From the title, you might be thinking that this is a post from someone who has never liked Star Wars, and is just looking to grumble about something. But no, as a child who grew up with Star Wars as a major interest in his life, I can tell you that I’m writing this with a grand sense of disappointment and recently came to understand why this is so.
To understand this, I had to go back to 1977, when I was first exposed to it. My older brother took me to a store that sold comics and showed me the Giant-Size Star Wars comic book adaptation by Marvel. He said to me, “We are going to see this film” and he bought the book to read it to me. Unfortunately it was only the first half of the adaptation, and I would have to wait until I walked into the movie itself to find out how Luke, Leia, and Han got out of the Death Star.
I walked out of that theatre a fan. I had never seen anything like it. New worlds, new life forms, spaceships and an environment that looked real, and regardless of how fantastic everything was, it felt like something that could exist. The fire of my imagination was ignited and I could never be the same anymore. My life was now Star Wars.
I had to have everything Star Wars. My first toy was a Kenner R2D2. Soon I had toys, coloring books, the novelization, the board game, a set of blankets and sheets for my bed. My Christmas wish list was all Star Wars. There was simply nothing else that quite captured my interest like that.
I couldn’t wait for The Empire Strikes Back to come out. When I heard it was going to be Chapter V of a larger series, I nearly wet my pants. I found the novel adaptation and read it in a night. I was ready.
The Empire did not disappoint. It was full of images of fantastic things I had not seen before: four legged ATAT walkers advancing like the mechancial animals they were, a violent whirlwind of rock that was the asteroid belt, home of huge worm-like creatures, and a floating city in the sky. Then there was the Force, which did amazing things if one just believed. It was all too much and the imagination was fired up again.
The Star Wars series, although it was a simple story at its base about a boy who saves a princess from evil, used that plotline to advance us from one incredible situation to the next, to blow our minds away with the previously unseen spectacle before us. It was not just a movie, it was an Experience.
Six years later from that fateful day I entered the movie theatre in 1977, Return of the Jedi came. I eagerly sought out the novelization, read it in a night, and then a couple of days later waited in line to see the movie just as it came out. The anticipation was intense.
Return was good. But there was something different about this one. It just seemed to lack something essential, something that brought me into the series and made me a fan in the first place. My imagination wasn’t fired, it was more like closure. Star Wars was over, and it was time to move on.
What happened? The first episode had closure, but it inspired me. Return didn’t. It just made me want to move on.
Now that I look back, I can see why that was. Return was already old when it came out. There wasn’t anything terribly new or imaginative in it. For the first part, they went to Tatooine, the desert planet in the first Star Wars. It was based in Jabba’s palace, which was a more expenisve version of Mos Eisley. From there, Dagobah, where we had been in Empire. Then, another Death Star, in orbit around a moon that was just a big forest populated by real-looking teddy bears. The only really novel thing was the speeder-bike chase, which was in the middle of the movie. The Death Star was destroyed in a way that was pretty similar to the old one, except in a hole rather than a trench. It was simply a retread of old ideas. The imagination was gone.
When the prequels were announced, I wasn’t really that excited. Back to Tatooine, a planet that was initially described as a place farthest from anything that happens. More fighting in spaceships. More lightsabre duels, except they are getting longer and more aerobatic. Simply more of the same, without the imagination for the fantastic that made the series come alive in the first place.
The original movie told us we were going to a galaxy far far away, but now we were in a place we knew too well. Without the amazing backdrop and the jaw-dropping visuals we were left with the plot, which was always a little lackluster. THe universe of Star Wars was no longer something to be discovered, but well-worn territory.
And as Star Wars becomes more and more commercialized, the more familiar it’s become. And the awe that I felt as a little boy disappears with it.
I think that’s why I can say I dislike Star Wars now. But even though the imagination has died in it, TV and movies that inspire are still being made, like in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and more. We still get to see strange new things and visit places that are unlike our own. I hope in the new series planned for Star Wars it remembers the promise of a galaxy far, far, away held, and bring us to someplace that makes us believe in the unbelievable.
EDIT: this post was made a year ago, before there was a director announced and definitely before we got to see some trailers. Free from Lucas’s control the franchise may breathe. But I don’t believe it will have the impact that the original did. There is a lot of amazing entertainment nowadays, and the bar is far higher than it was in 1977. But it’s possible that it will get the bad aftertaste of the prequel series out of our mouths that has lingered so long. But what made star wars so great was at the time there was nothing like it. Now it’s very familiar territory. And I have the feeling that people are looking forward to the movie not exactly to see something new, but to relive an old experience.