanation of this mysterious... force into greater context.
For that reason alone, it's a worthwhile addition on this list.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the original Star Wars trilogy (aside from the fils themselves). George Lucas created such a large, rich tapestry of characters that it's nearly impossible not to get sucked into his creation.
But what do you think? Let us know in the comments below!