December has arrived. I’m wearing boots, there is water coming from the sky, I’ve turned on the “heater” and I’m looking at the last few articles of the year and I realize there is one thing I need to discuss, despite the fact that I have been talking myself out of even mentioning the new Star Wars films for several weeks now. I mean, do you really need to read another soul-searching post on the return of Star Wars when Jim already wrote probably one of the best pieces on the topic? We’ll see. I’ll try to make it brief.
I saw Star Wars at the Coronet Theater in San Francisco (left, more pictures here) in 1977, one week after it came out and remember the experience vividly (especially when the projector bulb blew out during the scene where Chewie is playing chess with R2-D2 — it was as close to a spontaneous riot as I ever got). I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Star Wars; I’ve been interviewed for a documentary that I guess was never produced, I’ve got a signed print from the late Ralph McQuarrie, I’ve got the original George Lucas-produced storybook record that I had as a kid, I have a complete set of the Yellow Star Wars cards, I’ve got the only tin boxes made for both Empire and Jedi. I listened to the aforementioned record so many times that I actually have a different version of the movie in my head, and there have been several nights in my past where I would come home in a…stupor and play Star Wars with only the audio, so I could see that same version as I passed–fell asleep. When NBC aired Empire Strikes Back, I taped it, editing out the commercials as it aired, and watched that tape countless times. I saw the Star Wars Holiday Special on TV when it aired and didn’t care how annoyed Harrison Ford looked during it. I would watch the opening of That’s Hollywood just to see the Star Wars clip. Oh, and I saw Return of the Jedi.
So, like many of you, I am, for better or worse, the resident expert on everything Star Wars for my particular group of friends.
Star Wars did more than just introduce characters, theme and concepts that would be used, fairly or unfairly, as a kind of acid test for science fiction and fantasy for much of my life; it re-defined what a theatrical experience could be. It’s striking to watch Logan’s Run today, which came out just a year earlier — the special effects in that movie look positively ancient, with the model city and laser-free blasters, nothing like the hyper kinetic and much, much more realistic feeling effects sequences that came out of ILM for Star Wars. So, too, the sound — nothing sounded like Star Wars, which really immersed audiences in ways that had never been done before. Every conversation you had about the movie (and you had many, time and time again) mentioned the “going-into-hyperspace” scene — the perfect blend of imagery and sound working together to make audiences experience something completely new.
One thing that is useful to remember, too, is that Star Wars stayed in theaters for well over a year. Despite the fact I only saw it three times, many people, when there was nothing to do, would just go and see Star Wars again. I had friends who would go once a month, easy — there was simply no reason not to go see Star Wars over and over, which is one of the many reasons so many people of my generation feel so passionately about the whole endeavor: we were the first ones to grow up with these stories. These films.
Like most of my friends, I never got into the prose books that followed the movies. The only Star Wars comic book I everbought since the movies came out was the Dark Empire hardcover trade, which I only grabbed because I was doing a roundup on various iFanboy Books of the Month — impressive art, to be sure, but I found the dialogue and story just tedious, perhaps overly reminiscent of the wooden writing that has come to define the Lucas scripts. While I was a huge fan of Dark Forces video game, I never stuck with the Knights of the Old Republic games, and never caught on to the many cartoons, even though I thought they looked kind of cool.
No, it was just the movies for me. I remember as a kid reading about how Star Wars was going to be a nice part series, with the first films followed by the story of Darth Vader, followed by adventures of Han Solo and Chewbacca. I have no idea where I read that but that pretty much defined my expectations of what Star Wars was going to be about, the ages of the actors be damned. There would be nine Star Wars movies and that was that.
Now, much of what I have read about the news of the upcoming films tends to be of the “burned me once, shame on you, burn me twice, same on me” variety, that somehow the original Star Wars fans feel some kind of self-righteous indignation about the whole affair. I see what they are saying, of course — I waited in line for almost 8 hours for Attack of the Clones and Phantom Menace (and yes, aspects of waiting in line for those movies were more entertaining than the films). On one level, I concur: it is very tempting and liberating to just drop the whole affair, shrug and announce, “you know what? These films aren’t really for me anyway. Let another generation of filmmakers and audiences celebrate their version of Star Wars, I’m done. Circle and life and all that.” Like Jim wrote, “welcome to comics.”
I was like that. For weeks. People would ask me, often, how I felt about the new releases coming out, and I felt like the old man down the block, sitting on his rocking chair, looking into space for a second and then saying, “well, you know, Star Wars really isn’t for me anymore, I hope they are good, and I will see them, but I cannot care about them anymore. Now get off of my lawn and let a man nap.”
What belies that response is my genuine interest in the concept that Star Wars, if handled well, could be like the 007 series, with subsequent generations taking on the characters and the universe and telling stories relevant to their time. I wonder about this, I wonder if this can really happen, because when I think about Star Wars now, I think about all the crazy races and the names and the clones and the other droids and the vehicles and the armies and the generals and the counts and Sith lords and all this noise. The best part of Star Wars, for me, was the simplicity, the honesty, of the characters and their relationships to each other, how this group of personalities had to work together to overcome adversity. I mean, as I write this, I am wearing my Star Wars shirt with the Howard Chaykin cover art to the first comic (pictured below) — which I read before the movie came out, by the way — and this graphic distills the story to it’s base awesomeness. When Empire Strikes Back came out, there was really no way to express how excited everyone was. We waited three years — an eternity — with almost no information about the movie (1980, folks — no Internet news for you!), to get a chance to see where our heroes were. And, of course, we were rewarded with possibly the best sequel ever.
Glory days, I know.
As the weeks have gone by and Internet sites start revealing stories about the new writer and possible directors, something has stirred inside me, just a bit. I realize that I have…not an expectation, but, perhaps, an opinion…on what should be done. Instead of leaving this to the next generation of creators, I realize that perhaps…perhaps this is the time we can actually make the Star Wars we wanted to see. For those of us who saw the first ones and who have seen everything spin (in our opinion) so wildly out of control, maybe this is the time to start fresh, eschewing all the stuff that was in the books and the comics and just focusing on creating a series of films that start anew in a Star Wars universe that is about people finding truth, about people discovering friendships, about people understanding the power they bring to each and every moment.
Maybe the most important part of Star Wars is preserving the best aspects of the stories and sharing them with a new generation of fans, sharing them using cinema?
So I guess I have come around. Mostly. The more I read about Michael Arndt, who is writing Episode VII, the more I am convinced he understands what make the original movie work — its simplicity. And while we’re still waiting to hear who the director will be, I have a feeling he or she will understand that this is truly the opportunity to re-invent what is arguably the most important film franchise of all time. I personally loved Casino Royale and how it re-invigorated the 007 franchise, precisely because it felt so more lean and simple compared to the films that came before it — if the same could be done for Star Wars, all the better.
And suddenly, I want to help. Suddenly, I want to make sure this thing works. Suddenly, instead of rolling my eyes and sighing into my iced coffee, I want not only see this thing, but to, somehow, help. And I bet there will be others out there like me in the industry (who, for sure, have an actual chance to do this), who will want to do the same. For too long, we have been disappointed with George Lucas, whom we have blamed for not making the kind of sequels we wanted to see. Well, now’s that time.
Jim was right: welcome to comics. Welcome to caring. Welcome to the notion of a personal stake in the stories you consume, to chance of being totally disappointed — or surprised beyond all expectation.
Star Wars has been through a lot and it’s easy to dismiss the new films and too much, too late. But as I take a step back and really look at this series of movies, the line comes back to me, as it has so many times in my life, “she may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
Let’s see what “special modifications” we can make.