by Paul Feldman
Regardless if you liked it or not, The Phantom Menace really didn’t get a fair shake.
A huge chunk of the primary audience for that movie was Generation X and those who fall to either side of that demographic. When legions of 20 and 30 something Star Wars fans lined up for Episode I, we expected more than a movie. We expected more than a spectacle.
We expected a Time Machine.
You see, in the summer of 1999, when we all filed into our respective movie theaters after spending a decade worshipping at the altar of apathetic irony, after our parents’ divorces, after Smells Like Teen Spirit, after our first encounters with sex, heartbreak, loss, even grief, after our first taste of financial worries and perhaps, after our first glimpses of existential dread: “Shit, man. School is over I don’t know what I’m doing”… After all of that, we wanted to feel the way we did when we saw Return of the Jedi. (OK, fine, Empire if you’re a stickler). We wanted to feel like kids again. We wanted to be kids again.
That’s a lot to put on Jar Jar.
I was apathetic about the prequels, start to finish. I didn’t join in the vitriolic chorus condemning the movies and George Lucas for ruining everyone’s childhood, but I didn’t spring to their defense in any Forum Flame Wars either. (And we all know how much our words in a Forum Flame War count for). I became apathetic about Star Wars in general, including the original films. I was overexposed on it. There were other movies to see, other stories to hear.
This changed on New Year’s Day, 2011.
My wife, my son and I had a little time to kill before heading over to a friend’s house for a little get together, so being tired and lazy, we flipped on the TV. And there, on basic cable with one thousand commercial interruptions was Star Wars. The First One. And by the First One, what I mean (and what we should all mean when we say the First One) is the one that came out in 1977. We’d come in right when Luke and Leia swung across the chasm on the Death Star. Moments later, my son was pretending to be a stormtrooper. The magic was still there.
When The Force Awakens trailer arrived on Thanksgiving last year, we watched it over and over, as I’m sure you did too. Here’s what struck me: They’re selling the story, not the spectacle. The frightened guy in stormtrooper armor – Is he deserter? A spy? AAAAAH! (We now know he is Finn and that he holds a light saber…. but how? Was he always a Jedi? Did he find his path after he crashed? Once again, AAAAAH!). Someone handling the remains of Vader’s Mask (AAAAAH!) Voiceover from Luke Skywalker, which at first sounds like a clip from when he’s speaking to Leia in the Ewok village, but then we hear he’s speaking to someone who must be the next generation of his family. (But who? His kid? Han and Leia’s kid? Kid(s)? AAAAH!). I’m ready to find out What Happens Next. I’m ready to hear the story. I’m ready to see the movie. I’m ready to let myself be excited to see this movie. I’m ready to love again.
And fine, the Millennium Falcon zipping around with a TIE fighter chasing it is spectacle. A fucking awesome spectacle.
The thing is this: A movie (albeit a very awesome looking one) is a relatively inconsequential thing for the vast majority of people on this planet. The same planet where wars rage and air, land and sea are needlessly poisoned in the name of blind, cancerous greed. But the way we feel is not inconsequential. How each individual in this world feels dictates what they do. What we each do individually ultimately accumulates to pilot the direction Life on Earth is taking.
Cynicism is easy. It takes nothing, it gives nothing. It’s what cowards and assholes try to pass off as sophistication. It’s also boring as hell. The cynical never really create or enjoy anything.
But the people who still believe in finding lightness and joy: whether that comes from seeing The Force Awakens (Godspeed, December), letting yourself fall for someone, adopting an animal, becoming a parent; The people willing to risk disappointment and heartbreak and all the rest because they know it’s the only way to get a shot at the best our world has to offer; They are who that peculiar little R2 Unit’s message is for: You’re Our Only Hope.
Seriously. Save the world. Go see Star Wars.* Also recycle, save water and take public transit.
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*Attention Disney Corporation: Geek Girl Authority and the Author of this article will gladly accept financial compensation for that imperative. Please contact A. Kearns to arrange payment(s).
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