**The following is my own personal opinion. I understand and respect that many Star Wars fans disagree, as is their right.**
May the Fourth be with you!
May the Fourth be with you!
I suppose it’s appropriate that the cast of Star Wars was revealed in time for May 4th. The timeless space adventure trilogy took the internet by storm this week when it was officially announced that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford will reprise their roles as Luke, Leia and Han, respectively, for Star Wars: Episode 7.
Now, I assume “reprise their roles” means “appear in the first movie to hand off the torch to the next set of actors.” I mean, you can’t exactly ask these guys to carry the entire weight of three more action movies, now can you?
I would like to take this moment to point out that I was the one who said, back in the 90s, “Why are they going back and making Episode 1? They should go ahead and make Episodes 7, 8, and 9 now, while the original actors still look young enough to reprise those roles.” But no one listened to me. Instead we got this:
But enough of these PTSD flashbacks. The point is, what’s going on with the franchise today, and why am I not thrilled about it?
A little history. I discovered the films when the Special Edition aroused a new wave of Star Wars interest in 1997, but I remained a die-hard long after that surge calmed down. Episodes 4, 5, and 6—the Original Trilogy—are some of my very favorite movies. No. You don’t understand. They are some of my very favorite movies, lagging only behind Lord of the Ringsand tied with To Kill a Mockingbird. I was that weird kid who always talked about Star Wars. I had computer passwords that referenced The Millenium Falcon. I wrote fan fiction about the universe. Han Solo was my strongest and longest-lived movie crush. I still refer to the films on a regular basis at the age of 30.
Understandably, friends wonder why I’m not doing back-flips about the new trilogy. Most recently, my parents (who watched my Original Trilogy obsession blossom back in ’97) asked me if I was planning to see Ep 7. They seemed surprised when I said I might not. My husband is going to prescreen it for me. If any of the original three main characters die in the film, I will likely never watch it. In fact, if anything about their story line seems even remotely disappointing, I’ll avoid it like the plague.
“But won’t your curiosity eventually get the better of you?” my parents said, extremely puzzled.
Off-and-on throughout that evening, I, too, puzzled over my own response to this topic. Why has my cautious determination to shield myself from this new trilogy been so strong?
I mean, I survived the prequels, right?
Let me begin by answering a few objections that are sure to be raised. First off, no, I do not see the involvement of Disney or J.J. Abrams as any kind of guarantee that the movies will be good. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love Disney. But this…
…just doesn’t equal this…
…in my mind, at least.
And as for J.J. Abrams—okay, I admit, I found Star Trek: Into Darkness to be the most fun I’ve had watching a summer blockbuster since Pirates of the Caribbean. Heck, I’ve even compared it (very loosely) to the fun of seeing the original Star Wars for the first time.
But let’s not forget that the same man who brought us this…
It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of the 2009 Star Trek movie, so Abrams’ space adventures only have a 50/50 success ratio with me so far. So, while Ep 7 might indeed be very good, it could also be disappointing, or maybe just not my personal cup of tea.
In either case, though, it won’t be as franchise-ruining as the prequels, and I survived those, so what could possibly be the harm in watching a new set?
To explain the answer to this, we have to get in the Way Back machine and take a trip to southern Illinois circa 1997.
Ahem. Anyway. This is me at age 13:
You may notice I don’t look particularly happy. Now, I admit, I chose this picture for dramatic effect. There are plenty of pics from that time where I’m smiling and having fun. But I chose this one because it represents the other facet to my inner life at the time that not many people knew.
Moving from childhood to adulthood is an uncertain prospect in the best of circumstances. My entrance into puberty coincided, unfortunately, with a lot of other changes in my world, few of them good. I lost a relative, experienced a shift in dynamics in my extended family, felt the pain of a broken friendship, and moved from elementary school into the confusing and often cynical world of junior high—all within about a year’s time. I was also developing the very beginnings of what would later become an anxiety problem.
Although I had many happy and stable things in my life, I was confused by all the changes, and in danger of losing my naturally positive outlook on the world. It was a rather scary time.
It was at this shaky point in my life that I met this person, who lost his innocence and had to grow up, just like me.
And this person, who had problems but still kicked the world’s butt, and looked great doing it.
And this person, who I pretty much wanted to elope with for the next ten years.
And I watched, for the first time, the story of a hopeless little band of rebels, led by the last of a dying mystic religion, as they went up against the largest power in the universe…and won.
They won even though this happened.
And this, for crying out loud, THIS!
Heck, even the bad guy got to win.
|“You were right about me…”|
The only person who lost in this story was the guy who looked like Satan with stomach flu, and I was okay with that.
You see, Star Wars was both a comforting escape and, in some weird nerd-kid, sci-fi way, a harbinger of hope. Whatever else was going on in my life—whatever disappointed me, whatever scared me, whatever just kind of sucked—I could turn to this story for triumph and hope. When I felt like things weren’t going to be okay, I could flip on the TV and know that this story, at least, turned out okay. Whenever I doubted my own strength, I had this wonderful little tale of the small besting the strong—not without cost, as though we can gloss over the hardness of life—but ultimately coming to a place of happiness and hope. My three main heroes got to live, and live well. That was what I wanted for myself.
William Wordsworth once said that happy memories can be “life and food/For future years,” shoring us up against a difficult future. I believe, for some people, this is also true of the stories we connect to. Certain stories function as a sort of buoy to get you through the tough stuff in life. You can say that it’s silly to feel that way about a sci-fi blockbuster from the 70’s, but if that’s true, I must plead silliness. I loved living the adventure for three movies, having a good ending, and being able to imagine those characters going on more-or-less happily after the end of Ep 6. The Original Trilogy was (and still is) a message of hope that also holds one last little gleam of my childhood wonder.
Now that we’re all weeping into our Kleenex, let’s come back to the original question: what could be lost to me by watching the new movies?
To be honest, I don’t like the thought of a modern screenwriter deciding “what happened” to these characters after the credits rolled in Ep 6 (understand that I’m saying this as someone who never read the books in the Extended Universe—those who did may feel totally different). I don’t like the thought that someone might get to finally decide (and canonize onscreen) how one of them dies. I’d rather be spared having to tack on tragic memories to characters that have been relief, escape, and hope for me, in their own small way, for the majority of my life. To put it shortly, I don’t want to lose the Original Trilogy’s role in my life as an uncomplicated, foundational, happy memory that helped usher in adulthood.
Interestingly, the prequels never bothered me this way; what happened before Luke, Han, and Leia could not change what happened to them in their story. It couldn’t change the happy ending of Ep 6. Tacking on afterwards, though…well, that could.
Now, of course, I’m not required to accept any new movie as part of my headcanon—not 40 years after the originals, anyway. But if I watch something happen to one of my beloved characters, can I really ever un-see it? Will some of the gleam and glimmer of my beautifully hopeful ending be buffed off by a modern screenwriter? Is the Original Trilogy valuable enough to warrant some amount of inconvenience to protect it in my brain? For me, the answer is yes.
In some ways, this brings up the larger question of reboots and sequels in general. Reboots and sequels are really popular these days, and I’ll be the first to admit that some are really fun. Heck, I want some films (like Gaslight, for instance) to be modernized and played out by today’s actors. But on the other hand, sometimes reboots begin to overshadow what came before them in the name of “modernization,” and I don’t want that to happen with this new pack of Star Wars flicks.
I don’t think this need to make a “modern version” is good 100% of the time. What would be the point of making, for instance, a new To Kill A Mockingbird? Wouldn’t it be a slap in the face to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman if a couple of modern celeb heartthrobs tried to outdo them in a new rendition of Casablanca? Wouldn’t we be falling all over ourselves with rage if someone claimed that they could repaint the Mona Lisa, rewrite War and Peace, or play beloved songs on kazoos? (Oh snap!)
Now some might say that, objectively, Star Wars as a series is not a classic film on par with Casablanca or To Kill A Mockingbird. Fine. Objectively, I’ll give you that. But it’s hardly a flash-in-the-pan, either. I am not the only person whose young life was shaped by that story. At what point does something become valuable enough as art that it needs to be left alone? Does it have to reach Mona Lisa status? Does it have to actually be Casablanca? When does something become masterful enough, leave enough of an impact on the consciousness of a generation, that it deserves the respect of standing alone and speaking for itself?
I fear that in our haste to remake, add on, and modernize everything, what we’re essentially saying is that art (and yes, I do consider movies art) loses its value once it reaches a certain age. It needs reconstructive surgery to stay attractive, or at the very least a Botox injection. And in a time of technology and over-saturation in the movie market, the “age” after which movies lose their value is shrinking rapidly. Things are going to be obsolete before they’re invented if we keep going at this rate.
I honestly feel a bit uncomfortable thinking that the next generation of kids may see new Star Wars movies and have no interest in the old—as if the old was just a relic from another generation that is easily replaced with a hot new screenwriter and better special effects. To return to a previous analogy: I love much of the art that’s been produced since the Mona Lisa, but I’d be offended if some of it purported to be the “next” Mona Lisa, or the Mona Lisa’s twin sister, or some other silly thing like that. That would deliver a very bad message to humanity about why art, stories, and self-expression are valuable. These things don’t stop being valuable when we find flashier ways to do them. They are valuable in and of themselves, because they tell a specific story that someone wanted to give us at a specific time.
I would have been more comfortable with the new Star Wars even if, say, it had been set in the far future of the same universe, with no connection to the original characters. I think touching those old characters in any form runs the risk of cheapening why the Original Trilogy was valuable, and to someone who holds that dear in her heart, this feels threatening.
But maybe you feel differently. Maybe you love the Star Wars universe for itself rather than solely for the characters, and welcome a new installment. Honestly, I am glad for you, because that’s a fun feeling! I will be more than happy to listen to you talk about all the exciting details of how the universe is being further explored and loved on by the next generation.
I just hope you’ll understand if I’m not in the theater seat next to you on opening night.