I remember it too. The first time my tiny body started vibrating when that title blasted on to the screen, and the John Williams score exploded out of our crappy tube television set. The yellow glow against the darkness of space. Something was happening. The earth was moving beneath my feet. My eyes bulged out of my face and I'm sure I drooled a little. I was being teleported, transfixed, utterly blown away.
So you know, I’m a Star Wars fan. In fact, I’d probably go so far as to say Star Wars (the original trilogy as I first experienced them back in 1990, and especially Episode IV) is a central pillar of my story-telling sensibility. It draws on that good old fashioned Joseph-Campbell-hero's-journey flavor. The pacing is pitch perfect. The muscles of the script are lean and mean. And most of all, its so damn fun to watch. The sounds, the characters, the sense of an all-powerful force flowing through the universe! Alec Guinness as a magical warrior priest that lops off alien arms! DARTH VADER! I’m getting carried away. The point is, I’ve built a shrine in my imagination to the damn thing. this was one of those stories that took you away from broccoli or math class or early bedtimes. It was far far away, and it invited you to be there too.
So I understand the fervor at the return of the franchise. Really I do. All the sights and sounds cascading out of the trailer like a delightful acid flashback. Anything to wash out the taste of the objectively horrifying experience of the prequels. “And it’s J.J. Abrams,” the entire world seemed to squeal in unison. “He really knows how to do sci-fi!” It was the promise of a return to that beloved galaxy, and a chance for a new generation to make those pulsing neurological connections that us old folks once made. It was a chance to geek out hard with your buddies, and to have a classic movie-going event to look forward to. Also, the main character is a woman! This was truly a new hope (I hate to be the “see what I did there” guy) for the storied and beloved franchise of our youth.
Now, before I go on, I have to admit something right here and now. I haven’t seen it. I know I know, why would I write some extensive criticism about a movie I’ve never seen? I hope that will become clear, but the short answer is, I don’t want to. At least, I don’t want to go ahead and fork over $20 to see it in 3D at a Jordan’s Furniture while a bunch of other thirty-year-olds scream and wriggle all around me… I mean I’m not against that in itself, but this is an exception.
I know being negative about the highest grossing movie release of all time could be considered the behavior of a buzzkill. Just hear me out.
Now it’s clear that some of you like J.J. Abrams, but this was the first red flag for me. He wasn’t directly responsible for the downfall of LOST for instance, but he did make those deplorable Star Trek reboots. I’ve been told that if you just “turn your brain off” they’re entertaining… But I guess I’m not really sure what that means. I don’t watch movies in order to turn anything off. I want to be turned on. Stimulated. Challenged. Or at least, I don’t want some disjointed blather about red matter and fifteen thousand plot holes so massive that my suspension of disbelief starts oozing through them and pooling on the floor. I mean one or two is ok, but Jesus Christ at what point do we lose sight of any meaning whatsoever? (Kahn can teleport across the universe with ease? His blood is magic?) As a member of the audience I don’t demand perfection, but at least assume I have a brain and that it’s switched to the “on” position.
But all that being said, this wasn’t at the heart of my disdain for the upcoming Star Wars sequel. Sure J.J. made some crappy movies, but Super 8 was ok. No, something else was still gnawing at me like a mynock on some juicy power cables. Something kept me frowning and pouting while all my friends jumped around like The Force Awakens was going to change their lives and finally make them feel okay about their break-up or losing that job or whatever thing movies are supposed to help us forget about.
So maybe it was a matter of intention? Meaning? The original trilogy meant something to me about what stories are supposed to do. What they’re for. I wanted to plug in and absorb every detail. I wanted to ride the current of Luke’s journey from the dust of Tatooine to the halls of the second Death Star. But the form of the feature film is more than just vicariously indulging. Its acting on multiple levels. The photography and what it conveys works to reflect the content of the dialogue. The music bolsters the effect of the tectonic movements of the plot. Movies like the originals (well, Return of the Jedi might have some problems) are stunning harmonies of storytelling. And at their core, there’s a nerd named Lucas, surrounded by other talented artists, indulging in his greatest nerd fantasies. He was pouring a vision into a project, and the people around him (Brackett, Kasdan, Kurtz, Kazanjian, McCallum to name a few, and that doesn’t even count the visual effects team) helped by adding their souls to the mixture. Its the great example of Hollywood alchemy, and the impetus at it’s center wasn’t, say… Billions of dollars.
Now I know movies are a business, but when the center piece of a creation, its reason for being, is the impact it might make in the market place, it reads on film… Or at least, it sits in my head like a Ceti eel, turning me into a twisted, evil, buzz-killing version of myself. I know I’m mixing my franchises, but I already mentioned Star Trek so just BACK OFF.
Disney stepped in and purchased this thing (Also, how do you purchase a story that lives and thrives in the hearts and minds of… Oh never mind) that we all hold so dear. They rubbed their bony, evil emperor hands together and cackled at the prospect of making a movie that would line their pockets for ages to come. And of course, the juicy spin-offs to follow, each a glittering jewel in the crown of the Disney Masters. Did I forget the MERCHANDISING!? Star Wars the lunchbox! Star Wars the flamethrower!
But really, when I explore the depths of my distaste, its the mundane at the center. Star Wars was always exciting and fresh, and it didn’t fit into the strip-mall, Ford Explorer, math class aesthetic of my real childhood. And now when I see it everywhere, tattooing the sides of bus stops and in fourteen million car commercials and even on the labels for generic clementines at the supermarket (for Christ’s sake) it just seems to drain the wonder out of the thing. And the prospect of going to enjoy The Force Awakens just feels like an exercise in activating the nostalgia centers in my brain and turning off the critical parts that are telling me what a movie like Star Wars is supposed to mean.
Now I have plenty of friends who have made it abundantly clear that they think I’m a curmudgeon-y sour puss (all of them, actually), and I can’t blame them. It is Star Wars, after all. Just enjoy it! Give in to the chills of your nostalgia. Let the John Williams score flow through you. Feel the power of the Abrams side! One friend actually told me that I would enjoy it if I “let go of some of the darkness inside of me.” This franchise is so powerful that the dark side is being thrown in the face of someone who doesn’t want to see it! Now that’s marketing! But perhaps everyone is right, and my little rebellion is simply a lonely forgotten foothold in the greater blockbuster galaxy… Perhaps my camp shall go the way of Alderaan. Maybe the colossal machine of Hollywood is not an object meant for the protest of big business and its influence on artistic properties.
But it's STAR WARS! I can handle Transformers or Ninja Turtles! Hell, I don’t care that much about the lucrative repackaging of every Marvel hero in the universe. Go ahead and give me another bad Godzilla movie or a sixty eighth Rocky! You wanna remake total Recall? Ok, I mean that's a bummer too but the original was silly! Robocop? sure, whatever. Just not Disney. And just not Star Wars.
I can’t help but be saddened by that seemingly abundant and obvious truth, that no one really cares as long as the movie "delivers" (Whatever that means). But I just can’t seem to get excited about it. I’ll see The Force Awakens eventually, after it goes to a cheap theater and I can feel justified in not handing over my dollars to the Disney Empire so directly. And hey, maybe I’ll like it? But it will still be draped in the garments of pure profit lust, and secretly, when no one is watching, I’ll roll my eyes at the silly parts. And eventually I'll acquiesce, and admit "yeah. That part with the Millennium Falcon was pretty neat."
… And together, we will rule the galaxy as empire and audience.