Not a Fan. But Still . . .

Not a fan.  Nope.  Saw the first one but remembered almost nothing of it because we took our 18-month-old with us, and I was so worried about possible inappropriate behavior the story poured over me like water without making an impression.  We missed Episode V altogether—two kids by then, little disposable income.  When Episode I appeared, I caught it at the dollar house—actually two dollars by then—and decided it was worth about that much.  The pretentious hype that surrounded it was a huge turnoff, too: documentary “retrospectives,” contemplative essays, interviews with Bill Moyers (“If you see a Bill Moyers special on it,” a sarcastic friend told me once, “you’ve plumbed the depths”).  So I skipped II and III, except for bits happened upon while scrolling through the channels in motel rooms.  No, not a fan.

So I’m a little hard-pressed to explain my reaction to this:

That voiceover, that musical score, the final fadeout on Solo’s battered face with that familiar goofy smile, and Chewbacca’s answering growl: We’re home.  Yeah, in a way . . .

I still want to nitpick: shouldn’t Chewie look a little gray, too?  Cool trailer, but so many explosions—is this going to be another mindless FX orgy?  Such obvious emotional string-pulling; makes me feel a little silly, falling for it.  But I can’t explain the little catch in my throat when that particular chord clashes and the trumpets blare out that staggering fanfare and the Millennium Falcon zooms into the frame yet again.

A New Hope slammed into American culture in 1977, near the end of a miserable decade: two major assassinations within ten years, Vietnam, inflation, Watergate, oil embargoes, gas lines, Jimmy Carter’s “malaise.”  And the movies, to the best of my memory, were floundering in a swamp of grainy, noir-ish despair (Midnight Cowboy, Death Wish, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?).  Fortunately, George Lucas wasn’t paying attention. American Graffiti (1973) captured mid-century teenage angst with wit and aplomb and launched a few careers (Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, that bit-player Harrison Ford), kicked off a nostalgia boom (“Happy Days”) and bankrolled Lucas’s next big project.  Not science fiction; space fantasy.  Harking back to Flash Gordon and Saturday matinees at the Bijou, but weighted by his quasi-profound, California-style spirituality.  It was a peculiar vision the suits didn’t get, but they left him alone, and we got Star Wars.

Picture the world in 1977: no cell phones.  No personal computing or internet.  Very few cable channels.  No VCR’s.  What America liked we all liked; the buzz was THE BUZZ.  Star Wars (as we knew it at the time; not A New Hope) seemed to ring all bells: fun and exciting and unexpected and jaw-dropping (special effects would never be the same), with a whiff of profundity if you felt like writing a book about it–Joseph Campbell and his Hero with a Thousand Faces was about to receive an enormous leg-up.  Further episodes were a given: Empire, widely agreed to be one of the best sequels ever.  Then Jedi.

Close readers may have observed that I didn’t mention Jedi in the first paragraph.  That’s the one that got me: one of the few movies we saw as a family in the theater, with a big screen and surround sound.  At the first sight of Vader’s shuttle gliding into the reconstructed Death Star, I was hooked.  The wonders did not cease. It was wonderful—one of my three big movie crushes.  Even though the dialogue made me cringe and the ending was embarrassing, I was in love.  These things have to hit at the right time, when certain variables line up and certain doors in the soul stand open; otherwise it would have been fun but not an obsession.

It was a relatively brief obsession, from which I moved on.  I was interested but not excited about the prequels, which proved to be the graveyard of reputations.  (“No, really,” I have said since, “Hayden Christensen is a good actor.  Have you seen Shattered Glass?”)  No reputation took a bigger beating than George Lucas’s, and the announcement that Episode VII would feature the original stars in their original roles was met with mixed feelings.  None have aged especially well: Hamill is best known for voice acting, Fisher for caustic novels and memoirs, and Ford . . . why didn’t anybody tell him that Indiana Jones IV was a bad idea?

But still.  It’s the longest-running movie franchise ever.  Middle-aged Americans literally (not figuratively) grew up with it.  Like The Wizard of Oz, it’s part of the cultural landscape, dating back to before culture got so fractured.  And in spite of all the years and cynical take-downs, there’s still something gawkily sincere about it.  It wants to stir us, not merely entertain us or milk us for spare change.  George Lucas believes in it—even after I, II, and III–and if we clap our hands hard enough, we’ll believe too.  Chewie, are we home?

No, of course not.  The trailer will not deliver all it promises because the elaborate, multi-billion-dollar scaffolding of Star Wars is too flimsy to support humanity’s hopes, no matter what Bill Moyers used to think.  It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking that anymore–but that involuntary thrill at a musical theme still means something.  The wonder is our capacity for wonder and longing.  We’re all vulnerable to it, whether it comes through music or art or dance or sailing or building or NASCAR racing–something takes each of us through the surface of time and pins us to eternity for fleeting moments. It would be a huge mistake, on the basis of those moments, to join the church of Star Wars.  But those involuntary thrills that feel like a stab of unfulfilled desire point to something bigger and better and beyond us—also much more real than a flickering image on a movie screen.


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One Response to “Not a Fan. But Still . . .”

  1. Gina Says:

    Nice piece. And I’ve been known to say exactly the same thing about Hayden Christensen. 🙂

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