Last week was a little weird because I’d completely forgotten about the whole “May the Fourth Be with You” thing. Yet starting that morning, a few well-meaning friends sent me amusing texts or emails on the assumption that I was still an active Star Wars fan.
It was like being congratulated on your anniversary with your ex.
To be fair, I haven’t been vindictive about the split. I still love the original trilogy – in the original theatrical release, mind you. In hindsight, the bizarre need to re-write the past with the Special Editions (Han shot first!) was a warning sign that our relationship was in trouble.
But I thought that would pass, that George Lucas would work out the lingering bitterness he had with his ex. I was wrong. Still, I can’t deny that it has a hold of me because of the fond memories of – to coin a phrase – the way we were. So let’s channel our inner Evelyn Waugh and settle in for a bit of “Star Wars Revisited.”
Pining for the Love of Youth
Those of a certain age will know what I am talking about when I speak of the great passion that surrounded the release of the original films. The painful anticipation, the thrilling embrace and the contentment of completion are something that one had to experience first-hand to fully appreciate the Star War fandom phenomenon. There had never been anything like it. Sure, previous movies had sequels, but they didn’t have sequels that got better and enriched the story the way Star Wars did.
Afterwards, many of the fans wanted more, and they got it through the Expanded Universe. But for most people (including apparently the cast and crew), the thing was done, done well and they were content to bask in the afterglow.
It’s funny to think of it that way, but the first 20 years with Star Wars were really happy. Everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked George Lucas decided he needed to make movies again.
The Wrath of Howard the Duck
I don’t know how much to read into the personal struggles of producers and film makers, but it’s clear that by the early 1990s George Lucas was deeply unhappy with his reputation. His two signature creations – Star Wars and Indiana Jones – were now in abeyance. Everyone in the business knew that while he had been involved, other people had been key to the successes of both projects. He wrote the story for Willow, but last film he could stake out as purely his own work was American Graffiti, which opened in 1973.
In the meantime, he was the executive producer of the epic failure known as Howard the Duck, which strangely does not appear as a credit for him on IMDb.com. Even the best talents produce a dud, but it was such as stinker that it became a byword for awful. Since everyone in Hollywood is a jealous prick, they never let George forget it.
Thus it was that the guy came up with the notion of creating digitally re-mastered versions of his originals and showing them in the theater for a new generation. This was greeted with immense enthusiasm and Lucas used the opportunity to further enrich himself – to the point that the prequels would be self-funded. Now at last the world would see the power of his pure creative genius, unfettered by the busybodies running studios or the money men.
Wishing Away the Failure
If the bad edits of our past were a warning sign, the incoherent plots and wooden acting of the prequels were a blaring alarm that something was wrong with this relationship. Like many people, I tried to look past the flaws and find good parts. The final fight scene in Phantom Menace is full of physical energy, and combined with soaring music and the otherworldly set, almost saves the film by itself. Almost.
There were hopes that things would get better, but they just kept getting worse. Each release was hyped with teasers about how much the characters would be developed and the story enriched, but it was all lies.
Still, we’d delude ourselves that this time it would be better. We went through the motions, trooping out to the theater and hoping against hope that we’d be reconciled, and everything would be as it once was.
But it wasn’t. We’d get dressed up and go out, but our date would puke all over the table and then yell at us for not being supportive. It was over, but how many of us could admit it?
Everyone works through problems in different ways and my solution, like those of so many other creative types, was to use the agony of the inevitable breakup to drive creative energy. Seen through that prism, the Man of Destiny series is literary self-help, a diagnosis of what went wrong and how it could have been better. It helped me to understand what happened and how to move on.
The Force Awakens and the Final Break
I had zero expectations for the sequels and went to see The Force Awakens simply because my family was still committed to the series. When I walked of the theater, I knew it was over. All that was left was the property settlement. I was persuaded to see Rogue One entirely on the basis that Lucas wasn’t involved but just as I started to enjoy it, we got CGI Leia and console game Darth Vader to wreck it.
The rest you all know, and while I’ve said Star Wars is dead to me, a relationship that long never really goes away. People remember you together and while you may hate what it became, you can still look back on the good times and smile.
As part of my post-Christmas cleaning, I stumbled on my old Star Wars CCG collection and thinned it out a bit. I specifically pulled out all the Phantom Menace cards (only a few sets were made until Decipher lost the license – yet another cool thing that Lucas wrecked) and put them on eBay. I was surprised at the sale price, but I guess for some folks the old magic is there. Good for them.
Ours was a Star Wars family. My wife and I were both fans of the original films and raised our kids to enjoy it as we had. None of us mentioned the Fourth. I finally brought up the messages to my eldest kid who shrugged and said she’d tried to watch Solo three times but couldn’t make herself finish it.
I’m sure some will point out that simply by writing this (and referencing Star Wars in other columns) I’m contradicting myself, but there’s a difference between being part of the fandom and offering creative criticism. I’m not a fan of the MCU or DCEU, but I can appreciate (and critique) the artistic style and storytelling of those genres. I guarantee you I will bring up Star Wars from time to time because it’s a useful reference to make points about storytelling and culture. I have zero interest in The Mandalorian, but I knew enough to correctly predict the SJWs would try to destroy it.
How many people got the Evelyn Waugh reference at the beginning? I’d happily use comparisons with Waugh or Ford Madox Ford, but I don’t think people would find them helpful (though if you are fan of either, you definitely need to follow my blog!)
There’s also the fact that Star Wars presents a unique example of a wildly successful enterprise that was deliberately destroyed, first out of vanity, later to spite its existing audience. In its desperation to retrieve the old magic, Disney forced poor Carrie Fisher to relive one of the darkest periods of her life and it killed her. Something that big can’t pass without comment.
The opposite of love isn’t hate, it is indifference and I’ve grown profoundly indifferent to Star Wars.