Monday, January 3, 2011

A Star Wars Fan's Lament

Here's the thing: it kind of sucks to be a Star Wars fan.  

This idea did not really dawn on me until recently, after growing up a bit and learning to look at the things I've loved since childhood a little more objectively.  And it's not entirely true - "sucks" is perhaps too strong and absolute a word to describe exactly what it's like to be a fan of George Lucas' sprawling saga.

No, the associated malaise is better described as the general angst derived from the fact that these movies can be SO GOOD and also SO BAD.  They giveth, and they taketh away. 

I'll be honest, most of the "taking away" has stemmed from the prequels.  And let me get this out of the way - they're not all bad.  In fact, I was one of those people who got SO. EXCITED. about the prequels and would defend their honor when critics dressed them down, right out of the theaters.

But I've come to learn that every diehard Star Wars fan has to confront the sad realization that the prequels are just... upsettingThe story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader should be the most fascinating, compelling, amazing story, and yet, the prequels tell the underwhelming story of a whiny mama's boy who turns evil because he was weak and things just weren't going his way. 

There are a slew of problems with Episodes I, II, and III, many of which I have of course discussed endlessly with my similarly-minded friends (largely because they're the only ones who'll listen.)  For instance: why are there so many new characters, when we already care so much about the pre-existing ones?  Lucas cluttered up the prequels with useless new characters like Mace Windu and Qui-Gon Jinn and Jar Jar Binks and Darth Maul and Darth Sidious and Jango Fett and General Grievous and it was practically pointless.  Did any of those characters matter?  Not so much.  But did we get anything substantive about Owen and Beru Lars, or Grand Moff Tarkin, or Bail Organa, who were connected to characters we actually cared about?  Or anything meaningful about the Clone Wars, which was even name-dropped in A New Hope?  Of course not.

It's so frustrating that this trilogy spawned a whole expanded universe where the most background of background characters have their own names, species, languages, home planets, and back stories, YET the most basic connections to real characters with interesting conflicts were completely ignored.  Why did Anakin and Padme fall in love?  Beats me.  They just did, because the story required them to.  How uninteresting.  Why did Obi-Wan decide to train Anakin?  Oh, just because his dead master wanted him to.  Oh, okay.  What a compelling reason.  Why did Anakin kill all those little Jedi?  I'm still baffled about that.

The prequels' representation of the Jedi is just baffling on the whole, frankly.  The OT gives us the impression that the Jedi are supposed to think with their heads, not their hearts, which is great and Enlightened and all, but remember when Yoda and Obi-Wan told Luke NOT to save his friends just because it wasn't really in his best interest as a budding Jedi?  That's some cold shit right there, and honestly makes the Jedi a little off-putting.  So of course, the Jedi were ALL like that in the prequels, generally making them rather unlikeable and wooden.  Do you know how hard it is to care about unfeeling characters?  And yet even with Anakin being the one to break this rule, he still turned out boring and unsympathetic.  Why on Earth wasn't it decided that the Jedi used to be emotional, social beings in the prequels, but because Anakin turned out like such a dud/evil, they all died off and Yoda went back on what it originally meant to be a Jedi?  Now, that would be interesting.  Sigh.

All of this basically amounts to the fact that while George Lucas may have fantastic ideas, he often makes terrible creative decisions.  The man who thought up the lightsaber also invented "midi-chlorians."  The mind who created Han Solo also spawned "Little Ani."  The brains behind the Force also bastardized its original meaning and turned the Jedi into annoyingly pedantic and emotionally isolated monks.  It's enough to make one want to put his or her fist through a wall.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the angst that comes along with being a Star Wars fan.  There is the magic of C-3PO and R2-D2, and then there's Jar Jar Binks.  There's Princess Leia, who kicks ass straight through her three films, and then there's Padme Amidala, who loses luster in hers and just becomes a casualty of Anakin's storyline.  There's the peaceably powerful puppet Yoda, and then there's the lightsaber-wielding, bouncing-of-the-walls CGI Yoda. We, as fans, have to negotiate the fact that there is so much good and yet so much bad, all wrapped up in one shiny far-off universe.

Yesterday, three diehard devotees (me included) sat down and forced the original trilogy on someone who had never seen them before.  (He had, unfortunately, been exposed to the prequels.)  The following exchange happened, brought on by a rather large continuity error between the prequels and the OT:

Q: "But didn't they watch their own movies before they made the prequels?"
A: "Soon, you will know what it feels like to be a Star Wars fan."

And that's what it feels like: bewilderment at such a grand misinterpretation of what would expand on and honor the original stories, bitterness for the epic disappointment that tastes a little too much like betrayal, and the tiniest hint of foolishness for having such high hopes in the first place.  Star Wars fans are obsessively devoted, so this letdown is awfully damaging.  George Lucas gaveth, and tooketh away.

But at the end of the day, it's still nice to pop in the theatrical release DVDs and watch the twin sunsets, and the first glimpse of the lightsaber, and the Millennium Falcon maneuvering through the Asteroid Field and know that some things can't be ruined.  Some things were taken away, but also a lot of things were given, and it's important to focus on that.  Because  the true tragedy of a Star Wars fan is that through all this bitter angst, there always lies the tiniest bit of optimism.  We fell in love with these stories for a reason, and so we'll always keep going back.


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  2. This really is the core of modern fandom. I laugh when people get confused about "anti-fans", like people who hate Twilight but like talking about it. The Twilight anti-fans are peanuts compared to STAR WARS fans. Of course Lindelof's bafflement at fans' reactions to various parts of LOST and the finale captures this in a nutshell--it REALLY IS possible to consider yourself a fan of something and yet hate aspects of it. If anything this indicates commitment to the work. Nothing is perfect (not even Firefly) and to quibble about themes, character arcs, and so forth is to be invested in the work.

    Lucas and the franchise will keep getting my money, because you're right: there is still (an old) hope. I'll go see the Trilogy when it's re-released in 3D, not because I like 3-D, but because I never got to see them in theatre the first or second time around, and I love them whole-heartedly enough to NEED to see them in theatre. I was excited for all three of the Prequels, partly because I was a dumb teenager, but mostly because hope is what it means to be a fan and there was always the chance that they'd turn out to be great.

    I just wish Lucas knew exactly what his fans are. It really feels like he's completely divorced from the concept of STAR WARS as anything but a proven money-maker.


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