To celebrate 40 years of Star Wars, I’m writing a thing about why I’m not really into Star Wars anymore.
Listen, for my people, Star Wars holidays are borderline holy. And as such, we all observe them in our own way. I choose to celebrate this particular one by combing my eyebrows back and getting my Andy Rooney on.
Before anything else, this isn’t a fanboy lament, a complaint. It’s…well, let’s get into it and find out what it is.
I fucking loved Star Wars. We watched the originals on tape on an almost constant loop. As constant as possible, even going so far as to purchase a tape rewinder. What a scam those things were. “Don’t want to wear out your VCR by having it do the exact thing it’s supposed to do? Want to cut rewind time from 2 minutes to 1 minute and 45 seconds? Want to speculate about other possible but most likely imaginary benefits of a gizmo that does one thing to one type of thing? Tape rewinder is for you!”
My mom took me to the rereleases in the theater. I think I was 14. Right on that cusp, probably a little old/young for Star Wars (old enough to think it was lame, young enough to later realize that I was wrong about lots of things I found lame), and probably a little old to be going to the movies with my mom. But we did go, and we had a good time. The computerized add-ins were, eh, not bad. As someone who’d seen the movies dozens of times, I can’t honestly say I found them as obtrusive as some folks seem to at this point.
The time of the rereleases was when my love peaked, for sure. I collected action figures, the Kenner ones that were almost like dolls, really, because they all moved like senior citizens. No knee joints, no elbow joints. All hips and shoulders. But, unlike most senior citizens, they looked pretty cool. I played through the entirety of a few Star Wars games, like Shadows of the Empire, which was quite a task. More angry quest to finish than “game” when you get down to it.
In the height of all this was when I found out that there were SIX MORE Star Wars movies up in George Lucas’ head. It was astonishing. I have this distinct memory of sadness. I’m standing near the register at a Hastings, reading about the other episodes, and thinking that I wanted to live in a galaxy far, far away where most stuff was the same but they made all 9 Star Wars movies. I remember thinking they might. Because, hell, it seemed like a gold mine. But on the other hand, it’d been so long…
School was the worst. I hated school with a passion most people reserve for their first eleven romantic relationships. I used up all my passion on hatred for school.
Every year, me and a friend made a chicken wire tube in the backyard, and we stuffed it full of our papers and burned the whole pile. I saved my papers all year long for just that purpose. Just to have this cleansing fire, this bookend to the goddamn horribality that was school, a time waster so horrible that I invented the word “horribality” to describe it.
And then, in 1999, the same day we finished school, the same day as the bonfire, we went to the theater for Episode 1.
I don’t need to go into what that was like. Maybe…maybe I should say, despite the fact that it wasn’t that good, a lot of people forget what a huge opening it had and how dazzling the special effects were at the time. It’s hard to believe now, but watch Independence Day. That was mind-blowing at the time, and now it looks like shit. Star Wars was a bit the same. The pod race was pretty cool, the ending fight was pretty awesome, and it had an acrobatic style to it that’s more common now, but was pretty different from the old lightsaber duels.
And, it was the first new Star Wars movie since May of 1983. It was the first Star Wars movie that I was able to see in the theater on its initial release! I was seeing history happen!
What I’m saying is, despite some of the problems with Episode 1, there was stuff to like about it, even if that stuff was more related to its existence than its plot or characters. One of the parallels it shares with Force Awakens is that a lot of fans were hedging their bets, saying that while Phantom Menace wasn’t the best Star Wars movie (and was pretty decidedly the worst at the time), it was a return to a property and provided some hope that things would improve.
Episodes 2 & 3
It turned out that Phantom Menace was not the first fumbling steps of a new franchise, but the tone of what Star Wars would be from that point on.
Lots of folks say that episodes 2 and 3 are better, some people even like 3 quite a bit. I sometimes wonder if people were just used to this being Star Wars by the time 3 came out.
Something a lot of aging nerds came to accept was that the purpose of the new films was to attract a new audience of kids to Star Wars. And in that way, they were successful. There was a HUGE Star Wars merchandise boom, and I remember a friend’s kid brother watching “Attack of the Cwones!” every single day. I sometimes wonder if there will be a generation who grew up with these new movies that prefers some of them to the originals. Maybe their order goes 5, 1, 3, 6 or something like that. Time will tell, I reckon.
As 2 and 3 go, I can’t honestly say I was disappointed. I had hopes, but not high hopes.
My most vivid memory of seeing these was Episode 2. About 10 minutes in, I remember laughing in the theater at the name Count Dooku (how did NO ONE making this movie say that sounds like a euphemism for a shit?) and I remember turning to a friend and saying, “This is not going well.” He laughed his ass off, and after the movie he told me that our other friend, sitting on his right, had turned to him and said the same exact thing a minute prior.
With 2 and 3 it would have been NICE if they were awesome, but I didn’t think that was too likely. And by the time they were done, I was happy to let Star Wars rest.
I was quite excited to see FA. I dont’ often get excited for movies. Fury Road I was excited for. And before that…fuck, I can’t really remember anything that I felt like I HAD to see in the theater. The Escape Plan? I was drunk, but it WAS Stallone and Arnold together. With 50-Cent as the computer nerd. I was excited for that one, but I had a different sort of expectation. Which was met when the guy who played Jesus in that Passion movie was exploded by a rocket launcher.
FA. It is what it is. There’s definite validity to the critique that it’s a very close copy of the original film, plot, characters. Rey and Finn are a definite splitting of the traits of Luke Skywalker into two characters. We’ve got our rogue-ish pilot. We’ve got a Death Star. We even have a cantina where all the weird aliens hang out. The overall course is so similar, it’s a little tough.
Here’s what I didn’t like about it: It almost felt like JJ Abrams was trying to prove to us that he could do what George Lucas did. And I would say he was mostly successful. But in being successful, he sort of proved to us that it was possible to make a good Star Wars movie, which we already knew.
Also, I miss practical effects dearly. They just look more real to me.
And, in my memory, not much sticks out about it. Very few scenes, settings, or things about it stand out in my mind. Perhaps my mom, as we exited the theater, put it best: “I kept waiting for something exciting to happen.”
While watching FA, I felt like I was tuning in on something. Something weird about Star Wars movies.
During the scene where the giant ball monster aliens are gobbling everyone up, I had this immediate, distinct feeling of “I do not care about this scene at all and would like it to end so we can get on to what’s next.” It wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t all that weird. It was slimeball tentacle monsters rolling up and down hallways, consuming the bad guys. I knew we’d be sitting there for a few minutes, I knew our heroes would get out of this one completely. It wasn’t like Finn was gonna lose a leg or something.
It was a moment in Star Wars that felt manufactured. Because they’d gone X minutes without action. And because they needed a way to dispose of the bad guys without forcing our heroes to blow their heads off.
A lot of that movie felt like that to me. Han Solo bites it because Harrison Ford is like “Fuck this shit.” A planet cracks apart in such a way that it interrupts a lightsaber battle in progress without harming any of the fighters.
I’m trying to avoid complaining about the elements that were illogical and complain mostly about the things that felt to-do-list-y. It felt like JJ Abrams had a bunch of shit to shovel out of the way to get us and the continuity up to speed, and we got to watch a lot of that happen.
Which is why, despite it not being a rollicking good time, I completely gave it a pass. Hey, it’s a lot better than the prequels, and it suggests, to me, that we’ll be getting something better once we’re back on the rails.
But it was far from magical.
I don’t think Rogue One is a bad movie. Well, okay, I didn’t think it was a great movie. It did some good things, but between a story with plot holes you could fly a Death Star through and characters that had to overcome the fact that we knew they were going to die from the get-go (and didn’t), Rogue One was an alright movie with the primary appeal being it slapped fanboys in the face with a reasonably satisfying answer to the decades-old question of why the Death Star would be so vulnerable. Take that, jerks!
Rogue One is certainly better than all the prequels. It’s the 4th or 5th best Star Wars movie, by my reckoning, which is a pretty good spot to be when were talking about an iconic series. So, while Rogue One wasn’t bad, and while I don’t blame Rogue One for what happened, it was during Rogue One that I had a big moment in any fan’s life.
I was sitting in the movie, watching the action, and as things meandered a little, and as the crew visited another mostly computerized, mostly boring planet, and as I realized that some of this was pretty dumb, and while I was thinking that there wasn’t a single interesting bad guy here, and while I was thinking that we’ve got almost the same characters we do in every Star Wars, and—
okay, okay. Enough of that.
Between the lack of sadness, the lack of excitement, and the lack of a lot of cool, new space shit, I had this thought:
Star Wars doesn’t make me feel the way that Star Wars used to make me feel. And I don’t think any new Star Wars stuff ever will.
I wasn’t angry. I’m still not. It was just…sad. There was this thing that used to access a certain part of my brain, and that certain things had lost the keys somewhere along the way. Nothing about this swept me up and made me forget that I was watching a movie. Made me forget about my phone in my pocket. Made me forget about the time of day. It was just a movie.
I feel, in 2017, that this needs to come with a caveat.
I understand that Rogue One and FA weren’t FOR me, necessarily. Just the way I understood that the prequels weren’t FOR me either.
I also understand that it was big for a lot of people to see women and some people who weren’t white doing some good Star Wars shit. I’m not looking to take that away from the movie or anyone who enjoyed those aspects of the movie.
I just want to say that I think a movie can do great things without being a great movie. Sort of the way a person can do great things and not be a great person.
The way I felt/feel about Star Wars, it’s a little bit like missing an ex a long time after a breakup. The missing isn’t intense, it’s not prompting you to find a boombox and a million D batteries and go all Lloyd Dobbler. You don’t even miss the person so much as you miss this way you felt when you were with this person. Maybe that feeling had nothing to do with the other person. Maybe it had everything to do with them. Maybe it was a combining of all the stuff in your life, or maybe it was a way you never would have felt without this person. The point is, it’s unknowable. What factors came together to make you feel a certain way during a certain time in your life, it’s hard to ever really know. It’s impossible to retrace and re-create, reverse engineer a feeling tied to a time and place and person without that time and place and person, which is why I suspect the prequels turned out so bad. Even when you create a pretty reasonable facsimile, it’s somehow not as pleasing the second time around, which is The Force Awakens. And Rogue One…is it too on the nose to say it’s a relationship that’s alright, but you knew from the start it was doomed?
There’s no way to know what combination of things caused me to feel as deeply about Star Wars as I did when I was 14. And by that same token, the certainty about my feelings for Star Wars is absolute. I can try and critique the movies, new and old, and create objective reasons for what I already know is true in my gut, but that’s a wasted exercise. It’s like creating an airtight case for why you are breaking up with your girlfriend. Does that even matter? Once you’ve made that decision, do the concrete reasons even matter? Do they ever convince you that you’ve gone the wrong way, does your brain ever win that one over your feelings?
At the beginning of this writing, I said we should jump in and see where this goes. And I think I’ve figured it out.
This is my breakup letter with Star Wars.
I loved Star Wars. I still do. But I love Star Wars from 40 years ago. Not what Star Wars has become today. Which is different than hating Star Wars today. Truly, I don’t hate what Star Wars has become. I just don’t love Star Wars anymore. Don’t have that overwhelming feeling anymore. There’s nothing objectively wrong with the Star Wars of today, nothing I can point to and blame for why my love faded. On paper, we should still be deeply in love. I just don’t feel the same way anymore.
The good news here is that Star Wars doesn’t require my love. The relationship analogy ends there. Unlike sleeping with someone who loves me more than I love them, watching a new Star Wars movie doesn’t hurt anybody. It doesn’t confuse Star Wars as to what our relationship is.
And that’s probably the hardest thing to accept. Star Wars was never confused about our relationship. Because while I was having a relationship with Star Wars, it was never having a relationship with me.
And when you’re writing a breakup letter to something you not only never had a two-way relationship with, but something that it was always impossible to have a two-way relationship with, and when you see how fucking long that word count number is getting, it’s probably time to hang it up.
Star Wars, it was great. We had a lot of laughs, huh? I hope we’re cool, and if I happen to walk into a bar where you’re playing or one of your posters is there, I think I’m in a place where that’ll be a happy thing. I’ll remember what was good about us. Us together.