Star Wars. People love it, right? RIGHT?? Or do they? At what point does something that generation(s) of people have loved become something that isn’t an event to be anticipated, celebrated, and shouted about, but an exercise in futility, diminishing returns, and spoiled milk? Is it true that too much of a good thing really is just that – too much? I don’t have those answers, not with any certainty. Actually, the casual person would dismiss me outright as a crazy person. All that person would have to say is “but The Last Jedi made ALL the money!” That person would be right. That doesn’t make the movie any good.
Let’s take a trip to the past, shall we? 1977, and little 6-year-old me wanted to see this movie that looked rad, one Star Wars. Well, my parents had to go see it first to assure it was “safe for children” (they hadn’t been dating long at that point and probably needed an excuse to make out somewhere other than my grandparents’ house.) Deeming it “safe for children” they took me to the cineplex, where Star Wars BLEW MY MIND. Hoo boy, did it blow my mind. I had t-shirts, replica lightsabers and phaser pistols, plus all the toys from that first movie. And I had them early! I remember my Darth Vader and Obi-Wan having cloth capes, not plastic, as the subsequent reissues did. I think the lightsabers still extended from within their arms though – memory is fuzzy. Everyone loved Star Wars, adults and children. But children had a special connection to the material, as it was likely the first introduction to sci-fi/fantasy for many of us. As such, many developed a deep love for Star Wars – I’ve not met a single adult male in my age range that doesn’t hold the original trilogy in high regard. Nor have I met any of them that don’t look at the original trilogy from a nostalgic perspective.
Thus begins the problem. Nostalgia is a trap, a trap that makes you don your rose-colored glasses and view things you love, things that have given you pleasure, things that have shaped you in some formative way, things you turn to for comfort when times are tough and the world looks scary; nostalgia turns this – or these, ‘infallible’. Certainly this isn’t true for everyone, but for many (including friends I hold dear), things that have acquired nostalgic significance are off-limits to criticism. Well, I stopped feeling that way about formative (nostalgic) building blocks of my past a long, long time ago.
So, back to the movies. Great stuff right? Star Wars, despite the technical mistakes, was a very good (if very derivative) movie. The Empire Strikes Back? Even better! Return of the Jedi? Pretty good…could have done with fewer (read: zero) Ewoks though. And that could have been the end of it. Sure, there were tie-in novelizations, and comic books published by different publishers, and video games and tie-in merchandise like t-shirts and toys and etc. and etc. and etc. The property was largely kept alive by those who stayed invested in the idea of Star Wars – by those who sought out new comics, new novelizations, and who bought t-shirts and action figures and got Empire or Rebellion tattoos. In the Eighties, you would have called these people nerds. I would have too, even though I was one.
Let us not forget the Prequels. It’s hard to believe that something once SO great was now…gibberish (“much like this post” yells some slob from the gallery. Sit down fella, I hear you). The acting was wooden, the sets looked overly-fake (a problem with a lot of movies from the Nineties…new technology + liberal application of new technology + improvements in said technology = outdated looking special EFX), and the stories were garbage. Midi-Cholorians were present in the bloodstreams of some, and it was these that gave certain people the Force? Plus a guy with a dual-sided lightsaber, ridiculously racist caricatures that hadn’t been seen since the 1930’s (OK, that’s obviously a lie, Hollywood struggles with positive representation, but the Star Wars Prequels should have known better…right?), Samuel L. Jackson gets turned into a little bitch by Hayden Christiansen, and…well, that’s really all you need to know right there. The only good thing was Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, a near-perfect copy of his character, just younger and sassier. Fun fact, the only reason Ewan got into acting was because his uncle was the guy who played Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy. Yes, what started out as rabid fan enthusiasm, with huge ticket sales and pre-release hype turned into…huge ticket sales and post-viewing disappointment. Except that’s not true at all. Despite the incoherent plot of Episode I – The Phantom Menace – people still defended the movie. These same people still stood in line to see Episode II on opening day. And Episode III on opening day. I get it (no really, I do.) You love something. You have nothing but good memories about this (in this case, Star Wars) thing. You want it to be good, you want it to be great. No amount of wishing can turn something from trash to treasure though (well, unless you become a different person. At least that’s what they say.) So you defend the first of the Prequels and say the next one will be better. And then you see Episode II and it’s not any better. But the last one, the creation of Darth Vader (arguably the entire conceit of the Star Wars universe up to that point), that’s gonna rule!
And then it comes along, and it doesn’t rule. However, it did present a Star Wars story to a whole new generation. So, although adults could say the movies blew hot goat, and Jar Jar was a joke, kids didn’t necessarily feel that way. And something happened, something that rarely happens…the younger generation didn’t immediately reject the cultural touchstones of the older generation, and decided to embrace the original trilogy, and all that was originally awesome about Star Wars, and suddenly, all was right in the universe (even in a galaxy far, far away)!
So Star Wars kind of went underground again. And then along came Disney, the juggernaut. Say what you want about Disney, they know how to market a film. So we get The Force Awakens, a movie that made roughly all the money for the year 2015, despite it being released the day of my birth (which, depending on how you look at it means I get an awesome birthday present – thanks Disney, I didn’t know you cared! – or all my friends were in line waiting to get into the movie and not buying me alcoholic beverages) in December of said year 2015. Everyone loved The Force Awakens – it was everything “we” wanted from Star Wars! Evil dudes in Black Leather! A Death Star (OK, planet, whatever)! An evil, shadowy overlord! Tatooine! A youngster unsure of her place in the galaxy! Han! Chewie! Leia! The Millenium Falcon! And finally, Luke Skywalker! HOLY SHIT YES!!!
Did I miss anyone/thing? Was there a Jabba in there? I’m pretty certain Lando Calrissian didn’t show up. But everything (well, nearly everything) you (read: aging nerds angry at the Prequels) wanted in a Star Wars movie was there! You want a Death Star? This thing is even Death Star-ier! You need someone with a lightsaber? How about TWO separate people wielding the same lightsaber! You want an evil guy in black leather in a mask who wields a lightsaber? How about now, he has a lightsaber that has energy shooting out the sides as well – that’s even more lightsaber-ey (not to mention unsafe)! Despite near-universal praise, there wasn’t a single thing original about The Force Awakens. It was like ‘the original trilogy – the greatest hits – edited.’ I’ve watched that movie three times now, to determine if it’s me (maybe I’m the curmudgeonly old guy who can’t appreciate this thing), but no, it’s not me. It’s not an original movie as much as it is an expensive apology to Star Wars fans. It’s the original trilogy turned up to 11.
I’ve not seen The Last Jedi yet, but the backlash has begun. I have friends that are uber-fans (read: buyers of the comic books, and standers in line to see the movie on opening night) who are now admitting that The Last Jedi isn’t up to standards. The Force Awakens, previously open to scorn, has now somehow become a holy cow. This is, in a way, reinforcing my point. Something previously open for derision becomes not so bad in comparison, because, while The Force Awakens might not have been anything special, boy howdy, did The Last Jedi really let me down! It’s a slippery slope between “good because it’s better than this heaping pile of crap” and “good, because it was a well thought out, original, engaging story.”
It’s because of nerds that Star Wars survived as a cultural touchstone, an almost-religion, a property that went into the wilderness and not only survived, but came out stronger than before. So, thank you, nerds (including me – yay me!), but please, let it go. Before every angry Star Wars nerd in the Galaxy starts to send me hate mail (hey, any mail is good mail), just remember, Star Wars isn’t for nerds. It wasn’t, and then it was, and once again, it’s not. For most people, Star Wars begins and ends with the movies. And the movies, it has to be said, are turning out to be not very good (with Rogue One being the exception – except that’s a ‘side story’ so it doesn’t count as much. Of course it doesn’t). Star Wars now looks to continue telling stories for another generation and possibly beyond, but it suffers from Hollywood’s current fetish – prequel-and-sequelization. Do we need “young Han Solo”, “Boba Fett, the Lost Decade”, “Luke’s first orgasm”, “Jabba Hutt – Gangster!” or any of the spin-offs that Disney has planned? Nobody needs these things. For the most part, people got and get on with their lives just fine. But it’s a rollercoaster now, a franchise, an empire. It prints money (as seen by the box office figures for The Last Jedi, which I won’t repeat here – go to www.boxofficemojo.com if you want to know them). Sure, some people really wait an entire year for a new Star Wars film – only to trash it on the internet afterwards and claim it’s “not as good as the old ones.” To which I would say “of course it’s not”, and do you know why? You’re not the same person you were when you saw the old movies – whether they be the original trilogy or the Prequels. Your tastes may have changed, your responsibilities may have changed, your hormonal stimuli may have changed. Things aren’t as ‘new’ to you as they once were. So why defend something you loved once, if it doesn’t hold up to your new standards? Walk into every new experience free from the lens of nostalgia, and be brave enough to evaluate something with an unbiased view. I’m still willing to give the Star Wars movies a chance, but if they’re not as good as they once were, I don’t get angry when people say that (and hell, I don’t get angry when they try to defend them – that’s a viewpoint. As long as the defender is willing to accept valid criticism, open dialogue is good), I don’t want people to get angry when I say that. I’m not in charge, I’m not going to convince Hollywood to stop flogging a dead horse (because Hollywood has never met a horse that couldn’t be placed on long-term life support), and I’m not going to NOT see the new Star Wars film (eventually.) But I am going to continue to question the rationale, and I am most certainly going to question those who defend Star Wars blindly without question. Blind devotion to anything – even something as silly as a movie series about a galactic rebellion in a galaxy far, far away – is dangerous.