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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

30 years of ‘Star Wars,’ and I feel old, and young

It’s the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. I feel old. I was eight that summer, so I’ll be 38 this summer. Which is better than the alternative (not getting any older at all), but still.

Millions of parsecs of virtual ink are being expended on the milestone, and there is much celebrating: tens of thousands of fans are gathering in Los Angeles, geeks are excited about the saga done up in Legos (now there’s a geeky mashup for you) and about the new Star Wars stamps. (I have to stop by the post office today, and I’ll probably buy some. Not to mail stuff with — who mails stuff anymore? — but to cover up some blank spots on the cover of my laptop.) Every possible angle on the anniversary is being exploited, from how fans live the Jedi philosophy and use the Force to how science is catching up to science fiction (hyperspace might be real! yippee!).
I feel like I, as a member of the Star Wars generation, should have something profound to say. But I don’t, and I wonder why. Perhaps because the Star Wars mythology has been so much a part of my life that it doesn’t feel distinct from any other deeply ingrained aspect of my life, like my atheism or my love of science. Or my love of movies. How do you talk about things that you so take for granted that you don’t even realize you take them for granted, like your gender or how many siblings you have or the attitudes with which you approach day-to-day living?

It sounds ridiculous when you say it like that, but this is the truth. Who I am has been shaped by:

• sitting in a dark movie theater when I was eight years old, and being scared to death by the Stormtroopers, who looked like skeletons to me, and by Darth Vader, who was like the boogeyman and the devil all in one

• playing with my brothers in the yard with our Star Wars toys, and how we had to play with the kid across the street we didn’t like very much because he had a Landspeeder and we only had figures, though it was cool that Mom let us freeze Han Solo in the top of the butter dish

• being convinced that I, too, could lift rocks with my mind, just like Luke on Dagobah, if only I tried hard enough

• staying up late at night as a kid reading the spinoff novels Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Han Solo at Stars’ End under the blankets with a flashlight because I was totally desperate to spend more time with Luke and Leia and Han

• waiting on line for hours with hundreds of other overexcited kids to see Return of the Jedi, and the near riot in the theater when the film got caught in the projector and burned up right in the middle of the speeder chase.

Perhaps the profound thing is that millions of people had the same experience as I did at just the right moment in our young lives for them to sear themselves into our memories. Our parents never got it and never will, no matter how tolerant or even indulgent they were of our obsession — my mother sat through The Empire Strikes Back with me for my second viewing of it, though she had less than no interest in it, because she knew I couldn’t get enough of it, and she was the only way an 11-year-old could get to a theater in our unwalkable suburbs. Our children will never get it, because they grew up knowing that Darth Vader is Luke’s father — like, duh! — and no matter how dedicated they are as fans, they will never experience the shock and the awe that accompanied that revelation. They will never experience the years of geeky speculation that went with Yoda’s cryptic announcement that “there is another.” And that’s their loss.

I think I’ll go watch the original trilogy again, and feel like a kid again.

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  • I can’t remember how many hours I played with Star Wars action figures growing up… I turn 39 in July, so Jedi came out right around the time when I moved past the toys and started being more of an adult (not fully an adult… still not quite sure I am that).

    The weird thing is I’ve always been just a little bit detached from the whole Star Wars phenomenon… part of that, I think, stems from how I was exposed to the first three movies. I saw Star Wars in a movie theatre in Wilmington, NC, just days before my family left to live in Germany for two years. And then I saw Empire in a movie theatre in London, while we lived in England. It wasn’t until Jedi was released that I really got to experience the whole line-around-the-block, people-dressed-like-Luke-and-Han thing, and by then I suppose it was already an institution. (Same thing with disco and the Carter administration; I missed most of all that because of being out of the country.)

    Now, the problem is a combination of two things: I’ve seen the movies so many times, I get bored watching them. And I’ve become a bit jaded with the franchise after Lucas turned it into a merchandising tool. (Jar Jar Binks? Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen both ruining Anakin? Gah.)

    And as I’ve aged, I’ve become less a fan of space opera (Star Wars ain’t SF) and more a fan of “hard” science fiction, where things are more grounded in reality… I know that not everything in Alien or Aliens or Blade Runner or The Matrix is possible using today’s technology, but these films are more SF than they are space opera.

    Still, I respect Star Wars for what it is: A movie that’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch, that’s full of humor and cool effects and even a story that ain’t half bad.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve seen the movies so many times, I get bored watching them.

    Oh, that’s so sad! I never get tired of the original trilogy…

    Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen both ruining Anakin?

    No, don’t blame the actors. *Lucas* ruined Anakin.

  • I don’t want to be a downer in the “Star Wars Turns 30″ thread, so feel free to delete this reply if you want to.

    IMHO, Hayden Christensen is definitely partly to blame for ruining Anakin. I don’t know if you’ve seen him in anything else… I’ve watched him in Shattered Glass and he was just as wooden and whiny in that movie as he was in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. He’s just not a very good actor. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Sir Alec, and most of the original cast were all very personable and natural playing their roles, but Christensen and Natalie Portman came across as very stiff and orchestrated, almost as if the movie was a Kabuki play. (Portman certainly had the right costumes for that, most of the time.)

    But most of the problem with where the franchise went is that Lucas isn’t a very good director, and he especially isn’t a good writer of dialog. The original Star Wars had pretty good dialogue and Lucas’ direction was pretty good, but I think that’s because he wasn’t thinking about any of it too much and he just sort of let it happen. (He was using the Force, perhaps.) The next two movies were written mostly by Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand, and they all did excellent work (Kasdan’s dialogue was particularly good, especially in Empire).

    But then Episodes I – III came along, and Lucas turned into a total control freak and wrote and directed everything himself… and it shows. Episodes I – III are beautiful to look at, and there are some good performances (Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid, to name two), but I think that’s just two good actors overcoming their material. You can have all the effects budget in the world, but if the writing is lacking, it brings the whole movie down a bit.

    I think the series would have been even better if Lucas had remained the man behind the curtain, the visionary, and left the mechanics of writing and shooting the final three movies to someone else. I am certain my opinion would be different were that the case.

    I do respect the Star Wars films and the contribution they’ve made to our culture. But they’re not my favorite trilogy… that would have to be either the Matrix films or the Lord of the Rings films (which showed how beneficial it can be to shoot an entire series of films all at once). I’ll make one more Star Wars purchase… when there’s a boxed set of all 6 films in high-definition, I’ll get ’em and watch ’em.

  • MaryAnn

    But most of the problem with where the franchise went is that Lucas isn’t a very good director, and he especially isn’t a good writer of dialog. The original Star Wars had pretty good dialogue

    Yup, and I’ve said as much in my reviews of the new trilogy.

    The thing about the first film is that none of the cast were so in awe of Lucas that they didn’t feel like they couldn’t tell him, as Harrison Ford so legendarily did, that “you can write this shit, Lucas, but you can’t say it.” So the cast partly improvised some of their dialogue on that film. That did not happen on the new films, because Lucas was no longer some dorky little guy making an SF movie for $1.98, but !GEORGE LUCAS! King of the World and God of the Star Wars Universe. There was no way that the new cast, especially geeks like Ewan McGregor or Hayden Christensen, were going to contradict anything Lucas told them to do or say. No way in hell.

  • Yeah, it’s too bad that more of the new actors couldn’t have taken a cue from Samuel L. Jackson, who specifically told Lucas he’d only appear in the movies under two conditions: First, he had to have a purple lightsaber (which happens to have “BMF” inscribed on it somewhere). And second, he refused to die a sucka’s death. Gotta love that kind of pull.

    Just occurred to me that there are two other significant anniversaries this year: The 25th anniversaries of both Blade Runner and Neuromancer. I’m pretty psyched about that. Just wish Neuromancer had been made into a film faithful to the book… it could have been the *real* new 2001. (Oh, and E.T. turns 25 this year, as well.)

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