Saying Goodbye to Star Wars
There is a scene in the 2006 film Rocky Balboa that says it all. Sylvester Stallone, playing the titular character, is in the meat locker talking to his brother-in-law Paulie. Rocky wants to get back into the ring after not having fought in ages. Paulie wants to know why. Rocky replies that there is stuff in the basement, and there is a beast that's still inside him.
As a longtime Star Wars fan, I felt the exact same way for years. The original trilogy came to a final close with a big party in the Ewok village on Endor. Han Solo was there. Chewbacca was there. The rebel fighters were there, all basking in their huge victory, having soundly defeated the evil empire. Princess Leia sat there, all smiles with braids in her hair. Lando pantomimed to Chewbacca how his ship shot of the Death Star in a heroic moment. Luke Skywalker, who was able to turn his father Darth Vader back to the light side of "The Force" stood and watched as the ghosts of his two mentors, Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, stood side by side with the ghost of Anakin Skywalker, unmasked and wearing Jedi robes. The film ended on a group shot of all the heroes surrounded by Ewoks. The ending theme started up, and that was it. As a child I accepted this as the ending to a really great trilogy of science-fantasy films. The end. Everyone go home and move on.
Of course, I was three years old when Return of the Jedi released. I didn't watch any of the Star Wars films until I was maybe six or seven. I remember seeing Star Wars action figures in the toy stores, but I never had any because my ultra religious parents wouldn't allow it. My father claimed that the movies were a slight against God, because of the whole "Force" dynamic. He eventually lightened up and admitted that they were just movies. By this time there were no more action figures, since the 85 Power of the Force line had ended, and Kenner wasn't making any more. My first exposure to the franchise came from the after school day care center I attended. The old ladies that ran the place would pick us up from school, and we'd walk to the small building, and then we'd watch movies until our parents came to pick us up. A lot of the movies were sci-fi related, a lot of Godzilla and Star Trek. When they would put on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, we didn't want to leave.
After 1985/1986 there was really nothing Star Wars related coming out for the mainstream. Sure, the comic book series was still going on, and the EU books kept the series going for those die hards that really needed to find out what happened after Return of the Jedi. The Droids series of comic books, cartoons, and action figures were all that was left of this thing I fell in love with. Overall, with no new movies coming out, interest in the franchise simply faded away. I was still a happy child, having imaginary lightsaber fights in my head, and dreaming of one day owning a yellow lightsaber, for some reason. Eventually, other obsessions began to take over my life, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Marvel comics.
The mid-90s came about and I still didn't care enough to even think about Star Wars again. Then, the rumors started about a possible new Star Wars movie. I became a bit tech savvy at this point, and I wanted to read beyond what was fed to me in the magazines. I began researching on the Internet and found out the new set of movies were going to be prequels. Okay, that sounds interesting. Then, the 1995 Star Wars box set came out and something in me was reawakened. Previously, my family and I had found a 1981 CBS copy of the orginal film at the flea market, and that, along with the other two films on HBO recorded VHS tapes, filled out our copy of the trilogy. This box set was amazing, and each tape contained a sit-down interview of George Lucas conducted by Leonard Maltin. I learned so much about this little niche set of movies from this interview. This release was what got the beast stirring in me again.
Shadows of the Empire came around, and the Lucas camp treated it like a movie release, with all sorts of multimedia set to release around it. However, there was no movie, just a book, a comic book, and a video game that I really enjoyed. Still, in my head this was all something to satisfy a very small corner of fandom for the series. The true scope of Star Wars as a fandom didn't dawn on me until 1997, when the special editions were released in theaters. As I sat in my seat, inside a packed house, I looked over to my right as the familiar Star Wars crawl began.The guy sitting next to me had that look in his eye, that look of wonder and amazement. This was the same look I had the first time I saw this film. That was the first time I realized that Star Wars wasn't a cult thing that only I and like 12 other people liked, it had a huge following, filled with people who experienced these movies as kids and were now getting to re-live it all on the big screen.
Then, The Phantom Menace happened, and it almost killed my love for Star Wars. Much like Star Wars fans of old, people thought it would be nostalgic to camp out for the film. I remember driving by one of the theaters and seeing that rows and rows of tents had completely taken over the parking lot. Because online ticketing was already a thing, this was completely unnecessary. That's what I said when my friends and I skipped school on May 19, 1999 to see the film. It didn't matter as far as school was concerned. School would be over in five days, anyway. Our fates were already sealed. When the movie was over no one said a word. Even on the drive back to my friend's house we didn't speak. It wasn't until we got there and sat down in the living room that one of my friends very loudly asked, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!!" Also, the blitzkrieg of promotional merchandise that came out for the movie made me wish we could have gone back to the days where we got nothing at all.
The beast grew. It grew out of a desire to see something better.
2002's Attack of the Clones came out and I didn't even bother watching it. I was too busy goofing around on the Internet to even have a desire to see the movie, mostly because of how bad TPM was. My friends and I, who by this point were flag planting Internet denizens, reveled in the fake trailers that came out, like this one.I decided to sit it out only because Jar Jar Binx was going to be in it, and I was totally boycotting him. My father took my younger brother to see Attack of the Clones, and neither of them really liked it. I eventually saw it. I was completely indifferent to the film. It did nothing for me, yet, I didn't exactly hate it.
I saw a trailer for Revenge of the Sith and I decided to see it, only because it meant the return of Darth Vader and the end to this ridiculous prequel saga. Early reviews were saying that it was really good, and it had some intense fight sequences. My friend and I drove over to another friend's house where we sat around and waited for him to get ready. He had in-box TPM action figures and dolls on his walls, and a VHS copy on his TV. This threw me for a loop because while he hated the movie, his kids really liked it. It was just then that I realized that these kids will grow up one day and praise these prequels the way we do about the original trilogy. Believe it or not, I was right. I recently read a Twitter thread going on about how the prequels were actually better than the original films.
We picked up another friend, and while we waited for him, we watched an episode of the Clone Wars cartoon. I'm not into anime, therefor I missed the boat on this. From what I saw it was really well done. We spent an hour in line waiting for the doors of the theater to open. People told tales in line, mostly sharing their experiences with Star Wars. I even heard talk that a local university was trying to build an actual working lightsaber. The doors opened and we went in.
Everyone was right, this movie was action packed. It was slow and talky like TPM, and wasn't a cheesy Star Wars love story like Attack of the Clones. It had a lot of intense scenes, space battles, and lightsaber duels. The best moment, however, was when Anakin Skywalker was being worked on and given his new metal body. When the mask came down over his face, sealed and locked itself, and we got the first ever instance of the Darth Vader breathing, I was sitting in my chair, and I was so filled with joy and amazement. It was like when I sat in my seat in 97 and looked over at the guy next to me. This time, I was that guy. Then, Darth Vader went "Nooooooooooo!!" and I went right back to hating George Lucas. The final scenes were great, with Senator Organa boarding his ship, and telling Captain Antilles to wipe C-3P0's memory, closing a plot hole created by TPM. Obi-Wan delivering baby Luke to Owen and Beru on Tattooine was also a beautiful moment. Aside from the obvious stupid, I really liked Revenge of the Sith. I liked it so much that I went out and bought the DVD at midnight on its release day.
That released the floodgates of Star Wars branded merchandise. There were even movies related to Star Wars, including Fanboys, and The People Vs. George Lucas. There were also a myriad of web series, like Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager, and a whole bunch of podcasts. For this era, being a Star Wars fan was nothing to be shy about anymore. You could finally come out of your basement and admit you liked Star Wars. That was really cool.
I also really liked the video games that came out of this newfound love for Star Wars. While a lot of the older games were stale and dumb (Jedi Power Battles, and Masters of Teräs Käsi, I'm looking at you), there were a lot of good ones. Biohazard struck gold with its Knights of the Old Republic series, and a lot of people really enjoyed the old MMO Star Wars Galaxies. For the Biohazard series, they wanted to make these games so far into the past that it wouldn't disrupt the already set timeline. Lucasarts completely botched this when they made the canonical Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. In the end, Starkiller was not only responsible for the creation of the Rebellion, but he also made Darth Vader, the most feared ruler in the universe, look like a complete chump.
The beast grew again, because there was just a flood of Star Wars things coming out.
The Star Wars Imagination tour was really great. It was where I learned a whole lot more about the Star Wars universe, through the tactile things they had on display, and also the books in the gift shop, including a complete guide to the expanded universe. This was heaven!
Disney aquired Lucasfilm in 2012. They promised a new trilogy and non-linear Star Wars films in the next coming years. Great. Terrific. I was excited at first, mostly because of the prospect of finally getting a sequel to Return of the Jedi. But because Disney paid 3 billion dollars for Lucasfilm, it would only make sense for them to start churning out Star Wars movie after Star Wars movie. That was the part I didn't like. I mean, it was great, a new generation of kids would fall in love and be enamored with the same franchise I did. But that also meant that the original films would just keep getting pushed further and further back until they are completely obscure in the minds of its fans.
It's sort of like the James Bond franchise in that regard. Unless you're a die hard Bond fan, you're not going to remember or even watch the classic Connery films. Your point of reference for Bond probably starts with the horrible Brosnan movies, and then you easily slide into the works of Daniel Craig, and whoever takes up the mantle of Bond next.
The Force Awakens was released, and it was a servicable sequel, although it came off as more of a rebooting of a franchise, with a few old characters winking at the camera... although not as horrible or obvious as the cameos in the Ghostbusters reboot. I like Rey. I like Poe. I like Finn. I like these new people. However, I was there for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia. I was there for their stories. With this film the beast was quelled a little bit, but I still wanted more.
What I feared started to happen, Disney made a standalone Star Wars film. Thankfully, Rogue One ended up being one of the most beautiful films I'd seen in 2016. At its core it was a war movie that just happened to take place in the Star Wars universe. I really liked how it finally closed a major plothole left open by the original film. Why did the Empire make a weapon with such an obvious flaw? Well, the events in Rogue One answered that question soundly. Disney struck gold with this movie, as it saw Bail Organa before he ultimately met his fate on Alderan. Also, we saw some weird movie magic with Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher. After seeing this movie, I started to wonder if living in a world where we got a Star Wars movie every year would really be a bad thing? After all, they make a Marvel movie every year, sometimes two a year.
As far as Marvel is concerned though, Disney has decades upon decades of source material to draw from. Star Wars has three movies, three prequels, and a yet unfinished story. They can't possibly keep pulling things out of a hat to draw from, unless they want to open up the Legends vault and go fishing for stories that way. Otherwise, if they just start drawing on events from the films they're going to get bored and stale fairly quickly. This is the case with the new movie Solo. I'm a huge proponent of leaving some things to the imagination. In this case, these things include the Kessel Run, and that thing Han pulled that Lando mentioned in The Empire Strikes Back. I guarantee you we're going to see both things in the new Han Solo movie.
One of the only stories I would accept is a Boba Fett movie where he makes it out of the Sarlac Pit and goes and has his own adventures. This would be a brand new story featuring Boba on his own. The possibilities are endless with this one. I also wouldn't be mad if we saw a Grand Admiral Thrawn movie. Maybe we see some of his adventures in the Unknown Regions. I know he's part of the Star Wars Rebels show, which is canon, so he still exists in the universe. I just want one time to see this great blue character on film.
After being inundated with Star Wars things these past few years I can honestly say that I'm tired. The marketing has worn me down, since we see Star Wars almost everywhere now. You can't escape it. It has turned something with a cult following into a massive merchandising juggernaut. That's not what George Lucas envisioned. As a full grown adult who is fed up with Star Wars stuff, I can relate to his wanting to keep his franchise close all these years. It used to be when I'd see someone with a cool Star Wars related tattoo, like the emblem on the Slave 1, I'd think it was cool, and something only true fans understood. I once went to dinner, and the hostess was a nerdy gal with the Empire logo on a necklace. That was really awesome. I would walk around with a Star Wars shirt and one or two people would point it out and give me a thumbs up.
I'm not saying the franchise is mine, all mine... I'm saying they took something that nerds and geeks would get make fun of over, and made it the most mainstream thing it could possibly be. I'm no elitist. I just wish Disney wasn't as in your face with it as they are now. I fear it's all too late to start dialing it back. I'm not asking them to. I just wish things hadn't gotten to this point.
As for my thoughts on The Last Jedi, I thought it was great. Now that it's just about closed the book on the Skywalker sagas, I think I've finally been able to tame the beast. I don't hunger for Star Wars anymore. When I left the theater on the evening of me watching the film, I had a feeling of both sorrow and satisfaction. Of course, I'll eventually go see the last film in this trilogy, but I just won't have the same hunger and yearning for it as I did all these other movies. I won't watch Monday Night Football to see the trailer, nor will I even bother to go out of my way to watch a trailer. What sealed it for me? The child at the end of the movie who force pushes a broom to himself, and looks up at the heavens, and reveals he is wearing the Resistance ring that Rose gave him. All it told me was that this franchise is just going to churn out more and more movies. I think I'm done.
That leads me into another reason I want out altogether. It seems recently that fans of the franchise have splintered off into subgroups. There is a group that hates this aspect of the new movies, and other sets that hate other aspects. Then there is the alt-right approach, which says "SJWs" ruined Star Wars with diversity and inclusivness. I don't understand how these people can even be Star Wars fans, since the core theme of the movies is a small rebel force fighting an evil empire that is facist, and homogenized with humans only. Do they root for the empire in these films?
Mostly, I think a lot of angry fans now are super critical of the direction of the story because apparently, these sequels don't play out the way they imagined them in their head. Nowadays, too many fans gripe and complain because things don't go the way they want them to. The Mass Effect 3 controvery is a prime example of this kind of whining that has taken over fandoms.My criticism comes from there being too much Star Wars, and the need to dial it back. It isn't story based at all. I loved the story and the movie. But it's enough to satisfy my hunger, so much so that I don't think I need to go back for more.
My sentiments on Star Wars and the hunger that lied within for so many years mirror the post-fight scene in Rocky Balboa. After his match with Mason Dixon. He goes over to his corner and his hapless brother-in-law. Completely out of breath, the aging boxing legend utters the words that still resonate with me today. With a bit of a heavy hard I am letting go, and bidding adieu to a franchise I once loved so much I was willing to cut class to see. "The beast is gone now. The beast is out."