Responding to a sudden whim this afternoon, I walked over to Night Flight Comics on my lunch hour. It’s been a while since I’ve hung out at a comic shop, longer, perhaps, than I’d realized. Browsing the new issues, knowing that I’d be coming into the middle of all those stories with no idea of what was happening, seeing new titles I didn’t recognize at all — not to mention how damn young the store’s employees seemed relative to myself — it all made me feel something like a college student who has returned to his old high school for one last, sentimental look around. It hasn’t been that long ago that this place was home, but it’s been just long enough. Things are different now.
I ultimately selected a book I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years, a nifty trade paperback collection of the ’70s-vintage Star Wars comics that I loved as a child. When I laid it on the counter along with my debit card, the shaggy-haired clerk in the Green Lantern shirt noticed the familiar logo and asked a sadly predictable question: “What did you think of Episode III?”
I had to hold my breath to keep from sighing. I wasn’t in the mood to have this debate, not today, not again.
I gave the guy a fairly evasive answer, something about how I didn’t think it was fair to compare the prequels and the originals because they were so different in tone and style.
Now, if you’ve never spent much time around hard-core geeks, I should probably explain that there is nothing they like better than arguing over stuff, preferably silly, pointless stuff, like whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer could defeat Bishop, the android from Aliens, in a fair fight. In light of this knowledge, you’ll understand that my lame non-response about Revenge of the Sith wasn’t enough to satisfy the Night Flight clerk.
“I thought it was okay,” he said. “Now Episode I… that one had problems.”
Uh-huh. Like I haven’t been hearing that from, oh, everybody for the last six years.
“It had its moments,” the clerk continued. “I liked the expanded Jedi Order. And the duel. But the acting was just awful.”
Another amateur critic piling on the performances. How tiresome, I thought. I didn’t say it, though. I said, “Well, the originals weren’t exactly lessons in the thespian arts, either.” (I don’t entirely believe that — the truth is, I have no complaints with any of the performances in the original three films, not even Mark Hamill’s supposed whininess — but it’s easier to just give these guys a little of what they want.)
“Oh, yeah,” my new-found buddy said, “the original films. Number four really hasn’t held up very well at all, you know.”
“You mean the first one?” I countered.
“Right, Episode IV.”
I suppressed another sigh. Kids these days and their goofy numbering systems. But he was still talking.
“It’s so campy and cheesy compared to the others…”
“That’s not true,” I said. “You can argue that it’s different in tone from the others, more of a self-contained adventure and a lot less self-important, but I wouldn’t call it campy.”
God help me… I was getting sucked in. I didn’t want to fight, I really didn’t. I’ve argued every conceivable aspect of the Star Wars series a thousand times before, against better opponents than this kid. But my sentimental favorite of the series had been insulted. I spoke reflexively, before I could remind myself that I didn’t want to get into this conversation. Again.
“The fact is, you’ve got to remember when that first film was made. It’s thirty years old…”
“Uh-huh,” the clerk replied. “But all six of them are the same story. It’s a saga. They’re supposed to fit together, and they don’t. Episode IV is too stand-alone.”
“That’s because all this stuff about George having a big nine-part outline before he even started shooting is bogus. Star Wars was left open-ended in case it made any money and they wanted to do a sequel, but I don’t believe they ever really intended to do it until the first one became so huge.”
“Well, what about Vader surviving? It’s too far-fetched to believe that he could’ve made it to another star system in that short-range fighter…”
Suddenly I had that feeling again. That sense that I was out of my element, that I’ve moved beyond this stuff. It’s a feeling I’ve had for much of the summer, basically since the night I saw ROTS and liked it, and didn’t much care if everyone else hated it. The feeling is somewhat similar to loss, but it’s not as painful as that. It’s more like what you experience when you finish a particularly moving book and you’re just starting to disengage from it as you gently, reverently, place it back on the shelf. It’s a sense of completion, of being ready to move on to whatever comes next.
I’m not saying my thirty-year love affair with all things Star Wars is finished — why would I have bought that book today if it was? — but I think maybe I am finished with a certain kind of Star Wars fandom. I’m tired of bickering about which episode is the worst of the series, whether Jar-Jar Binks is the anti-Christ, whether a Star Destroyer could take down the Starship Enterprise (it could, by the way, even the Galaxy-class Enterprise-D).
Maybe I’m done with fandom in general, at least as fandom commonly defines itself. I just don’t have the patience anymore for the kind of sneering, fantasy-world, conflict-for-the-sake-conflict debates that rage throughout the fanboy community. I used to. I used to be a lot like that Night Flight clerk, a guy who lived for opportunities to validate his own opinions about nothing at all. To grapple with others over the minutiae of places and things that don’t even exist. I was defiantly esorteric in my knowledge, delighted by my grasp of trivia. I used to have an opinion about everything pop cultural, and if others didn’t share that opinion, well, then, they were obviously fools and it was my moral obligation to put them in their place.
But like I said, things are different now. I’ve lost my taste for the fight, at least the fight over inconsequential things like movies and TV shows. I’ve accepted (for the most part) that I like what I like, and that what I like is often considered irrelevant by the young, the hip, and the serious-minded. So be it. I’ve decided that pop culture, when you come right down to it, means nothing more or less than whatever individuals decide it means to them personally. Arguing about it accomplishes nothing. And this afternoon, I couldn’t wait to finish my transaction and get the hell away from that argument.
It’s strange, this realization that I no longer want to hang around comic shops arguing over nonsense. Could it be that I’m finally growing up?