So, I don’t know about you, but I’m just sitting here this morning watching that new trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story on a continuous loop, like this:
So, I don’t know about you, but I’m just sitting here this morning watching that new trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story on a continuous loop, like this:
Being a Star Wars fan was different 25 years ago. Before the Special Editions. Before the prequels. And of course long before Disneyfication made a steady flow of new Star Wars movies not only possible, but inescapable. Way back in the mid-1990s, there was actual scarcity associated with the franchise. We had the first new novels and comic-book miniseries that would grow into the Expanded Universe, and Hasbro had tentatively introduced a new line of toys. But the red beating heart of the franchise, the movies — and remember, at that point, there were only three movies, the original trilogy, the Holy Trilogy — had happened a very long time before. In a very real sense, they felt like ancient history. So how appropriate was it that an archeologist named David West Reynolds chose to treat them as ancient history and go to Tunisia in search of the real-world locations that had once stood in for the fictional world of Tatooine?
I remember reading West’s article in the old Star Wars Insider magazine and feeling the same sense of wonder I might have experienced if he’d been talking about the ruins of Troy. I’d always known that those places really existed somewhere on the globe, but no one had thought (as far as I knew) to actually go see them, and seeing his photos and reading his descriptions of how they appeared nearly 20 years after the shoot was fascinating for me.
As it happens, West didn’t just take still photographs during his expedition; he also shot hours of videotape. And now he’s shaping that video into a documentary for hardcore Star Wars fans to geek over. Naturally, he’s using Kickstarter to raise some money for post-production, and just as naturally, I’m quite excited about the whole idea. Here’s his pitch:
West actually met his initial funding goal weeks ago, but now in the final hours of the campaign, he’s hoping to raise enough extra money to allow him to include additional footage, motion-graphics maps, Star Wars-inspired graphics, and on-screen annotations, as well as original music and a professional polish on the audio and video. And when I say “final hours,” I’m not kidding; as of this writing, there are only about nine hours remaining. So I realize my post here is very last-minute and unlikely to attract much attention or help for West’s campaign, but as I said above, I’m excited about this project and would like to see it made as well as it possibly can be made, so I figure it’s worth a try. If you see this before morning, and if it sounds at all interesting to you — and if it doesn’t, what kind of Star Wars fan are you?! — jump on over to the Kickstarter page and have a look around, and then consider pledging a few bucks. It’s not just a time capsule of those sites before the tourists and the resurgence of Star Wars fandom altered them forever; it’s also a time capsule of a different period of Star Wars fandom. One that I honestly think was a lot more fulfilling than our current era. But hey, that’s me, and we all know I’m just a grumpy old man these days.
Check out the campaign here.
The official Star Wars Celebration convention is currently underway in Orlando. I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when they played this:
Watching this, I fell in love with her all over again, from that first sweet “Hi.” Then I had my heart broken yet again with the montage of her reciting the “Help me, Obi Wan” speech through the years.
I often feel genuine sorrow when celebrities I admire or whose work is important to me pass on, but I can’t remember mourning any of them as intensely as I have mourned Carrie Fisher. Not even Leonard Nimoy, and his death hurt. But Carrie — and her alter-ego, of course — really did feel, well, real to me. As real as the girl I had a crush on in middle school, as real as that beloved aunt who had such an outsized spirit you couldn’t help but want to hang around her.
Rest in peace, my princess. I’m grateful we still have your movies, and your words.
The Digital Bits had an update this morning on the whole Star Wars thing:
We’ve essentially confirmed that Disney’s current 4K scan of the film is the most recent revised version (essentially the latest “special edition”), not the original theatrical edition. What’s more, Disney’s director of Library Restoration and Preservation, Theo Gluck, held a special event at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts last night, a presentation called Animation Restoration at Walt Disney Studios. Gluck was asked there about Star Wars and reported that the original cut negative for the film currently exists in its “SE” configuration only.
In addition, 20th Century Fox’s Senior Vice President of Library and Technical Services, Shawn Belston, was also on hand at the Wexner event last night. He confirmed that all of the “trims” removed from the original cut negative (in the mid-1990s, to create the SEs) still exist as well. (Thanks to Bits reader Chuck P., who attended this event, for his firsthand report.) So what does all that mean to you?
In summary: While it is essentially technically true that the ‘77 cut negative “no longer exists” in its original state, it is also technically true that it could be re-built if so desired. All of the needed film elements still survive and have been preserved. Nevertheless, if one takes Gluck and Belston at their word (and knowing them as we do, we certainly do) this would seem to be fairly official word that no such reconstruction work has been done to date. Thus, it appears that there is little chance of the original 1977 Star Wars being released on any home video format in 2017.
Meanwhile, however, we also know (from checking in again with our sources yesterday) that original high-quality prints of the theatrical editions continue to exist in various film archives around the world, as well as in the hands of private collectors. So… the Saga continues.
I do not understand — and I will never understand — why one of the great landmarks of cinema history continues to be neglected like this. When I consider the efforts that’ve been made over the years to find an intact print of Metropolis, a 90-year-old silent movie that’s hugely important but which few members of the general public have even heard of, and make sure even that is available for the serious film-history buffs who desire it, the Star Wars situation simply doesn’t make sense to me.
Now, I can hear some of you muttering under your breath, “Ah, Bennion, not this again. The Special Editions really aren’t all that different, and I actually think they’re better in some ways.” I totally disagree, but hey, if that’s your honest feeling, who am I to tell you you’re wrong about something you enjoy watching? It completely misses the point of my argument, though: It wasn’t the revisionist, CGI-filled SEs that had the greatest impact on our culture, or that revolutionized the American film industry. Those are the versions we ought to be celebrating, preserving… and marketing. By rights, the Special Editions ought to be viewed as a novelty, just an interesting experiment, like when Coppola cut all of his Godfather movies into chronological order back in 1992 or whenever that was. But certainly that was never intended as an outright replacement for the originals… and today it’s The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 that’s hard to find, not the theatrical cuts.
Some people have told me that it’s only a small minority of older Star Wars fans who actually care about this, that it would be a niche market at best. Maybe so. But it can’t be that small of a niche, or there wouldn’t be so much interest in bootlegged “fan preservations,” and there wouldn’t have been so much excitement generated by yesterday’s rumor, however short-lived it turned out to be. There is money to be made on a home-video re-release of the pre-1997 editions, and there is artistic and cultural value in such a release, I’m convinced of it. But evidently the bean counters at Disney feel otherwise.
At least it’s been confirmed that the negative trims from the original cuts are still around. I never did believe Lucas’ claims that the original negatives no longer existed in any form. Maybe in another 50 years, when the children of the ’70s are dead and gone, our cultural priorities will have evolved enough that someone will see the value in reconstructing the historically significant editions of the trilogy. And they will wonder what in the hell was the matter with George Lucas and the Disney executives and all those casual fans who just didn’t appreciate what they had…
Turning to happier matters, long-time readers of this blog know that one of my personal holy grails — the Grail, actually — is getting the pre-Special Edition versions of the original Star Wars trilogy on some kind of high-definition home video format. Of course, an official DVD or Blu-Ray is no longer strictly necessary in order to enjoy the Star Wars films I grew up with in modern presentation standards. The notorious Despecialized Edition bootlegs are nearly as good to my eye as any studio-made disc, and for the absolute purists, the Silver Screen Edition — which was scanned from an actual film print that predates the appending of “Episode IV: A New Hope” to the title — is reputed to be the closest thing to the 1977 experience you’re going to get, short of commandeering a passing time machine. But even so, I still want an official, studio-sanctioned Blu-Ray that I can buy, hold in my hands, and display on my video shelf, simply as a matter of principle. I want to see the historically significant versions of these films, the ones that started this whole crazy pop-cultural juggernaut and completely reinvented how movies are made and marketed, and even what kinds of movies get made… the versions that are supposed to be enshrined in the Library of Congress but reside there in name only because of George Lucas’ obstinacy… I want those versions of the Star Wars trilogy re-legitimized after decades of being denigrated and suppressed by the own creator. I know this desire isn’t entirely rational, and that a dwindling number of people care or even know the difference anymore… but what can I say? We all have our quirks.
When I first heard a few years ago that Disney was acquiring Lucasfilm, my very first thought was that maybe the new corporate overlords would see the profit potential in giving those “early drafts” (as George took to calling them) the respect they deserve. Since then, rumors of a Blu-Ray release have come and gone every six months or so, and none have come to fruition. Today, another round of rumors sprang up… only this time, it seems there might actually be something to them.
The website Making Star Wars is reporting that a number of sources have said the unaltered original trilogy will be re-released this year in celebration of the first film’s 40th anniversary. I’m not familiar with Making Star Wars, and the site’s editor-in-chief stressed in his post that this is entirely unconfirmed, but I’m told this site has a good track record with these things, i.e., the rumors it reports usually turn out to be true.
My own go-to source of information on these things, The Digital Bits, had this to say:
One thing we do know for sure is that Lucasfilm has a new 4K scan of that original version of the film. That was essentially confirmed back in December by Rogue One director Gareth Edwards (as we reported here). The original theatrical version must exist – even if what Edwards saw was a 4K-updated version of the latest Special Edition (as was later tweeted by Lucasfilm’s Pablo Hidalgo), the company would still have needed to make a full 4K scan of the original theatrical film elements as a starting point to produce it….
IF this is going to happen, the timeframe for the release would perhaps [be] May for a theatrical re-issue and November-ish for a disc release, in time for Black Friday shopping and prior to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theaters. And the place it’s likely to be officially announced would be the Star Wars Celebration convention in Orlando (April 13-16). So we should know more soon.
As I said, these rumors seem to surface quite regularly, and I’m trying very hard not to get my hopes up. I really don’t want to become a fanboy Charlie Brown, certain that this time he’s really going to connect with that damn football. However… the pieces all fit, I think. If there’s one thing Disney knows how to do, it’s capitalizing on the older assets of its film library… which now includes the Star Wars saga. And the 40th anniversary is a perfect opportunity to do something like a Blu-Ray box set. I’ve got my wallet out and ready, if it happens, even if I also have to buy all the dreaded Special Edition variants to get the versions I prefer. I’ve done that before with Blade Runner and Close Encounters, so what the hey. And if Lucy yanks the football away again, well, I’ll always have my bootlegs and my righteous indignation.
That said, I’ve got to be honest… I’ve got a good feeling about this. Maybe the Force will be with us old-timers for a change!
The Old Republic was the Republic of legend, greater than distance or time. No need to note where it was or whence it came, only to know that… it was the Republic.
Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, there appear those evil ones who have greed to match.
So it was with the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.
Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.
Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.
Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.
But a small number of systems rebelled at these new outrages. Declaring themselves opposed to the New Order they began the great battle to restore the Old Republic.
From the beginning they were vastly outnumbered by the systems held in thrall by the Emperor. In those first dark days it seemed certain the bright flame of resistance would be extinguished before it could cast the light of new truth across a galaxy of oppressed and beaten peoples…
Old-timer Star Wars fans like myself might recognize those words as the prologue from the novelization of the first film, Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (as it was then known), credited to George Lucas but actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, copyrighted 1976. I’ve always loved this passage, in particular that line about the greatest of trees rotting from within. So very evocative.
Just something I’ve been thinking about lately…
“We’d done this little low-budget film. They’d even flown us economy to our location in London to save money, and we lived off a per diem that came nowhere near the vicinity of luxurious. We’d done a cool little off-the-radar movie directed by a bearded guy from Modesto. A thing like that wasn’t going to make people want to play with a doll of you, was it?
It was one movie. It wasn’t supposed to do what it did — nothing was supposed to do that. Nothing ever had. Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.
Had I known it was going to make that loud of a noise, I would’ve dressed better for those talk shows and definitely would’ve argued against that insane hair… ”
— Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist
Millions of voices suddenly cried out in sadness… and were suddenly silent… something terrible has happened.
— Random Facebook comment
Except… we haven’t been silent, have we? The outpouring of condolences, remembrances, and genuinely heartfelt grief at the passing of Carrie Fisher has been truly remarkable, even after a year that claimed such beloved public figures as David Bowie and Prince. Even now, nearly three weeks after the fact, I’m still seeing comments, blog posts, and memes about her death… and her life. People are using her likeness for Facebook profile pics and Tumblr avatars. And speculation about how Disney/Lucasfilm plans to proceed with upcoming Star Wars films without her has grown so intense that Disney actually felt compelled to issue a statement on Friday that they have no intentions to create a digital stand-in for her, as they did for a brief scene in Rogue One.
One of the most surprising aspects of all this, at least to me, has been the little-c catholicism of Carrie’s mourners, who range far beyond the expected legions of Star Wars fans to include a lot of people who couldn’t care less about the galaxy far, far away. But of course there was a lot more to Carrie Fisher than just Star Wars. She appeared in 40-something feature films, some of which are non-Star Wars classics in their own right (The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally… ); she wrote four novels and three works of memoir, all of which were best-sellers, as well as a successful one-woman stage show, Wishful Drinking; she was a respected screenwriter, having adapted one of her own novels — Postcards from the Edge — into a feature film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, as well as doing uncredited “script doctor” rewrites on who-knows-how-many films, including the Star Wars prequels; and she was a vocal advocate for causes relating to mental health and drug addiction, the twin demons she herself battled throughout her life. In recent years, she also had a lot to say about body shaming and how our culture (especially fanboy culture) doesn’t allow women to age with grace, which won her even more admirers. And yet… it was a film role she took on when she was only 19 years old for which she’s ultimately going to be remembered, a surreal and ironic fact that Carrie was well aware of. If you’ve read her memoirs or seen her interviews, it’s plain that she spent a lot of time struggling to figure out where Leia ended and Carrie began, and vice versa. It’s an interesting question for any actor who is so strongly associated with a single role, but it’s also one worth asking of fans: Who exactly are we mourning, Carrie Fisher or Princess Leia Organa?
I fell in love with Princess Leia when I was seven years old. Big deal, right? I think it’s safe to say that most men (and not a few women) in my general age cohort would say the same thing. The character’s prominence in the coming-of-age of Generation X is an utter cliche at this point. (Can you believe it’s been 20 years since that Friends episode about Ross’ gold bikini sex fantasies?) But just because an idea is hackneyed doesn’t make it untrue. Leia was my imaginary girlfriend — well, one of them, anyway — for most of my childhood and adolescence.
That was Leia, though. I met Carrie Fisher in 2012. The occasion was an award presentation for her mental-health advocacy, followed by a book signing. And while she couldn’t avoid discussing her role in Star Wars during the course of the evening — I imagine not a day passed when she didn’t talk about it, in one way or another — that wasn’t the focus of this event, and I was under no illusion that the person up there on that stage was the fictional princess of my youth. Her voice was wrong for one thing; age and cigarettes had changed it, roughened it and given it a phlegmy undercurrent. She was smart, sarcastic, and deadly quick with her wit, just like Leia. But she was also self-deprecating, a bit rambling, a bit vulgar, a bit fragile. Kind of weird, to be honest. Not in an unappealing way, just in a way that was very unlike Leia. I found myself liking her, and wishing I could spend a lot of time hanging out with her and hearing all of her wild stories three or four times each.
Later, when I stood in front of her while she autographed my copy of Postcards from the Edge, I was struck by how tiny she was. In some weird way I still can’t put my finger on, she reminded me of my mom. I don’t remember what I said to her, but I know I was trying not to say the obvious Star Wars fanboy things. I must’ve mentioned my own fiction-writing ambitions, based on the kindly encouraging words she scribbled in my book. But then she looked up at me with those deep brown eyes that were so familiar to me from hundreds of viewings of the Holy Trilogy, and I saw them glittering with the same warm, mischievous energy they displayed in Return of the Jedi when she throws Han Solo’s infamous “I know” back at him… I fell in love all over again.
I’d met quite a few celebrities by that time, and largely gotten over being starstruck. I rarely have a problem talking to actors I’ve admired since I was a kid. But in that moment, I became hopelessly tongue-tied. Because suddenly after an evening of listening to Carrie, I was looking at Leia. She lived inside Carrie after all, just as Carrie lived in her… just as somewhere inside me there’s a seven-year-old boy who dreams of heroically swinging across a chasm with her in my arms, and a ten-year-old boy who wants a girl to look at me the way Leia looked at Han in the carbon-freeze chamber, and a thirteen-year-old boy who… well, I’ll leave that one right there. Ross wasn’t the only one who responded to that damn bikini. (Although, if you want to know the honest truth, I’ve always thought she was at her prettiest in her snow-bunny outfit from Empire. Call me weird.)
The point is, in the end, Carrie and Leia were very hard to parse out from each other. And I can honestly say, sincerely, without intending any sort of stalkerish overtone, that I loved both of them, fiercely.
I finally got around to seeing Rogue One on December 23rd, a week after the movie opened… the day Carrie Fisher had a massive heart attack on an airplane midway between London and LA. Anne and I had both shed a few tears at the movie’s end and were feeling a little raw as the house lights came up. (If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand.) While the closing credits were still rolling, and the familiar Star Wars title music still thundered through the theater, she pulled out her phone and called up Facebook to see what had been going on while we were in the galaxy far, far away. The first thing she ran across was the news about Carrie. It was totally unexpected, and it hit me like hard piledriver punch to the gut.
At that point, details were sketchy and people were trying to be optimistic, but to borrow a certain well-known catchphrase from a certain space-opera franchise, I had a bad feeling about it. Somehow I just knew. Quite literally moments after seeing Carrie’s digitally resurrected youthful self on the movie screen, I was confronted with the certainty that we were going to lose her, if not that day, then very soon. I don’t mind admitting that I went to the theater’s restroom, locked myself into a stall, and had a brief, sobbing breakdown. Because Carrie Fisher wasn’t just some actress to me, not just another celebrity I feel compelled to eulogize on my blog because I liked their work when I was a kid. She wasn’t even merely a childhood crush, although she certainly was that, and a middle-aged crush as well. She was a charming, complicated mess of a human being whom I’d met and spoken with and responded to and felt genuine affection for. She felt as real to me as members of my own family. As my friend Jaren put it, she was like that cool girlfriend your older brother had once, the one you’ve kept tabs on all these years because you just couldn’t help yourself.
And now she’s gone.
I’m sure that someday I’ll be able to watch Star Wars or Rogue One or any of her movies again without thinking that. But for now… my princess, my Carrie, is gone. And I feel a cold twinge inside whenever the thought occurs to me.
[Ed. note: This entry was begun over a week ago, before I had seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Some of my thinking here is no longer strictly relevant — and of course all of it is self-absorbed navelgazing — but I’ve decided to finish and publish it anyhow.]
In the wake of my last entry, a friend of mine asked why people make such a big deal out of Star Wars movies instead of taking them for what they are, either enjoying them or not, and just moving on when you don’t. Well, those weren’t his exact words, but that was the gist of what he was asking. And by “people,” I’m pretty sure he meant “me.”
I didn’t have a good answer for him, and I told him so. I really don’t know why these movies affect me the way they do, both good and bad… why they’re so important to me that my unhappiness with a sequel made 40 years after the fact sent me into an emotional tailspin. I could say what I used to say back in my college days, back when my buddies were all leaving to serve their two-year Mormon missions and it seemed critical to have my own glib answer to questions of spirituality: that the original trilogy was the closest thing to religion I’ve ever known. (This was long before those folks in the UK turned “Jedi” into an official religious designation; I dropped the idea after that happened, because it no longer seemed very funny, or very true.) I could also tell you that I’d constructed so much of my identity around being a Star Wars fan — something I stubbornly clung to even during the years when half the planet was renouncing their affection for the franchise because the prequels disappointed them so badly — that when I was finally confronted with a Star Wars film I didn’t like (but which, perversely, so many others did like), the cognitive dissonance was so severe it felt like part of me was being torn away in a cataclysmic event, like an iceberg calving off a glacier. I could tell you these things. But unless you have similar feelings, there’s no way I can really make you understand them. If movies are just movies to you, if Star Wars isn’t that big a deal to you, then I can’t explain why they’re more than that for me, or why I am so damn dramatic about it all.
So I didn’t have an answer to my friend’s question. Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about the core of what he was asking: Why can’t I just shrug off The Force Awakens, or any other Star Wars movie that doesn’t work for me? (As an aside, why can’t the prequel haters get over their disillusionment, too?) And the thing I keep coming back to is… all the Star Wars novels and comic books I’ve read.
Consider: in the nearly 40 years since the original Star Wars film (I still have trouble thinking of it as “A New Hope”), there have been quite literally hundreds of published stories set in that galaxy far, far away… everything from the Marvel Comics series of the late 1970s and ’80s to Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (the very first spin-off novel), up through the explosion of comics and novels produced in the ’90s and early 2000s that came to be called the Expanded Universe. And that’s not counting the various video games, animated television shows, newspaper strips, and Force only knows what else. I’ve read quite a few of those stories (though not all, and probably not even a majority of them… hey, I do have other interests, and only so much time!) Some of them, the best of them, capture the feeling of the movies and the sound of the characters’ voices so perfectly that they feel like part of the movies themselves. Others are utterly terrible, both as novels and as Star Wars stories. Some of them feel as if they were written for another franchise entirely and just had the Star Wars character names plugged into them; you wonder if the authors of those have ever even seen a Star Wars movie. And honestly, the vast majority of these stories, like everything else in life, are simply mediocre. But the interesting thing is… I’ve never had any big emotional or psychological struggle with any of them. I enjoy the ones I enjoy, the better ones become “official” in my mind, or what the kids on Tumblr refer to as “headcanon,” and the others are quickly forgotten. No big deal. So what’s the difference when it comes to the movies?
Well, simply put, the movies are harder to dismiss because they feel more “real” to me. Partly that’s because it’s the way George Lucas wanted it. When the EU started getting too big in the ’90s and contradictions and retcons were becoming a problem, Uncle George (or at least his minions in the licensing division of Lucasfilm) let the word out that the movies were to be considered the primary canon, and everything else may or may not be “official” depending on what happened in future film projects. In other words, George wasn’t bound to follow or use any idea established in the EU materials. Disney has reinforced this notion by decanonizing everything published prior to its acquisition of Lucasfilm and rebranding it under the “Star Wars Legends” label. (Interestingly, a lot of ideas from the disavowed EU appeared in one form or another in The Force Awakens, and will probably creep into Rogue One too, so perhaps Disney’s motive was less about clearing the slate than justifying their exploitation of existing material.) All the new tie-in materials moving forward are to be considered canon and are part of the timeline, an idea that I have some problems with… more on that another time.
Anyhow, my point here, at long last, is that I’m increasingly thinking I need to do with Star Wars movies what I manage to do quite easily with the books and comics, and compartmentalize all of them in my mind. I’ve been doing it with the Star Trek franchise for years. I love the first four Trek films that featured the original TOS cast; those are the “real” ones for me. Moving on, I like parts of Star Treks V and VI, although overall I have issues with those films; they are not part of my personal canon, but I don’t refuse to watch them. I didn’t care much for any of the four films starring the Next Generation cast, and in fact I’ve only seen a couple of them once. I’ve mostly forgotten them at this point, and that’s just fine. Meanwhile, I think my feelings about the post-reboot JJ-Trek films are pretty widely known — they don’t exist in my world. And I’ve got to start doing the same with Star Wars movies, too. I must learn to do what my friend suggested in the conversation that started all this: like what I like and ignore the rest.
That might seem so obvious as to not even bear mentioning, let alone writing a thousand-word blog entry about. But to date, I haven’t done that with Star Wars. I haven’t been able to. Even though I concede the prequels had a lot of problems, I basically accepted them… because they were Star Wars movies, and that lent them a certain authenticity and gravity by default. But I never had any obligation to view them that way… and indeed, many people did not and chose to pretend they never happened. It’s obvious to me now that I’ve got to do what everybody else has been doing since The Phantom Menace. For my own sanity, I’ve got to start imagining every new Star Wars movie from this point forward as a sort of new Expanded Universe… just supplements to George Lucas’ original saga that I can pick and choose from at will.
We’re only a couple days away from the opening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is the first of several planned “standalone” or “anthology” films that take place in the Star Wars universe, but are incidental to the mainline saga. In other words, this movie and the “Star Wars Stories” that will follow exist in parallel to the seven previous Star Wars movies, but are not “episodes” of the story being told in those other seven. The idea is to fill in the narrative gaps and expand on the universe we’ve seen in the numbered episodes… fleshing out backstories and exploring ideas that the episodes don’t have time to deal with. And of course, to keep Star Wars-branded product in the theaters (and the toy stores) each and every year for the foreseeable future, thus making a Death Star full of money for the new galactic overlords at Disney.
The movie is getting very positive advance reviews (including, reportedly, the approval of George Lucas himself, which may not matter to a lot of Star Wars fans, but it still matters to me), and many of my friends already have their tickets for showtimes this weekend. I, on the other hand…
I’ll be honest, I was more excited by the teaser trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 than by anything to do with Rogue One, and that freaks me out a little. I mean… it’s Star Wars, man! Star Wars! Those two words have provoked an almost Pavlovian response in me for pretty much my entire life, ever since I was a wee lad doodling TIE fighters in the margins of my school papers. I should be bouncing off the walls right now, vibrating with excitement for my imminent return to the galaxy far, far away, just as I was for last year’s entry, The Force Awakens, and for each of the prequels before that, and for Empire and Return of the Jedi thirty-some years ago. But… I’m just not.
To be fair, there are elements in the latest Rogue One trailer that I find intriguing. I like the glimpse of day-to-day life under Imperial domination (literally under it, as a star destroyer hovers in the sky, throwing its ominous shadow over the city). I like the fact that this story is about ordinary galactic citizens for a change, instead of crazy old wizards and magical bloodlines. And the scenes of messy, close-quarters urban fighting with a scout walker clomping through narrow alleyways are something we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie, so there’s that. However — and I really can’t convey how much it pains me to say this — there’s nothing in any of the trailers that really makes my heart go zing.
Part of the problem is my lack of interest in the movie’s central premise. If you don’t know or haven’t figured it out from the trailers, Rogue One tells the story of the rebel spies mentioned in the opening of the original Star Wars film (I guess I’m finally going to have to give in and start referring to that one as Episode IV or A New Hope like everyone else does, for the sake of clarity). Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I myself have never given a second thought to those guys or how they actually got their hands on the secret Death Star plans that Princess Leia was carrying at the beginning of the whole franchise. Not once. As I put it in a recent Facebook conversation, this movie aims to “explain a maguffin that no one has ever questioned or wondered about in any way.” Remember the midichlorians in The Phantom Menace, and how baffled, if not downright angry, everybody was that George Lucas felt it necessary to quantify something we’d always just accepted, i.e., the Force? The midichlorian thing was one scene. Rogue One is an entire movie built around the same kind of thinking. As my friend Kelly put it during that same Facebook discussion, “What if someone made a movie called Ugarte in which we see the Peter Lorre character from Casablanca meet up with the two couriers who have the letters of transit?” Has anyone ever desired such a film? I know I haven’t. It’s not that you couldn’t make a good movie from that bit of background; it’s that there really isn’t any need to.
I think Disney’s plans for an annual Star Wars release are also a factor in my indifferent mood. A new Star Wars movie used to be a major event — the release dates for the original trilogy, the Special Editions, and The Phantom Menace (although not so much the other two prequels, oddly) all stand out in my mind as significant temporal landmarks that I still tend to use when I’m navigating through my memories — and those events were years in the making. (Literally.) You had time for the anticipation to build. But Rogue One arriving so soon after Episode VII, and knowing that Episode VIII will be out only 12 months from now, and then another standalone only a year after that, and so on and so on, has already rendered the Star Wars franchise no big deal, the same way the Marvel superhero movies — which Disney also owns — are no big deal. Now, I love those Marvel flicks, but I don’t get especially excited about them or eagerly anticipate them. Frankly, I take them for granted. I know it doesn’t matter if any individual entry in the series is bad, or if I don’t get around to seeing it in a theater, because there’s always another one on the way (three of them, in fact, in 2017). We’re only two movies into the Disney era of Star Wars, and I’m already feeling the same way about this franchise, and that’s a drag.
Really, though, my biggest problem with Rogue One is the lingering hangover from last year’s Star Wars film.
This entry is already running long, so I’ll spare my Loyal Readers a laundry list of all the specific issues I had with The Force Awakens. Let’s just say that I didn’t think it was a very good movie, I don’t think it continued the saga in a good way, and it ultimately did something no other Star Wars movie has ever done: It made me feel old and out of touch and sad. In fact — and I know this is going to sound ridiculous and overly dramatic, but it’s true — I’ve been struggling against depression for most of the past year, never entirely falling into The Pit, but always conscious of a black shadow lurking just at the edges of my peripheral vision. And while there have been a lot of contributing factors, everything from Prince and Bowie dying to the election, I’m pretty sure the triggering event was that damned movie. After 15 years, I finally understand the intense reaction so many people had to the prequel trilogy: disapproval, disillusionment, and a nagging sense of having been played for a fool that gradually festers into genuine anger about the whole damn thing.
Honestly, I’ve spent the last year wondering if I’m done with Star Wars. Moving forward, I mean. Nothing is ever going to take the original trilogy away from me. I’ve always said the “raped my childhood” stuff we used to hear in response to the prequels was asinine, overblown pearl-clutching, and I still feel that way. I truly don’t want to become one of those fans. And I know that I’m already dangerously close to sounding like Grampa Simpson bitching that everything’s gone to hell because the Damn Kids aren’t doing things the way we did ’em back in my day. But I’m no longer sure that Star Wars has much to say to me… or, for that matter, is even interested in speaking to me in the post-Lucas era. And that has been — and continues to be — very, very difficult for me to wrap my head around. Frankly, it’s been pretty painful. Like losing one’s faith in religion, I imagine. I hold out some flicker of hope that Rogue One might redeem the franchise for me (although next year’s Episode VIII will be the true make-or-break point). But I don’t feel much urgency to find out. I fear the emotions I’ll go through if it’s also a disappointment, I guess.
Oh, I will see it…. eventually. But I know I’ll be walking into the theater with a sense of wariness when I do…