[Read "When Did the Force Leave You?" by the Salon staff.]
Those damn Ewoks
When the first "Star Wars" movie came out, I was in high school. I remember seeing it several times in the theater with my sweetly nerdy boyfriend. I loved it at the time but never took it for more than it was: an updated Saturday afternoon serial. By the time the next movie came out, "The Empire Strikes Back," I was in college and the "Hero With a Thousand Faces" hype was in full force. However, I didn't buy into the hero archetype theories being thrown around. It was still just a space opera with Harrison Ford for my hormonal appeal.
So when did the force leave me? It was when I saw those damn Ewoks. I hated them. There were like H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy Sapiens but without the charm. (I'm still not sure that the idea for them wasn't stolen from Piper.) They were so obviously inserted in the series for kiddie-show tie-ins that I wanted hunt them down and skin them. I wasn't alone in this. I know my friends and I often discussed making Ewok barbecue or Ewok stew. It was the tipping point of marketing that made me hate the franchise. The series would have other annoying aliens, chief among them Jar Jar Binks (or Darth Darth Binks, as I liked to call him), but the series had already been spoiled for me.
-- Bonita Crider
When the shine came off
"Star Wars" hit Perth, Western Australia, when I was about 7 years old. I was lying on the lounge room floor reading the newspaper when I came across the full-page ad for the film. The effect was like crack cocaine: I looked up to my father, glassy-eyed, and said in a robotic voice, "We have to see this."
Naturally, he wouldn't have anything to do with it, so we kids had to work on our mum to take us instead. Seeing as she liked to drag us along to romantic comedies starring Barbra Streisand, this was going to be a big ask. (It also means that she has no right to complain that I grew up gay, but that's beside the point.)
Somehow, we managed to persuade -- or nag -- her into taking us. Right from the opening, when the words scrolled up the screen, I knew this was going to be special. Then we were hit by the fill-your-pants blast of the opening music. By the time the giant star cruiser came overhead, making everyone duck (through the magic of Sensurround) I was hooked. The biggest surprise was that my mum was the biggest convert -- driven mostly by pure lust for Harrison Ford. This was pretty revolting for me, but I overlooked it because it meant we got to see the film twice, when she dragged my dad to see it.
It was at this second viewing that the shine came off. Several months had passed since it had opened, and it had moved to a smaller theater. The screen was tiny and the visual effects looked like visual effects. The sound was so low, nobody jumped. And my dad complained that he could see the strings on the spaceships. (Techno geek that I was, I tried explaining to him about blue screens, only to be told that I didn't know what I was talking about.)
Sure, we went along to see "Empire" -- and groaned when it was announced that everyone was related to everyone else.
By the time the Ewoks came along, I had moved onto bigger and better pastures: Indiana Jones!
-- Andrew Bettridge
I was 7 years old in 1977, and it's fair to say that I was the target audience for "Star Wars." I grew up with the series, enfolded in it, enraptured by it. My friends and I would play "Star Wars" in the backyard, arguing over who got to be Princess Leia and creating elaborate costumes for ourselves out of honeysuckle vines. Luke Skywalker is the first man I ever loved, a passion that lasted until the first scene of "The Empire Strikes Back," when Han Solo ripped the scales from my 10-year-old eyes and introduced me to the appeal of dangerous men. To this day I recall my absolute horror discovering that, according to the infallible Seventeen magazine, Harrison Ford, the personification of all my preteen dreams, was older than my dad! Ew!
I was always a nerd, my nose constantly in a book. Science fiction purists may scoff that "Star Wars" is to real sci-fi what Velveeta is to cheese, but it was the "Star Wars" films that opened up the science fiction universe to me. I read the book adaptations of the films, and then whatever "Star Wars"-inspired literature I could find. I even read "Splinter in the Mind's Eye," the supposed "chapter" between "Star Wars" and "Empire" when Luke and Leia (ew!) kiss (ew!), but we were naive then. How could we foresee the Greek tragedy George Lucas had in store for us?
Upon exhausting these books, I moved on to more weighty sci-fi: Heinlein. P.K. Dick. Herbert. It's safe to say I would not have discovered any of them if "Star Wars" hadn't opened the door. I stumbled a bit, flirted with the Trekkie universe for a while, but my heart was ever with the force. The year "Return of the Jedi" was released I was living with my family in Sweden. I remember with crystal clarity seeing the preview for "Jedi" being played over a TV monitor in a restaurant in Denmark. We'd been living abroad for some time then, and I was experiencing one of those inevitable lows that come with dislocation, homesickness wrapped in teenage ennui. Hearing the familiar music ... seeing that preview ... suddenly I had place, a reminder of where I truly belonged ... in outer space ... with the Jedi.
I grew up. I saw the new films as they came out. I worked very hard to find redeeming value in them. Occasionally I succeeded. The germ was still there, the kernel of magic, but it kept being snuffed out by ponderous discussions of galactic politics. For a while, I did lose the force. But I gradually found it again, along with an embarrassing realization. Lucas is right, you know. Part of the reason I was so terribly passionate about the first set of films is that I saw them when I was a child. My parents, who took me to the movies at the time, liked them well enough, but 20 years later they were not marking opening day of "The Phantom Menace" on their calendar.
As a generation, I sometimes think we owe younger generations an apology. We can't seem to stop wrestling them for their childhood dreams. We dress up in costumes to go watch a film we loved when we were 8, buying up theaters full of tickets that should maybe go to people who actually are 8. Then we complain, from deep within our Wookie suits, that Lucas hasn't made the films "neat-o" enough for our 36-year-old selves -- as if anything could be neat-o enough for a grown adult in a Wookie suit.
I'm a librarian now and spend a lot of time in the world of books. It occurred to me today that when the hysteria of this last "Star Wars" dies down, many of the same adults avidly waiting for "Star Wars" will reach into their closet and grab a different costume. It will be time to go camp out for the latest installment of "Harry Potter," and time to compete with more children to be the first on the block to bring the book home. I find it telling that many of the promotional contests promoting the new Harry Potter book prominently feature age limits to enter ... You must actually be a child to ride this ride. Even more telling, I've heard adults complain about these age limits!
Maybe the end of the "Star Wars" saga will finally provide some of the closure this generation of Peter Pans needs to grow up. For the sake of Harry Potter fans under the age of 18, and future generations of dreaming children, I hope so.
-- Kati Irons
In 1977, the year before I quit drinking, I went to see the first "Star Wars" movie. It had been in the theaters for a month and the buzz finally got to me. Maybe it would be worth sitting for a couple hours in the dark without a drink.
It wasn't. I left at the end of the bar scene. It made me long for the company of actual drunks who, boring as they are, at least have the excuse of not being written that way.
-- Fred Wickham
Princess Leia, unlike other female characters in action flicks, did not stand around looking pretty and expect the dashing hero to come and save her. She stood right up to the ominous Darth Vader and gave him attitude! Sitting there in the dark as a 12-year-old girl raised thus far on whitewashed, cloyingly submissive Disney versions of ideal womanhood, all I could think was; When I grow up, I want to be like her! In "Empire," Han Solo had to get her out of a jam, but even as a child I understood this as a plot device to get them together. That was OK. Not "Jedi." Suddenly, there she was, scantily clad, chained and waiting for -- what else? -- someone to come and save her. Big letdown.
-- -- Penny Clifton
When did the force leave me? When did I leave the force? Was it the Ewoks? No, it had already happened before Han and Leia touched down on the forest moon of Endor.
At one time, I lived, breathed and ate all things "Star Wars." I lived and breathed all things "Empire" as well. Hell, I even waited through Bea Arthur croaking out a song-and-dance number in the space cantina just to see Han Solo scare a storm trooper into falling off a really fake-looking tree house in the "Star Wars Holiday Special" ("Episode 4.5: Life Day"). I wanted every cheap piece of plastic that Kenner Toys and George Lucas could possibly dream up.
I was fine with Yoda, even if he did sound suspiciously like Grover, but "Return of the Jedi" lost me. Let's face it, there are so many things provocatively referred to in the first two movies that are completely dropped by the third. Even at 13 years old, I was able to recognize "Jedi" as just plain lazy storytelling. Leia, Luke's sister?!? Give me a break! In "Empire," Yoda says that there will be another. He sets us up for something that Lucas never planned nor knew how to deliver. By the third movie, he just throws the Leia thing out there just to get it over with.
But there was more wrong with "Jedi" than just retroactive incest. Lucas jobbed out Boba Fett to a half-blind Han Solo with some kind of pool-cleaning pole! I collected four (or was it eight) proofs of purchase just to get the very first plastic action figure of Boba Fett, before "Empire" ever came out. I remembered the dreaded bounty hunter from that aforementioned "Holiday Special"! There was a big buildup to Fett and then he just accidentally flies into a big vaginal sand monster with teeth. Oh, the humanity of it!
By the time the Ewoks showed their little collectible furry faces, I was already beside myself with bone-crushing disappointment, and I've been disappointed ever since. The other day I watched the Vin Diesel epic "Chronicles of Riddick" on HBO. In it an advanced race of evil aliens still carry around battle-axes and swords on their spaceships like it's 1066 even though such weapons were mostly ceremonial by the time of the Civil War. The movie is full of stupid biblical-epic-in-space B.S. Halfway through it, I just wanted real science fiction again. I longed for "2001," "Forbidden Planet" or even "Blade Runner." Instead, most of the science fiction movies that Hollywood churns out these days have idiots wielding swords in them, and it is all the fault of "Star Wars."
-- Bob Calhoun
39 and counting
I am sure that I don't fit the typical mold of "Star Wars" fan. In fact, I never saw the original movie in the theater. I was only mildly interested to note that one year after it had opened, there were still long lines waiting for each showing in Seattle. But I was in my early 30s and the movie seemed to be for "kids." Then "Empire" came out and I saw it. Something inside me reacted to this film. I ended up seeing it 39 times in the theater, and that was before it was released on video and shown on TV. Naturally, I was embarrassed by my obsession and kept it a dark secret. Frequently, I would go home sick from work and see it at the matinee, in back-to-back showings. This mania spread to all things "Star Wars," and I ended up seeing the original movie and collecting unpublished versions of the script, etc.
I thought Episode III was a bit of a letdown, but it did wrap up the saga. When "The Phantom Menace" came out, many "Star Wars" fans felt they had been sucker-punched by George Lucas, who apparently sold out the film to the merchandising folks. Jar Jar Binks -- please! The Clones were a bit better if you can forgive Lucas' hideous attempt to tie in every gag and character.
However, I can feel the excitement mounting for this latest epic and I am really looking forward to seeing it -- who knows how many times.
-- -- Janet Evans Houser
Loud and clear
The only thing I recall about the first movie -- Part the Fourth -- was the excitement of a longtime friend of mine [about] a level of authenticity far beyond the duct-tape and cardboard control consoles of "Star Trek." That didn't seem to me to be enough reason to go see it, so I didn't. But years later, on a business trip, I wound up watching "Attack of the Clones" in a hotel room on an old Zenith. While the little old color TV somehow prevented the movie's technical innovations from coming across, the dialogue made it through loud and clear. I'm not sure "banal" is a strong enough word for the prattling nonsense the characters continually spewed about a princess, a senate and any other form of governing entity you can think of. But even that wasn't dumb enough to get me off the only question my mind was able to cling to: If you live in an age capable of transporting entire armies across light-years with no temporal or other side effects, what the f**k are you doing still fighting with swords?
-- Kerry Leimer
Don't blame Lucas
Do I feel let down by George Lucas, the force and the latest movies? Yes. But only because I had something to lose.
The "Star Wars" trilogy meant a lot to me growing up (I'm 34 now) and I can happily recall watching the movies, having tons of "Star Wars" toys, and creating worlds with my friends for the characters to play in. Looking back, I do feel somewhat sad for the young kids who see the new trilogy with all their talk of broken treaties, Hayden Christensen's god-awful performance, and the general lack of fun that was abounding in the earlier movies. Pure escapism is rare in movies now, and to me, the first trilogy was exploding with it.
But at the same time, I can't fault him too much. Sure the dialogue is wooden and the acting is blah, the special effects cluttering up the screen. At least it's his vision. I can appreciate his making the attempt to bring a story he cares about to the screen and giving up a large portion of his life to doing so.
In contrast, we have the rest of big-budget Hollywood, which simply rips off old TV shows or makes plotless computer-driven movies. As a movie fan who loves Hitchcock, Kurosawa and Wilder films, I save my wrath for Hollywood, for taking the most wonderful art form of the 20th century and turning into a conglomerate product that has no heart and only exists to make money. Just because Lucas made blockbuster movies a popular draw, you can't blame him for the state of today's films. There is no reason that Hollywood couldn't have used all the amazing special-effects improvements he is responsible for to make good films.
In a few years, I'm sure a buddy comedy will come out starring Ashton Kutchner and Jimmy Fallon (with Paris Hilton as the love interest), and Hollywood will simply implode due to producing a project of that heartless stupidity. And quite frankly, I'm not sure I'll care anymore.
-- Corey Szadis
The gates closed
I was 11 years old when "Star Wars" first came out, and I fell in love instantly and was marked for all time. I never dressed like Princess Leia and I never camped in line. But for years I measured any book, any movie, against "Star Wars" ( and later, "The Lord of the Rings"). Did it have as much action, drama, humor, romance, spectacle? If not, then forget it.
If that marks me as a hopeless geek, so be it. My generation was truly blessed to have such a powerful mythic experience on the cusp of our adolescence.
So, I was appalled by "Return of the Jedi" and its fuzzy merchandising vehicles, the Ewoks. And needless to say, "The Phantom Menace" was one of the signal disappointments of my life. At the end of the first act the thought surfaced in my mind, "Hey, this movie isn't very good." And it only went downhill from there.
"Attack of the Clones" was better but still not up to snuff. What had happened? Why had the gates of epic closed? Clearly, Lucas had gone to the dark side, become drunk with power, financing these movies himself and accepting critical feedback from no one.
So when I hear reviewers of "Sith" say it "isn't terrible," I just get so angry. Damn you people, you critics, damn you for getting my hopes up! The only way to extract any enjoyment from that film is to go in expecting nothing.
Ah, well. The first two movies will live forever. That's what DVDs are for. I still watch them occasionally. "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." The crude matter of the prequels will burn away, but the true vision will remain. May the force be with us always.
-- Kirsten Corby
This is our religion
I'm a nerd. I don't own a set of storm trooper armor and I don't attend "Star Wars" conventions, at least not regularly. Nonetheless, I'm still a nerd. I do have a few "Star Wars" novels and I've played more than my fair share of "Star Wars" computer and card games. Yeah, nerd. You see, during times like this the non-nerds join up and have a hardy-har-har at the expense of the nerd. "Why do nerds take these stupid 'Star Wars' movies so seriously?" everyone blogs and jokes.
Why? This is our religion. No, no, no. I'm not one of those nerds who debate whether the force exists or the pseudo-mysticism of the "Star Wars" mythos applies in everyday life. Those nerds suck, bless their pocket-protected hearts, hardy-har-har. I'm speaking of the social aspects of religion: the community and the brotherhood of it all. We get to come together and enjoy the sweeping, broad-handed strokes of the Lucas brush, er, mallet. Yes, as Ms. Zacharek (honey, leave the snark for Heather) dismissively concluded, Lucas isn't the world's greatest wordsmith, but he achieves something that doesn't need nuance or subtlety. The stories he tells have been told by humanity for ages. Is the fiction imitating life, or is life imitating fiction?
It's that blur between the two worlds that excites nerds like me. We dream of wielding our light sabers and piloting a starship through an asteroid field. Thus we meet other nerds in our "church" (movie theaters and convention halls) so we can find communion and parlay our geek-speak of alien words like Twi'lek, IG-88 and Darth Xendor, not unlike such alien words as Leviticus, Canaan and Tetragrammaton. Christianity even has collectible action figures now. Don't open the boxes though; doing so completely ruins their value!
In the movie theater our "sin," our "nerdiness," is absolved. So nerds (and even the most skeptical follower) will flock to the movie theaters over the next few weeks and for two and a half hours pilot those starships and battle droid armies and wonder at Natalie Portman's lovely ... wigs before shuffling back to face jar-jarring judgment by our "cooler" peers. But for that brief moment we'll be in fellowship. By the digital light of "Star Wars," bathed in the holy words of Lucas, let's all be nerds, hardy-har-har.
-- Neil James
What, sixteen, seventeen years old? Me, my friend, a couple of doobers in the car on the way to the theater. Seats pretty close up front. And then that planet. Wow!
And then that space ship! Awesome!
And THEN the SPACE CRUISER! Whoa!
I saw the first three, of course. And then some years later, I saw the original "Star Wars" on television. And you know what? A breakthrough in special effects, but one of the worst movies ever made. As Harrison Ford reportedly said, "George, you can write this shit. You just can't say it."
-- David Dunne
Tragic hero, my ass
The original 1977 "Star Wars" was the defining moment of my sixth-grade year, when I fell madly in love with Luke Skywalker. Not with Mark Hamill the actor, but with Luke in his white leggings and messy hair who understood the Jawas on Tatooine. I loved the otherness of the places, the wisecracks between the three leads, the kindly Obi-Wan, and Luke's mysterious destiny. And Luke drove a landspeeder. How cool is that?
My interest waned with the second two movies, as junior high and then high school progressed. By the time the Ewoks and their teddy-bears picnic of an ending traipsed across the screen, I didn't care anymore.
I had moved on, to Le Guin, Tolkein, McKillip, and many other science fiction and fantasy writers who could construct a believable, consistent world populated with characters I cared about. "Star Wars" was fun but lacked the punch of better writers.
When the two most recent movies came out, I went. And they were truly terrible. I don't think I've ever before come out of a movie theater wanting not only my money back, but also my afternoon back. They were worse than "Waterworld," my personal measuring stick for bad science fiction. I was angry at George Lucas for all the things those movies should have been and weren't. Special effects do not make a story. I knew I was supposed to care about Hayden Christensen's character in whatever the last one was called, but honestly! I wanted to smack him by the end of it and send him to his room. Take his cellphone away. Some other teenage punishment for truly reprehensible behavior from a petulant boy. Tragic hero, my ass. I hated him by the end of the film.
I hope Christensen's Anakin somehow manages to redeem himself, and that I am able to feel at least a shred of sadness as he turns into Vader. I hope after all this time that Lucas can make me care.
-- Kristina Ricks
It was the Ewoks. They ruined it for me. Before the Ewoks, the "Star Wars" universe was a real place that I would populate with my own stories (I never read any of the "Star Wars" books, except for "Splinter of the Mind's Eye," a book more memorable to me for its title than content). I decided that Luke would fail in his quest and Leia would save the universe, and I would spin out stories of how it would all work out and how cool the future of a place with a past such as "Star Wars" would be.
And then I saw the Ewoks, and realized that it was all just a stupid movie and the best thing about it was looking at Harrison Ford for a couple of hours.
I suffered through the last two movies, and will go see "Revenge of the Sith" on Thursday, but I'm not expecting anything. But still, I couldn't *not* go.
-- Laura La Gassa