Thanks to The Force Awakens, Star Wars is more prominent now than ever in my lifetime — and I lived through the prequel trilogy. After those, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see another live-action Star Wars film. In light of this renewed interest I thought it was appropriate to focus on the series in this week’s flashback. I know this comes two months after the film was released, but let’s face it, people haven’t stopped talking about it since it was announced, so I feel like this is still within the right time frame to be relevant.
SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN The Force Awakens YET, YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ THIS POST. THINGS WILL BE SAID. PLOT WILL BE SPOILED. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN PERIL AND DON’T COME CRYING TO ME WHEN YOU HAVE THE MOVIE RUINED FOR YOU.
To start with, let me give you an idea of where I’m coming from here. Star Wars was, as I can recall, the first major franchise I was introduced to, even before Pokémon. The term “fandom” didn’t exist yet — this predates Tumblr by over a decade, remember — but put simply, Star Wars was my first fandom. I used to read the books and even some of the comics, so at this point I’ve forgotten more about the series than many people ever knew. Star Wars is, in a nutshell, the reason I got into science fiction. Sure, I probably would have come to it another way, but really, what better groundwork for an interest could there have been than this?
Growing up, Like was my favorite character. And how could he not be? He’s presented as the hero, the boy who turns out the be improbably skilled at pretty much everything and is destined to save the day time and again. He got to go on all kinds of adventures with all kinds of people and he flew around in an X-Wing, which to my young mind was the coolest ship around. Plus, he had a lightsaber. As I got older I was able to understand his deeper motivations — his desire to get off Tatooine and into a bigger, better world; his desire to save the girl (even if she did turn out to be his sister); and his drive to end the injustice of the Empire. He seemed to me the consummate hero, fighting for all that was good in the world.
Plus, I can’t stress enough how important the lightsaber is.
Moving forward in time, though, as I became more experienced and cynical (and sarcastic, a trait I’m sure those of you who only know me through this blog have noticed by now), I moved more toward Han. Han is cool and doesn’t play by anyone else’s rules. He unironically wears a vest and makes it look good. He’s friends with a giant walking dog. He gets the girl. And he pilots the Millenium Falcon, which eclipsed the X-Wing as my favorite ship, and as far as sci-fi space vessels go, is rivaled only by three other ships, in my mind. Those are, in order, the TARDIS, Serenity, and the Enterprise. Nothing else comes close.
To a cynic like me, Han began to make more sense. He only trusts what he can see, and he’s more likely to form his own opinion than just go along with some ideal. In Han, I saw everything I wanted to be. He’s calm under pressure and isn’t afraid to do what needs to get done. He has a cool, hard exterior, but inside he’s got a heart of gold and can’t help but ultimately do what’s right. He’s likable despite his rough edges, maybe even because of them. And he’s incredibly, impossibly lucky.
Plus, he pilots the Millenium Falcon. Give him a lightsaber and he’d be perfect. Just don’t let him near any more tauntauns…
As for the prequels, I have mixed feelings. They hold a certain level of nostalgia, for me, for one thing — The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars film I saw in the theaters, and is one of the earliest movies I can remember seeing in a theater. Those space battles were incredibly loud to me at the time. Now I go listen to loud music in small clubs without even wincing. Hearing loss or maturity? You decide. Aside from that, though, you also have to take into account the fact that I was very young — too young to understand bad writing and bad acting. I mean, when I first saw Phantom Menace, Jar-Jar seemed like a good character. Jar-Jar. Let that one sink in a show you just how naïve I was.
I was still only in 8th grade when Revenge of the Sith dropped. I saw it twice in the theater and somewhere I still have a bootleg copy I got from someone on the street in Manhattan. Are bootleg DVDs still sold on Manhattan sidewalks? I can’t remember the last time I saw them. The free bootlegs on the ‘Net may have killed the industry. Anyway, it wasn’t until sometime in high school that I really started to see the flaws with the prequels. Particularly the scenes with Anakin and Padme which are painful beyond belief. The acting is pretty bad, but I can only blame them so much when they were given a script that makes The Room look like Citizen Kane. Though I do have to give points for consistency. Anakin whined his way through Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and Luke followed suit in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Whining seems to be in the Skywalker bloodline — I’m lookin’ at you, Kylo Ren.
I suppose that’s as good a segue as anything else. The Force Awakens has in some way redefined Star Wars for me, again. For starters, the new trio of Rey, Poe, and Finn already feel like more defined characters than any of the old ones started out as. Well, less Poe than the other two; I don’t think he really had enough screen time to really shine as a character, but you certainly start to get a sense of who he is. I look forward to seeing more from him in later films. Finn and Rey, however, are definitely already pretty well-formed as characters.
To be fair, a big portion of the film was spent on Finn’s character arc, so that certainly contributes to how rounded he feels. Rey, however, we don’t know a whole lot about yet. Sure, we’re all pretty convinced she’s Luke’s daughter, but we don’t really know. Maybe she just happens to have a high midi-chlor- ughk!
I don’t really know at what point my interest in Star Wars started to wane. I stopped paying attention to the Expanded Universe, didn’t follow the games very closely if at all, ignored the animated shows. I never lost my love for the films or the franchise, but trying to keep up with all of the Expanded Universe material had always been futile, and I’d turned my attention to other priorities. While I’m not about to jump back into the EU, however, The Force Awakens has certainly renewed my interest. And I have some thoughts on why that is, or rather, I suppose, one large thought that has various thoughts supporting it.
The Force Awakens is a very large and precisely calculated blast of nostalgia.
I don’t mean this negatively at all, mind you. I think it’s an amazing film. But I’m not the first to note the very strong parallels to A New Hope. Desert planet? Check. Giant space station with planet-destroying laser? Check. World-shattering death of a beloved mentor? CHECK, AND IT’S THE ONLY THING I HATED BECAUSE FUCK YOU GUYS. Robot containing crucial data? Check, and adorable as all hell. I can keep going, if you’d like. I have more.
“This list was only… one quarter-portion!”
The Force Awakens was the film we needed to refresh the franchise precisely because it’s so similar to the original. After the sins of the prequel trilogy, we needed something that would return the series to its roots while still feeling new and exciting. The similar plot and return of the beloved characters and actors brought a sense of comfort and familiarity while we met the new characters and started on a new journey. Now the sequel is free to be truly original and embark into new and exciting territory.
And on that note, I’ll return to Rey. Rey, who may actually be supplanting Han Solo as my favorite character. Where Luke is a young boy’s perfect idol and Han is the definitive aloof cynic, Rey feels like a character I can actually relate to. She’s motivated by survival; by loyalty to her family, absent though they may be; and by her own moral compass — not by idealism or what someone else believes is right. She has a legitimate moment of conflict when offered a ridiculous amount of portions for BB-8; she initially refuses custody of Luke’s lightsaber; she even tries to return to Jakku before finally coming to terms with what she already knew. Rey, of of anyone, feels the most human and the most real. As someone working minimum wage under the looming spectre of student loans, Rey’s day-to-day struggle resonates with me on a spiritual level.
Also, she ends the film doing what even Han Solo couldn’t do — piloting the Millenium Falcon while in possession of a lightsaber — with which she is quite competent. I’ve made it clear how important those items are, right?
Star Wars and I go way back, and it’s one of the few things that has remained constant in my life. Growing up loving the franchise was a big factor in shaping the person I became and the way I view the world. There’s certainly a lot more that I could discuss, but I think I’ll leave it here: Some day, hopefully, I’ll have children of my own. And the time will come that I’ll get to introduce them to Star Wars. Whether or not they come to love it as I do isn’t important. What’s important is introducing them to the idea of possibility. The possibility of what lies beyond our atmosphere and our galaxy; the possibility that lies within the realm of fiction; and the possibility within each of us to become something more. The possibility to become a part of a bigger world and have a meaning impact on those we love and the world around us. To me, those are the things that Star Wars represents. And if that’s not beautiful, I don’t know what is.
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