Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Star Wars Generation

My generation was like none before it because me and my friends and my enemies and all the other small kids in America (and much of elsewhere) had one weird thing that bound us all together. To say it was a movie would be incredibly reductive, because although the whole Star Wars craze—a craze that’s been active for nearly forty years now but pops to the surface periodically like a herpe—obviously began with a movie, it has always been more than a movie. I would wake up every morning on my Star Wars sheets, wearing my Star Wars pajamas, part my Star Wars curtains to allow in the sunlight by which I’d get dressed in my Star Wars sneakers and T-shirt before ambling downstairs to eat Star Wars cereal (C-3PO’s) out of a Star Wars bowl, then strap on my Star Wars backpack and grab my Star Wars lunchbox and head to school where I’d take notes in my Star Wars notebook until 3 PM when I’d return home to play with my Star Wars figures until it was time to gobble down dinner off a Star Wars plate and guzzle some sort of sugar-based formula out of a Star Wars Burger King glass as quickly as possible so I could pop Star Wars into the VCR before going back upstairs to wash my hair with Star Wars shampoo, getting into another pair of Star Wars pajamas, and laying down to dream about Star Wars.

Click to see what my brain looked like when I was six.
This might sound like the behavior of someone suffering from a cripplingly extreme case of OCD if it weren’t for the fact that nearly every little boy (because, let’s be truthful, most of the kids who did this kind of shit were boys... thats what happens when you create a rich and detailed universe with only one woman in it) I knew did the same exact thing. And today kids of all genders and interests do the same damn thing with Frozen and Kung Fu Chickenbots or whatever else kids are obsessed with these days (amazingly, it’s still Star Wars for a lot of them who weren’t even born in the century that birthed the original trilogy!). Equally amazing is that this kind of thing really didn’t exist before Star Wars. It didn’t. In the sixties, Batman came very, very close, but it was not as pervasive and there was no Batman cereal. Other pop-culture obsessions like Davy Crockett and Planet of the Apes and even The Wizard of Oz essentially came and went.

It’s a weird thing how the over-commercialization of a children’s movie took over our lives, but kids don’t think about those kinds of things. As a little boy in 1980, it was just nice. It was an interest the most golden-hued jock shared with the most ostracized nerd. Those kids probably wouldn’t end up best friends, but they might share a one-off afternoon co-mingling their miniature Han Solos and Boba Fetts on the playground.
I spent my childhood doing this.

My history with Star Wars makes it really hard for me to approach the films with any semblance of critical distance. Picking apart those first couple of movies—with their less-than-mellifluous dialogue and corny acting and devil-may-care continuity and severe gender imbalance—is easy enough to do. None of the flaws matter until Return of the Jedi, which came out when I was too old to sleep under a Star Wars comforter anymore and also has Ewoks. Released 35 years ago today, Empire remains my favorite, not because of its deeper character relationships or darkness or soap opera developments or any of the other things fans usually cite as examples of its superiority. I was just the perfect age to see it when it came out: young enough to not react to groaners about “nerf herders” with cynicism, but old enough to really understand the gravity of the film’s famous revelation. Really, it’s the most superficial things that I love about The Empire Strikes Back: its blue palette and snowscapes; that wonderful, Ray Harryhausen-indebted shot of the tauntaun rising over a snow dune; how cool the bounty hunters looked all lined up together; and the way John Williams scored the race through the asteroid field and Lando’s guided tour through Cloud City. I love it because I loved the little Empire Strikes Back “Read-along” record and book set I got for Christmas and listened to over and over with my friend Matt (who is now all grown up and managing Bob Weir) and the R2-D2 and C-3P0 Burger King glass I used to drink from and the Marvel comic adaptation of the film with its weird depiction of Yoda that terrified me so much my parents tore out every page depicting him so I could read the book without pissing my pants.

Maybe Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back are great movies. Maybe they’re terrible. Honestly, I have no idea. Judging them like that would be like critiquing the teddy bear I slept with when I was a toddler. Those movies are an instant connection to my childhood, so even beyond basic issues of film preservation, Im squarely with the long-time fans who prefer the films as we remember them (those repugnant “George Lucas raped my childhood” overstatements need to stop though). However, as much as I’d love to see the un-monkeyed-with films on blu-ray, and as often as I’d watch them, there’s really no way I’d ever be able to get inside them the way I did when I was a kid again.  You can’t go surfing on a wave that rolled out to sea 35 years ago.
Certain things,however, do not change:  the marble from the Pac-Man Board Game I stuck up R5-D4's butt as a child remains there today.

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