Living In These Star Wars

I Thought These Movies Were No Longer For Me

To be fair, I was never so much a Star Wars fanatic as to put myself anywhere close to the kind of contenders that currently exist for superfan.  But we had Star Wars sheets growing up, and I spent a lot of time playing in the yard with my siblings, running around shooting blasters and using sabers as part of the never-ending mash-up of games we played involving The Cat From Outer SpaceInner-Space, Indiana Jones, and just about any other movie that caught our fancy growing up.

We had toys and we knew the VHS copies we had very well.  I don’t ever remember a time when I hadn’t seen Star Wars, but I have a very vivid memory of seeing Empire Strikes Back on video at my Cousin’s house with both of our families, in preparation to see Return Of The Jedi in the theater, as it had just come out.  Once we had the VHS collection, we would just re-watch it endlessly, often in large, marathon-sittings around the holidays.  While I have heard many people talk about what they find to be their own personal favorite, I have always loved the first film the most.  Star Wars – what is now referred to as “Episode IV” or “A New Hope,” but in those days, it was just Star Wars – had a quality to it that felt like a story from my childhood, much like Tom Sawyer or Lord of The Rings.  This felt like established canon, a part of the vernacular that every kid my age spoke.

While I always enjoyed the movies, High School and living on my own caused me to find and seek out other interests, but I kept a copy of the the first film on VHS for years, something I still have to this very day.  For a long time, it was one of the few movies I actually owned, along with Evil Dead II, Negativland’s “No Other Possibility” tape, and Almost Famous.  But by then, the charm and allure of continued Star Wars-ery felt a little crass, and exploitative.  I worked at a B. Dalton in a mall for many years, during the peak years leading up to the prequels, and then continued to work for them as the merchandising blitz hit a threshold that was hard to fully take in.  As I understand it, the franchise has held at that rate for some time, and Disney has only made it crazier.

 

A Word About The Prequels, Now That I Mention It.

I was interested in the re-touched versions of the movies for a little while, but after seeing what they did to Star Wars, I decided to hang on to my VHS for the time being.  But the advertising and tie ins really put me off the “Episode I” idea at first, and I let it sit for a while when it was in the theater initially.  Then, a friend of mine was in town for a bit from being at school in the UK, and he hadn’t seen the movie either.  We agreed to make an afternoon of it, and what sticks out the most was the puzzled conversation in the car on the way home, as we tried to make sense of what we’d just seen.

As I puzzled through what was going on in this new movie, a few things became apparent over the next few weeks.  First off, the movie was entirely forgettable.  Where I remember endlessly quoting the older movies, this movie felt forced and dry, with stale lines delivered by lifeless actors who didn’t seem to want to be there.  It wasn’t long before I couldn’t remember what happened, and all I could really tell you is that when I could remember, I hadn’t liked it.

But, more importantly, what I realized was that Star Wars was no longer for me.  As much as I had loved those movies growing up, these days (the late ’90’s / early 00’s) the movies are being presented in a different light.  The re-edits, cartoony CG, the bad acting, and the emphasis on explaining things where there didn’t need to be any explanations made these movies pointless, compared to the adventure laden, funny and poetic tone the original three had always taken.  The prequels were a overwrought slog through a kind of pomp and circumstance that were largely joyless, and left me feeling ostracized as a viewer.

Or, rather, I should say prequel, because I have only ever seen Episode I.  I never bothered seeing the other movies when they came out, and even when a girlfriend of mine insisted I watch Episode II & III with her on DVD, I balked, began the second film, was confused and annoyed almost immediately, and gave up.  It was talking with her that made me realize not only that these movies were very much not for me, but that our relationship did not have much gas in the tank, either.  (It didn’t, sadly.)

 

Time Passes

History is a funny thing, in that the events of the past only make sense in hindsight, and seen against what is happening now.  It didn’t take long to break the Inter-Web when Disney announced they had bought the rights to Star Wars, and were making six new films over the next several years, the first of which was in 2015.  It seemed like some weird future news headline from Back To The Future II and felt very out-of-place.  But the writing had been on the wall for years.  Lucasfilm was stagnating, and Disney was knocking it out of the park with the acquisition of Marvel.  There were enough hot young directors out there that would bring home the money with the right financing and script, and Disney could afford to keep working until they get it right.  It was this odd moment where there were two possible futures: one good, and one terrifying.  And it all hinged on Episode VII being worth a damn.

I am not usually the kind of person who cares about this sort of thing, and to be honest, until I walked out of seeing The Force Awakens the other day, I hadn’t read a word about any of it.  Because until I saw it on the screen, I couldn’t have cared less.  I was firmly convinced that it would be okay at best, and had paid so little attention to it that my mind was firmly focused on Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 as the sci-fi film I had on my mind.  For the longest time I had no interest.  Even when it started to seem as if it might be good, when the cast and director was announced, I balked.  Could this even, for a moment, capture the excellence of those early films?

And, of course, there was the other problem to contend with: my own nostalgia.  I am ridiculously nostalgia-prone, and the lens through which I view those movies – the lens through which we all view them, I think – is so coated in that fuzzy filter, that I don’t think I’m a good judge of what a good job might look like.  It was easy enough to dismiss the prequels because they were examples of bad filmmaking, and that is the consensus argument, now.  But would I be able to view a Star Wars movie and understand it on its own terms, without being over judgey about the way they portray Chewbacca?

In a lot of ways, it was easier to forgive the new Star Trek movies, also by the same director.  Star Trek has had endless iterations, and hundreds of hours of material, compared to Star Wars.  In my mind, even if I had hated the new Star Trek movies, they didn’t diminish anything about the originals, which were all still there.  We were fortunate enough to have some pretty good movies, so there was nothing to get too upset about.  But with Star Trek, I also didn’t feel betrayed.  I had bailed on the new series (post Next Generation) when the shows were still great, and never got to see Voyager and Enterprise go downhill.  But I still felt burned by how bad it got.  I know that all of these franchises are designed to be money making machines but there was something about the way those prequels were sold that just felt wrong, and I was gonna be damned if that was gonna happen, and the movie was gonna be bad again, too.

 

Really, Was It Even Possible For Me To Get Excited About This Stuff Again?

The excitement I felt as a kid when a new Indiana Jones movie came out is something that I have not felt, and not in that same way, very many times as an adult.  While I loved movies and TV as a kid, I went through the same malaise we all went through in the ’90’s, as irony and anger began to sweep my generation.  We had been betrayed by everything, and had turned to junk-culture that could no longer let us down as a way of dealing with it all.  I turned my attentions toward LPs and comics, and rarely looked back.  But, over the years, a handful of things caught my attention.

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