Most OT fans would probably agree that the way the OT was filmed and told, particularly ANH and ESB, successfully conveyed the illusion that the camera was merely a window into a much wider, vibrant world, and that all sorts of interesting things were happening just off screen. Watching ANH for the first time, I distinctly remember hearing about places we never see, like Anchorhead or Tosche Station, and instantly imagining what those places were like, easily buying into the illusion that things were happening in parallel with the main action off screen. The same with Echo Base on Hoth - even though we only saw a few corridors, a medical clinic and some control rooms, the film successfully conveyed the mental illusion that just off screen members of the Rebel Alliance were running around doing their jobs. Places like Echo Base or Mos Eisley registered to my brain as believably REAL places that I could buy existing in three dimensional space - places I could imagine visiting. Despite the fact that the OT shows us only a small handful of (mostly Earth-like) planets, somehow the illusion of this vast Galaxy of endless interesting locations was successfully conveyed.
I’ve always wondered what combination of story ingredients and film-making techniques enabled the OT to so successfully convey this illusion. (Granted, this is highly subjective; perhaps not everyone feels this way.) But it’s particularly fascinating to me to consider why exactly the Sequel Trilogy somehow failed to produce a similar experience - at least for me (again, highly subjective.)
One interesting comparison is Empire Strikes Back versus The Last Jedi. These two movies have a broadly similar plot outline: Rebel base attacked, Imperials chase Rebels through space, protagonist learns from a wise elder, we visit a cosmopolitan Cloud City/Canto Bight. Both movies have the same number of locations, and the locations are vaguely similar to a certain extent: ESB has Hoth, Dagobah, Bespin; TLJ has Crait, Akto, Canto Bight. The space chase in both movies involves an enormous Super Star Destroyer chasing the Rebels (although the ESB version is certainly more eventful). Visually speaking and plot-wise, these movies have many broad similarities.
And yet for reasons I can’t quite explain, ESB conveyed the illusion that we were observing a small window into a larger world. Yet TLJ somehow completely failed to convey that same illusion to me. I never felt like Crait, for example, was a tangible, physical location, where interesting things were happening just off screen. In fact, I never really felt like anything at all was happening offscreen in the entire Star Wars Galaxy. The whole movie felt somehow small and empty, as if the Universe consisted only of the locations and characters the camera was focusing on at any given time.
I can’t really explain why I experience these two movies so differently. Is it something to do with CGI? The lived-in, realistic sets for Echo Base certainly conveyed a sense of tangibility and physicality that was strangely missing from Crait, for example. But TLJ used lots of practical sets and physical locations (like Akto) as well. Others have suggested it has something to do with the fact that the Sequel Trilogy provides very few details about the state of the Galaxy. But in ESB we really don’t know much about the state of the Galaxy either beyond the broadest of strokes. We know a fleet of Star Destroyers is chasing the rebels, just as in TLJ. Maybe it’s simply the fact that I saw ESB as a child, or perhaps it’s some combination of directing and writing techniques.
Again, this is all highly subjective and perhaps many people feel that TLJ does successfully convey the illusion of a much wider, fascinating universe. The best explanation I have for my own feelings about this is that something about the grounded, straightforward (sometimes almost documentary-like) style of the OT produces this highly realistic aura. Whatever combination of elements enabled this triumph of world building, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the Sequels failed (at least for me) to successfully convey the same illusion of a larger world.
Any thoughts about this?