I wrote the following many months ago thinking that someone might want to buy it to get some spending money for my Japan trip (hahaha! No one pays for content anymore you fool!). Since then we've had the rather interesting news that Disney has bought Lucasarts and hence… Star Wars.
Since the announcement speculation has been crazy about who would be writing, directing and starring in the new Star Wars movies. Part of this frantic hunt for a successor comes from the fear of a repeat of the awful prequels. We, the fans of the original trilogy, want someone who we know won't "screw it up this time". And we have no learned that Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) will be writing "Episode VII" and the last two will be written by Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes) and Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back).
Of course the problem here is that pretty much any writer/director will screw it up. Chris Nolan was an early internet favourite, but would we really want to see a Star Wars movie shot like The Dark Knight Rises? Ok, maybe, yes, but they wouldn't be the same films we grew up with.
Anyway this is what I wrote (minus a short intro, that I rewrote for this one):
"What is the greatest film of all time?" As pub conversations go you don't get better than that. In fact, right now, you're thinking about it. For me the answer has always been Star Wars. The first film of the original trilogy, also called A New Hope, and later, Episode 4.
For a lot of people my age, at the tail-end of what would later be dubbed Generation X, Star Wars was just something everyone had seen. We grew up with it being shown as the Sunday night movie, we watched it constantly on VHS, we collected the toys, we all wanted to be Han Solo.
Oddly though, we weren't obsessed by it. Sure we liked it, but it was just like any other piece of entertainment we grew up with, it was nostalgia. In the late 90s, when the original trilogy got its second big screen showing, we dressed up and laughed along at the stuff we used to think was "amazing". But we also suddenly realised that something could happen: people could change the thing we had grown up with; and the effect this had on us was very strange. We got scared and the reason we got scared is because we have kids now.
It's the same problem every generation seems to go through: How can I make sure that my children grow up with the same experiences I had? And for this generation the particular problem of: How can I ensure they do not resent me for dressing them up as Boba Fett when they were a baby?
The advertisements for the re-released versions struck right to the heart of the matter. The voice-over man's opening lines are:
"For an entire generation people have experienced Star Wars the only way it's been possible: on the TV screen… but if you've only seen it this way, you haven't seen it at all"
An X-Wing blasts out of the small screen and onto the massive theatre screen in front of us
What the new "special editions" of the original trilogy have done is made it harder for us to replicate the same experience we had. Not only does Greedo somehow get the jump on Han and the chance to shoot first, but then Jabba the Hutt shows up and repeats all of the story points Greedo had made before being blasted. Is it a bad thing that Han didn't kill Greedo? Does it irreparably change his character somehow? The problem is we don't know.
With the release of the prequels our situation became worse. What if our kids learned the Darth Vader was Luke's father before the climactic scene in Empire Strikes Back? What if the terribly made prequels put our kids off Star Wars completely?
Scott Hanselman wrote a blog outlining his plan because "[the Star Wars films] are fun and classics and we wanted to share them with our kids in a way that worked for everyone given their age and our parenting style". But he also says that you should "[m]ake the films an event with crafts and discussion of mythology rather than just dumping in on their little brains".
This is of course over-planning. Star Wars is about space, monsters, loud noises, lasers and light swords. Kids run around the backyard playing in some imaginary world wielding odd weapons and fighting space monsters before they've even seen Star Wars.
So why are people so attached to Star Wars? Because for whatever reason Star Wars defined Generation X, and right now Gen X is in charge. We are, to wax lyrical about it, Luke Skywalkers rebelling against our parents' generation.
Roger Ebert, very much not part of Generation X, wrote this about Star Wars after seeing the updated "Special" edition in 1999:
Star Wars effectively brought to an end the golden era of early-1970s personal filmmaking and focused the industry on big-budget special-effects blockbusters, blasting off a trend we are still living through. But you cann't blame it for what it did, you can only observe how well it did it. In one way or another all the big studios have been trying to make another “Star Wars'' ever since (pictures like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,'' “Jurassic Park'' and “Independence Day'' are its heirs). It located Hollywood's center of gravity at the intellectual and emotional level of a bright teenager.
But Star Wars didn't just build Hollywood up; it became an ideal for so many film makers. Kevin Smith's films may have been a series of diminishing returns, but they did give us famous Clerks scene where the characters discuss the deaths of millions of contractors finishing the second Death Star. Simon Pegg's character in Spaced is obsessed with Star Wars and often makes oblique jokes designed for fellow fans. Pegg would later write about how Star Wars shaped his life and his relationships with others:
"Star Wars was extremely important in my development as a child. It stimulated my imagination, increased my vocabulary, informed my notion of morality. It was a social touchstone, an ice breaker, a common ground, shared by so many. … I can pinpoint the moment when I realised the Nick Frost was destined to be my friend. We were in a Nepalese restaurant in Cricklewood with a bunch of people and Nick made the noise of the little Imperial droid that Chewbacca roars at in A New Hope. I heard it, got it, told him and proceeded to bond with him at a geometric rate."
So I think we can safely say that Star Wars is a very important piece of pop culture to a large part of society. Star Wars surrounds us and penetrates us, it binds our world together… so to speak. But it is only part of society that feels this way.
Our fears realised
The fact that the BBC was able to have a show called "I've Never Seen Star Wars" – wherein celebrity guests try fairly common things they have never done before – speaks to the breadth of coverage the Star Wars movies have had. Whether you like them or not, chances are you've seen them. And even if you could never remember the story, you've been soaking in the plot points since it was released.
Much of Star Wars' plot now seems clichéd as films that followed it took their cues from its story; just as Star Wars took its story from classic mythology mixed with westerns and samurai movies. Now it would seem ludicrous to call Luke Skywalker's paternity a surprise.
Because of this finding a true Star Wars "virgin" is impossible. Even those born in the 80s and 90s have been exposed to the roundly hated prequels or at the very least some kind of media from movie references to advertisements featuring the film's characters. I was able to find not one but three people who have never seen any of the six Star Wars movies; however, only one was able to sit down with me to watch the films, her name is Amy.
While Amy hadn't seen any of the films she knew the major plot points that have become memes. But they sat disjointed and, many times, mixed together as strange hybrids, for example when we started the marathon with A New Hope, Amy asked where Natalie Portman was.
"…until very recently I did not even know the difference between Star Wars, Star Trek, and Stargate (in fact, I used to think Star Wars referred to some sort of conflict between Star Trek and Stargate.. not even kidding)."
I had decided on the playing order before even finding someone to watch them with. The general consensus on the internet is Machete Order is the best. Release Order used to be the preference (Episodes 4, 5 ,6, 1, 2, and 3) over Episodic order, as it allowed you to see the "good" films before watching the prequels. But this left the viewer having to struggle through bad films to finish their experience.
Narrative order is Episodes 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, and 6. This means that the viewer discovers the big reveal at the end of Empire, before watching the prequels which become a flashback of Vader's rise to power. But, Narrative order is refined further to Machete Order: Episodes 4, 5, 2, 3, and 6. No more Phantom Menace and, as such, no Jar-Jar Binks – possibly the most hated character in cinematic history.
To further the experience I acquired an original VHS copy of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. What struck me most was how poorly the films have aged. The explosions look bad, the lasers look bad and the ships move like they are attached to metal sticks. To me this was just cringing at the past, to fresh eyes this was a bad movie; in fact Amy found the "prehistoric special effects so amusing that they completely distracted from the storyline".
I was worried that Amy might not be engaged with the characters either as she pointed out their very wooden acting. Then a small break through. C3PO is knocked to the ground by Sand People and loses his arm, as this happened Amy let out a small gasp. The only emotional reaction she had for the entire film.
The second movie was more a success, the re-mastered Empire Strikes Back. While I was wincing at the Temuera Morrison re-dubbed version of Boba Fett, Amy was happier with this one. But again some confusion set in as those floating plot points got connected. She knew Luke and Leia kiss, but didn't know Han and Leia would fall in love, so wondered why they were flirting.
When the big reveal happened she was shocked. Not because of the revelation itself ("I knew just from being alive that Darth Vader was Luke's father") but because prior to the confession Vader cuts off Luke's hand.
After a fortnight's break we watched the first of the "flashback" portion: Attack of the Clones.
I found [Attack of the Clones] to be mildly ridiculous and the worst film by far.
…this movie went from absurd (that first chase sequence) to creepy (any scene with Anakin Skywalker in it) and back to absurd (MEADOW FOLICKING) with very little life-progress seeming to happen in between. The special effects seemed to be worse than the re-mastered old movies which once again, served to distract me, and somehow the acting had not improved. I honestly have no recollection of the actual storyline. Ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous.
It's worth noting that, while Clones and Empire made the least money of their respective trilogies at the worldwide box office, Empire is widely considered to be one of the best science fiction/action adventure movies of all time. IMDB users even rank Empire as the 11th best film of all time; none of the prequels even make the list. Clones outranks Phantom Menace but the highest rated of them is Revenge of the Sith.
Episode III redeemed itself only by being the movie which answered a lot of questions I had about Episodes IV and V - mainly, when did Anakin become Vader, why does he wear that mask and do the creepy breathing, if Vader's Luke's father then who/where is his mother, etc.
Overall, not quite as much as a waste of my life as Episode II was, but definitely not an experience I wish to repeat, ever.
And so we came to Return of the Jedi. Amy's spirits were low but she wanted the story resolved. And then magic happened: she liked it!
Oddly it was one of the things that most "true" Star Wars fans hate, the Ewoks, that brought her back. The introduction with the droids in Jabba's palace worked as well. As we hadn't watched The Phantom Menace and the "despecialised" version of A New Hope this was the first time Jabba had appeared. A real life creature, with that disgusting slimy tongue and a thing for killing his dancers he came across as a proper villain and not a cartoon.
Wrapping the movies with Jedi after the prequels did give the five films a true sense of continuous narrative, no matter how good the story was. And despite her reluctance, Amy actually liked the films. "I mean, it doesn't make it into my top twenty movies of all time or anything, but I certainly enjoyed it." She also didn't want to admit it but the during the two week break we had in-between viewing she got more and more excited about completing the story.
It's a trap!
It is not a good idea to hope that the next generation will enjoy the same things that you do, because invariably they will not. And rightly so, it's foolish to expect an event at a particular time to have the same impact at a different time. The world moves on.
Even so, the touchstone that is Star Wars exists for an entire generation. Parts have leaked into the next generation, but for the most part it is ours and we should enjoy it and just let it be ours forever.