In honor of the new Star Wars movie coming out this week, I'm combining two of my greatest loves and comparing each of the six existing Star Wars movies to its corresponding season of KU basketball. Major spoilers below, but if you don't know the plot to Star Wars by now, here's another spoiler alert for you: We're not friends.
The Phantom Menace (Episode I) is 1998-99
This is just a happy coincidence that these two matched up in the same year. It was the beginning of a new era for both franchises. The old favorites were gone (Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce) and new characters were introduced and pissed everybody off (Jar-Jar Binks, Eric Chenowith). Both the season and the movie were, at best, disappointing. As a result, the heretofore unassailable leaders of both (Roy Williams, George Lucas) started taking some heat from the fanbase and the media.
Miscellaneous: The ugly home loss to Missouri is the podrace that I always fast forward through. Ryan Robertson is Qui-Gon Jinn-- often times the only bright spot keeping everything else held together. Anakin's performance in the last battle on Naboo is Jeff Boschee's performance in the 2nd-round loss to Kentucky-- a bunch of reckless shooting that hit the mark from time to time. (Fun fact: Boschee went 6-18 from three that day. 18 threes!!! Qui-Gon would've been so pissed. Whatever you do, don't leave the cockpit of that starfighter, Jeff.) Terry Nooner is Ric Olie-- both of them impacted the plot, but only the diehard fans could ever pick them out of a lineup.
Attack of the Clones (Episode II) is 2014-15
By both Star Wars and KU basketball standards, this was a relatively unexciting episode in terms of actual action, but off the court/battlefield, way too many negative things were happening in their respective universes. Conner Frankamp joined Andrew White III as high-profile members of the Separatist movement. The assassination attempt of Padme in the opening minute of the movie is the Kentucky beatdown in the second game of the season-- both those events colored everything else that was to come. Too much attention was paid to a subplot that ended up sucking-- the budding romance between Anakin and Padme is Cliff Alexander. Both Episode II and the 2015 Jayhawks featured a confusing development that interrupted a relatively peaceful time and warranted a lot of discussion afterwards-- when Self dropped his infamous "Fool's gold" comment, the fanbase collectively was Obi-Wan, thoroughly confused after being told by the Camino cloners that the clone army they've been developing was almost ready for use. For the rest of the season, KU message boards were the Jedi Council, endlessly debating the meaning of what we just discovered.
Miscellaneous: Selection Sunday was the Battle of Geonosis-- KU survived the battle and got a 2 seed, but the dark side was still clouding everything-- Kentucky was waiting for Kansas in the Elite 8. Hayden Christensen is Kelly Oubre, in that perhaps unfair comparisons hurt them both. Christensen's acting was always going to get crushed alongside of Ewan McGregor, and Kelly Oubre was never going to be Andrew Wiggins. Cliff Alexander's mom is Count Dooku.
Revenge of the Sith (Episode III) is 2010-11
After a couple of poorly-received movies, and a 2nd-round loss to Northern Iowa as the overall #1 seed + loss of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, expectations for both of these installments had been lowered just a little bit. Both installments subsequently exceeded those expectations, though not without some tragedy along the way. Then, just when things were looking up-- Hey! The only teams left in KU's bracket are the 10, 11, and 12 seeds, and Obi-Wan just killed General Grevious on Utapau, maybe the Clone Wars are over!-- everything ended horribly. The first half of the Elite 8 loss vs. VCU is when Anakin shockingly cuts Samuel L. Windu's arm off and goes to the dark side....and the second half is Order 66, when the remaining Jedi around the galaxy are finished off. At the very end of both the movie and the season, an important set of twins are split up-- Luke & Leia and Marcus & Markieff.
Miscellaneous: Royce Woolridge is Chewbacca, as both their appearances were inconsequential and probably a little unnecessary. Josh Selby's situation early in the season was like Senator Palpatine's "kidnapping" early in the movie-- both were being held hostage for shady reasons, both were dramatically "rescued"....and neither KU nor the Republic got their money's worth out of the deal. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are Shaak Ti and Kit Fisto, because that makes me giggle. I guarantee that Darth Vader's reaction when the Emperor tells him he killed Padme in anger was exactly how Self reacted when both Morris twins and Selby all left for the draft.
A New Hope (Episode IV) is 1990-91
Nobody knew quite what to expect from George Lucas and Roy Williams at this point, but in both cases, the pre-production was a disaster (1989 postseason ban, 2nd-round loss as a 2 seed in 1990). KU's tournament run in '91 equaled blowing up the Death Star, between the Sweet 16 win over 2 seed Indiana "Stay on target...", Elite 8 win over 1 seed Arkansas "Stay on target...", and Final 4 win over 1 seed North Carolina and Roy's old mentor Dean Smith "Great shot kid, that was one in a million!" Unfortunately, Darth Vader escaped and was not destroyed with the Death Star, and similarly, Duke knocked off Kansas and won the title.
Miscellaneous: The Kansas run-and-gun offense, with ten games of 90+ points, could absolutely make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. KU losing three of its last six games before the NCAA tournament was Obi-Wan letting Vader kill him on the Death Star. Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V) is 1996-97
Both the movie and the basketball season were phenomenal right from the beginning, both were critically acclaimed....and both ended in a stunningly depressing fashion. Things started out OK for the good guys....hey, the Jayhawks won the Maui Invitational, and the Rebel Alliance successfully dodged destruction on the ice planet Hoth. Luke left his Jedi training on Dagobah when he wasn't quite ready; KU's loss at Missouri proved they probably weren't prepared for an undefeated regular season. In the NCAA tourney, when Arizona stormed back from 10 down in the 2nd half against 12-seed College of Charleston to set up their matchup with KU, the Jayhawks had to be feeling like Lando on Bespin, "That was never a condition of our arrangement!" To which Arizona replied, "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further." And then, of course, the deal was altered further in the Sweet 16 against the Wildcats. If my choices for surprise father are between Darth Vader and Miles Simon, I'm choosing Vader every time. I'm pretty sure Michael Dickerson still has Scot Pollard frozen in carbonite and hanging on his wall.
Miscellaneous: Jerod Haase is Luke Skywalker, in that both of their right hands ended up being pretty useless at the end. Jerod Haase is C-3PO, in that he takes a beating and finds himself in pieces. Jerod Haase is one of the palace rooms in Cloud City after the Vader/Skywalker fight, in that they're both covered in floor burns. (Get it? Like from the lightsabers? I know, that's a bad one. Sorry.) Jerod Haase is Lando Calrissian, in that I could never fully trust either one of them.
The Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) is 2007-08
A happy ending deserves a happy ending. The 2008 Kansas Jayhawks were slightly underestimated on a national scale, as was the Rebel Alliance by the Empire. About halfway through the season/movie, things were looking up (KU starts out 20-0, a group of plucky Bothans are able to steal the blueprints to the second Death Star). Then adversity struck. The beating KU took at K-State, "Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive...." The loss to a bad Oklahoma State team late in the year, "It's a trap!" There were some anxious moments towards the end (Stephen Curry and Davidson almost sneaking in and ruining everything in the Elite 8 = Luke's thoughts betraying him and Vader discovering Leia is his daughter), and it took some help from an unexpected source (Cole Aldrich vs. North Carolina = Ewoks), but eventually the good guys overcame the Emperor (John Calipari) and his evil plan for universal domination.
Miscellaneous: You could call Roy Williams the "bad guy", and some Kansas fans did, but even most of them would have to admit he was redeemed a little bit in the end. Ol' Roy showing up to the title game wearing a KU sticker on his shirt was Vader asking Luke to take off his mask for him, so he could look upon his son with his own eyes.
On Mass Street after the game, as I took a sip from my 47th beer of the night, and the Ewok next to me played a bunch of empty stormtrooper helmets like drums, I looked up into the night sky, and saw all the ghosts of my college basketball past smiling down on me. Roy. Gerry McNamara. Mike Bibby. Juan Dixon. A bunch of nerdy white guys from Bucknell. Christian Laettner. Tyson Wheeler & Cuttino Mobley. Hakim Warrick, with his arm around Michael Lee. And it was beautiful.
This is a completely objective post based on facts, and we all know that Star Wars fans hate to argue on the internet, so there should probably be no disagreement in the comments section. May the force be with you.