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October 26, 2015

So How Good is Star Wars, Really?

So my brother came in one night and announced that he ordered us tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because of course he did.

I mean, I guess I can’t blame him (too much) for it.  Pre-order culture has been a big part of the gaming world for ages -- for good or ill, and mostly ill at this stage -- but there are just some instances where it’s unavoidable.  Call it a hunch, but I suspect that The Force Awakens will qualify as a global event powerful enough to temporarily stop all the wars and debates in the world, not just some movie to see on a whim one weekend.  If you exist, you’re probably going to see it -- because even if you aren’t interested, friends and family probably are.  Or their friends and family are, or their friends and family are.  It’s an unavoidable chain, a sphere of influence half-built on peer pressure that demands you go see lightsabers and X-Wings and droids that can’t possibly have any practical use.

Well.  Aren’t I just laying all the cards on the table?

I have to be honest.  I’m feeling really apathetic towards this movie -- like I can’t even be bothered to care.  I haven’t been reading anything about it unless articles get flung in my face.  I haven’t poured over every trailer.  I don’t even know what the movie’s about.  There’s a lady named Rey (no relation to Rey Mysterio, presumably) and a black guy named…Finn, I think, and a ball droid that everybody wants toys of.  And Han and Chewie and Leia and probably Luke are back.  And I have a lot of questions about the logic behind the movie (am I the only one who cringed when Miss Lady answered "I'm no one"?  Also, did nobody keep records about what happened in the previous movies so that the Force, the Empire, and everything weren't just the stuff of legends?).  And I can’t feel a shred of excitement; I’m de-hyped from the get-go, and I fear the worst.

Blame Crimson Peak for souring me on the movie.  The previews threw out a teaser/trailer thing for The Force Awakens, and that was when the de-hype began in earnest.  The level of nostalgia-baiting in that instance reached critical mass, to the point where there wasn’t a single relevant detail vis a vis the story, characterization, or themes I could latch onto.  It just felt like a reminder of the past -- of movies I’d already seen with a fresh coat of CG paint.  I know that seeing Han and Chewie again made everyone get super-excited, but I wasn’t one of them.  Their appearance was like someone tossing a sponge at my head; I’d register it, but it wouldn’t have much of an impact.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  I’m not declaring outright that The Force Awakens is destined to suck.  It’s easy to get cynical about the circumstances in light of the depressing Jurassic World; if we assume the worst, then the latest Star Wars movie is banking on nostalgia, and brand recognition, and marketing might, and a bunch of million-dollar visuals.  It remains to be seen if the final product is substantive (or even good), and that’s not a bad perspective to have.  The movie needs to stand on its own merits, and show us why it has a right to exist.  In my eyes, Jurassic World didn’t do that.  Maybe TFA will.

But you know what?  I think this is one of those instances where the problem is actually with me, not with some movie (or everyone else).  As shocking as it may be for a nerd of my caliber, I’ve never really been that into Star Wars.  I don’t hate it or anything, and back when I had a brain the size of a tater tot I said Attack of the Clones was my favorite movie ever.  But even that didn’t last.  The thing about me and Star Wars is that even if it’s a seminal sci-fi/fantasy/adventure/action/howling bear-man franchise, it’s never really been a formative part of me, my preferences, and especially my childhood.  Even now, I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen A New Hope about twice in my life -- and I may have actually seen The Empire Strikes Back before then.  Thank God cultural osmosis let me play catch-up quickly.

If it sounds like I’m underestimating the sheer impact of the Star Wars movies -- and every single individual product tied to the franchise -- then it’s because I am.  I know it’s important, and I know it’s something that both adheres to and codifies Joseph Campbell’s discussions on the monomyth and the hero’s journey (to the point where Hollywood’s been copying it furiously for ages…in the absence of originality, good ideas, or talent, arguably).  I recognize the influence the franchise has had, and I respect it.  Sure, there have been some misfires -- I’ve seen the Red Letter Media videos, so I’m not a complete failure -- but it’s not like I bear any ill will towards the products of George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, their respective crews, or any element of the franchise, past, present, or future.  I just want good stories.  That’s all.

But I’m not intimate enough with the Star Wars franchise to know if, as a whole, it’s good.  I mean sure, it’s probably fine overall; I’d imagine that it’s not fine art or anything like that, but I’d bet that it’s at least entertaining.  Space battles, laser sword fights, rogues and rebels, mystic powers -- there’s a lot to love, for sure.  And like the title implies, plenty of the action takes place in space, which earns some major brownie points.  Because, as you know, SPACE IS AWESOME.

I’ll go ahead and assume that there’s some hidden depth to the movies as well.  Granted my understanding is that Star Wars helped establish the big blockbuster in movies (though Jaws played a hand in that as well, I think), but in the same sense that there’s something to take away from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I’d wager that anyone who actually remembers what’s in the movies walked away with some message derived, or ideas taken to heart.  If so, then good on the movies for allowing it.

Good versus evil.  Departures from home.  Loyalty to friends.  The role of tradition.  The sense of duty.  The ties to family.  I’d bet that there are even more out there, with several bookshelves’ worth of essays and chapters written up explaining every detail, concept, and philosophy that can be pulled from Star Wars.  Even if there isn’t, there’s something even better out there: it’s the fact that the tools are there to create a massive, awe-inspiring universe.  Novels and games and more let anyone with a passing interest mine the canon for opportunities, while the movies themselves can jump back to the past or push forward in the future.  I hope I don’t need to explain how amazing that potential is.

I’m worried about The Force Awakens.  I can’t deny that; as much as I want it to go right and give me something positive to write about, there are so many ways it could go wrong.  But who knows?  Maybe the fans and filmmakers behind the wheel know what they’re doing.  Maybe they’ll use decades of past knowledge -- and centuries of combined skill -- to create the dream project the people never even knew they wanted.  Maybe this is how Star Wars makes its grand revival and revolution, and proves its worth is in the film, not in the marketing.

Or it could suck ass.  Who knows?  Guess we’ll find out in December.

That’s about all I’ve got for now.  So I’ll turn it over to you superfans and ask the obvious question: how good is Star Wars, really?  Is it worthy of its prestige?  Is it the cultural titan that proves how a story can change the world?  Is it something that’s given you some fond memories?  Or is it all just a big mess that belongs in a Sarlacc pit?

Channel the power of your favorite reference, and weigh in.  Ready?  Set…comment!

There we go.  Now excuse me while I maintain my cultural ignorance thanks to a stark refusal to watch some of history’s most infamous classic movies.  Maybe someday, I’ll watch Titanic.  Someday.

…On the other hand, Kamen Rider.


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