Dreading Star Wars
The other weekend, my daughter and I headed up to see Everest at the BFI IMAX at Waterloo (my review is here). Among the trailers was the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens spot. While I was watching it, on a massive screen in 3D that still cannot cope with rapid movement, it dawned on me that the trailer has a shot that sums up my feeling on that galaxy far, far away. It is this one:
It is a stunning shot. A speeder races across the horizon, a ditched X-Wing and then the Star Destroyer, slowly decaying into the sand. As I see this for the umpteenth time, it suddenly hit me that those crashed spacecraft rather aptly sum up my feelings for this series. Once glorious and majestic, now rotting and sinking into the sands of my youth. This could be completely intentional on the part of the film-makers and if so, I'm very impressed by it. You see, as with everyone my age, Star Wars defined my childhood. When I played, I played with Star Wars toys. My room was submerged in action figures, X-Wings, AT-ST's and speeder bikes. All worth a fortune now, but no price can go on the years of enjoyment they gave me and my friends, recreating scenes from the film and just seeing what would happen when a Stormtrooper was taped to a fire-cracker. In case you're wondering, the fire-cracker wins. In my 1980's self's mind, the only thing cooler than an X-Wing was a Spitfire. Then the Special Editions were released. Interesting and great to see on the big screen, but Greedo shoots first... Should have seen the writing on the cantina wall. The digital clean up was needed, removing the matte lines and things like that. But George, we would have still paid to go see them, just as we remembered, only cleaner and brighter. Then, in 1999, I got to see The Phantom Menace before any of my friends in England. It was going to be amazing.
As a family, we had gone back to Calgary for my Aunt and Uncle's 25th Wedding Anniversary. But for me, there was something that needed to be done upon arrival, get to the movies and see Episode One. My cousins tried to talk me out of it. My friends tried to talk me out of it. The Matrix had just opened, "go see that" they all said. No, the man who created the universe that I had spent my childhood in, either far, far away, or with a bit of rope standing in for a bull whip strung through my belt loop, had returned and I was going to see it. My Dad and Brother came along, I literally ran up to the kiosk and slapped the cash down, "Three for The Phantom Menace!" I cheered. The kid behind the counter looked down upon me with a sage look Alec Guinness would have been proud of and said "You've not seen it yet?" "No, I've just flown home from England and this is the first thing I need to do!" The look turned from sage to actual sadness, "Don't do it to yourself, go see The Matrix." Looking back, it was one of the kindest bits of advice I've ever ignored. A couple hours later, it ended and before the lights came up I stalked up the aisle. My father still says it is the most disappointed and upset he's seen me and he helped me through my divorce. While that probably says more about me than I would like, it was a pivotal moment in my life. Seeing a huge part of your childhood dissolve slowly amidst an argument about taxes and remarkable racial slurs.
I would go see it again in the UK, as I would see Clones and Revenge at midnight screenings on opening day, hoping, pleading through The Force with George to put it right. But by then, I had seen Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress and I realised the Japanese master had made Star Wars in the 50's and done it better (HERE is a film geeks shot comparison of the two film, its rather good). They do get better as they go along, but now, a whole generation does not see Han as I saw him. They do not see Obi-Wan as the wise guide, he is now a manipulative politician, even if he is fighting the good fight. Vader will never have that affect on the young, as he did on me as his troops jump out of his way in fear you can feel through their helmets at the beginning of Star Wars. They see a kid in a Pod Race and know he isn't evil, really. It is just a damn shame.
Now, we are a few months out from J.J. Abrams picking up the torch dropped by George and we'll see if he can run with it. On the surface, the early signs looks good. The visuals in the trailers are superb, the X-Wings flying low over that lake was a moment of joy, but then, I remember a Tank coming slowly over a green hill that did the same to me when I saw the trailer at the Odeon Leicester Square when Lucasfilm and Fox premièred it. Abrams is a solid director, but in my mind, has fumbled the ball too often. His Mission: Impossible movies run out of steam and are over long. Super 8 takes a great idea, sprints off and forgets which way to go. Star Trek suffers in the same way but has the charisma and chemistry of the lead cast to keep it going. Into Darkness is a mess, miss using that great cast, then taking one of the great screen villains and making him one dimensional and, far worse, rather dull. I'm rather glad Ricardo Montalban never lived to see it. Yet, here we stand again. Great cast, stunning looking visuals and some hope. But why should I have anything other than nostalgia to excite me? The trailer elicits the memories of those lost days, pretending to be Luke, doing my Vader voice and trying to lift the family Honda from the gravel drive because maybe, just maybe, the force was strong with me. Pre midi-chlorian days you see... I suppose everything these days is based on our nostalgia bringing out our wallets, see Den of Geek's reboot list for proof of that, it currently stands at 93. Given all the above, The Force Awakens arrives soon and I'm sure I will go and see it on the biggest 2D screen I can. It could be great, but given its competition this movie season (The Martian, The Revenant, Spectre, Macbeth, The Walk, Suffragette, In The Heart Of The Sea and Trumbo to name but eight ) either side of it, it feels more of an event than anything more substantial, the desert to the main meal. Maybe I'm just growing up at last. But, I do miss the joy that Star Wars gave me, the thrill of seeing the Pirate come to the rescue, of a normal-ish kid saving the day and of a galaxy of infinite stories. Not all stories are great, but some are good. I am hoping for good, then I'll come home and watch The Hidden Fortress again. Kurosawa left his masterpieces alone and showed that he had the good sense to just let other people wreck them.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released on 18th December 2015