As you read this, thousands of people are lining up around the world to see "Revenge of the Sith," the sixth (or third, whatever) and final installment in the most beloved film franchise of all time. I, however, will not be joining the queue. Because — spake the heretic — I don't like "Star Wars."
Don't get me wrong. I'm of the Star Wars Generation. I was 12, perhaps the perfect age for fandom, when I saw the first movie (or the fourth — again, whatever) in the summer of '77, and I did love it. I had "Star Wars" action figures and comic books and posters and soundtracks and T-shirts. I waited in line for hours on opening day to see "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi." Friends and I even went so far as to make our own parody tape featuring "Star Wars" characters meeting the crew of the Starship Enterprise (I played Dr. McCoy, Yoda and Darth Vader). "Star Wars" fit right into my geeky lifestyle.
And yet, as time wore on, while I held on to many of the trappings of my youth (comic books, punk rock and stuff that glows in the dark still fit into my life), I found that I completely lost any affection for "Star Wars." I got rid of all the memorabilia; I didn't see the original movies in their re-releases; I never pined for the DVD; I only saw "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" on video (two thumbs way down). I'll eventually see Hayden Christensen slap on the ill-fitting helmet, breaking poor Natalie Portman's heart and disappointing Ewan McGregor and the voice of Frank Oz, a.k.a., Yoda, but probably not until it comes to video or cable. Heck, I already know how it ends
Nostalgia is a powerful force (no pun intended), but it's usually misleading. Time clouds our judgment, and pieces of pop culture from our youth rarely withstand adult revisitation. In the era of 1,000 cable channels, DVD box sets and digital downloading, most things we remember from our childhoods are available to us again. But caveat emptor: We may have warm memories of "Super Friends," but to watch it in 2005 on DVD (as I did, foolishly) is to realize that the show was just kiddie crap, hacked out by workhorse animators unconcerned with crafting lasting art. They were just earning a paycheck.
I'm not trying to say that "Star Wars" wasn't made with care, but when I saw it again on video as an adult, it just didn't hold up. I agree with the common opinion that "The Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the lot, but it's still full of that leaden, awful dialogue spoken by characters (Han Solo excepted, maybe) possessing all the multi-dimensionality of a piece of paper. Unlike my ongoing relationships with Superman, "Peanuts" comic strips or Kiss, I can't adapt "Star Wars" to my sensibilities in 2005.
Still, made with care or not, nobody ever accused George Lucas of being original. The "Star Wars" saga draws heavily from old cowboy movies (with their clearly defined white- and black-hat-donning heroes and villains); Flash Gordon serials; the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa; the works of Joseph Campbell; and Jack Kirby's "New Gods" comics of the early 1970s, among other sources. While many feel that Lucas' genius was being able to synthesize all these elements into something bigger than its precedents, I think the truth might just be the opposite.
Lucas distilled all of those influences into the most crowd-pleasing, synapse-snapping, easy-to-digest movie of all time, as palatable as astronaut ice cream, and just as lacking in nutrients.
While there's nothing wrong with junk food in moderation, of course, few people ascribe it gourmet status. But "Star Wars" fans don't seem to be satisfied with the franchise being simply the most popular series of films ever made; they insist that it's also the best. (One IMDB posting declares it a "disgrace" that the film only rates #16 on the site's list of all-time greatest films). But to me, it's just — OK.
I'm not a hater. Honest. I'm just fascinated by a devotion that is as undying, absolute and forgiving as that displayed by the people screaming every day outside the Michael Jackson trial.
I'll admit that my feelings for the original series were further damaged by the absolutely atrocious Episodes I and II. In the opinion that those films were sterile, overdone CGI-fests, I am far from alone. And yet, somehow, perhaps through Jedi mind tricks, "Star Wars" fanaticism has managed to rise even as the franchise has gotten worse and worse. To top it off, Lucas' continuing insistence on tinkering with the original films displays an annoying fanboyish obsession with continuity. Who really cares that different actors later played Boba Fett or the Emperor? It's probably only a matter of time before the Muppet Yoda in the original series is replaced with CGI. (And don't even get me started on the Greedo-shooting-first debate.) Ironically, these alterations don't seem to bother fans who treat the films with a near-idolatrous reverence.
Despite everything, I understand why even people who thought Episodes I and II sucked would still wanna see III. Anakin becomes Darth Vader. I get it. It's almost as if the point of the insufferable Jar Jar Binks was merely to make the payoff sweeter for fans. But I am amazed at the lack of skepticism regarding "Revenge of the Sith." Barely anyone seems to be going in with guarded expectations. Even the M&Ms are geeked!
Who knows? Maybe I'll break down and go see "Revenge of the Sith" in the theater (my girlfriend wants to see it), and maybe I'll love it. Maybe it'll be so good that it'll force me to reevaluate my feelings about the entire series. Maybe I'll end up trolling eBay looking to replace my long-gone Boba Fett action figure. But I doubt it. After all, when you string all six movies together, it still ends with a freakin' teddy bears' picnic. Yeeesh.
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