[Let the promotion onslaught begin. While this is about a month late, I had to go back and promote this blog from Cacophony, who did this as a part of our Star Wars Retrospective. It’s a fantastic look back, so give it some love. – Kauza]
I still remember my introduction to Star Wars as well as anyone can dredge up a memory from so many years ago. It all started with one of those home video recording tapes my father had as a holdover from his own youth. The coveted tape was a recording from the first television broadcast of Star Wars, at the time without its ‘A New Hope’ subtitle, and featured the movie as it was in theaters. That meant Han Solo still shot first, there was that orange blur underneath the land speeder as it zoomed across the Tatooine desert, and the Death Star exploded in a not so cataclysmic shower of sparks.
In short, it the most fantastic thing my eyes ever saw and I demanded more.
The timeline after that gets a bit murky for me. I know that I got most of my Star Wars fix after that by going over to my friend’s house and renting the pre-Special Edition VHS tapes and watching them over and over again while playing with the old action figures from the time. It wasn’t until the Special Edition itself came out that I was able to actually own the entire trilogy in full. That was, of course, the beginning of the noticeable changes to me. Back then, however, everything I saw in those releases was a spectacular new taste of a wonderful universe. With the tapes constantly playing in the VCR, my room filled up with posters for the movies, action figures, micro machines (I still have an Imperial Star Destroyer somewhere that I’m fond of), models, board games, and Legos. You name it; I probably ended up with it at some point.
At the time, I was not aware of any plans for a prequel trilogy. As far as I knew, this perfect thing that was Star Wars was destined to stay exactly as it was. For me, that simply wasn’t enough, and I eventually found new outlets for my cravings for the Star Wars universe. My first foray into the Expanded Universe was by jumping right into the middle of it with The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton. It would never be my favorite Star Wars book, but I adored it all the same simply for what is was and it received frequent rereads over the years until my book collection had grown enough to let it stay on the shelf in retirement. After that it was the fantastic X-Wing Series, the utterly brilliant Thrawn trilogy (I still have the Grand Admiral high on my list of favorite Star Wars characters), and just about anything else I could get my hands on. It was a good time to be a Star Wars fan.
It all would start to change, albeit very subtly at first, as 1999 approached. When I first heard about The Phatom Menace I, to put it quite simply, flipped out. A new Star Wars movie? A NEW STAR WARS MOVIE? This was the single greatest thing to happen to me in my entire existence as a human being. My world was suddenly flooded with merchandise and I did my best to devour it. Taco Bell junk, printed soda cans, boxes of cereal, new toys, TV Guides that I would slip into plastic bags and hide in my closet. I was preparing for the second coming of Star Wars and I was leaving no stone unturned.
When it finally came out I didn’t get to see it on opening day (it wasn’t until I became an adult of independent means that I started seeing things when they actually opened). I instead had to wait several agonizing weeks until my cousin arrived for a summer visit and I was offered the choice to go see Wild Wild West, which my cousin wanted to see, or The Phantom Menace. I didn’t care how infrequently she visited, I outright refused to go see Wild Wild West when The Phantom Menace had as of yet been unseen. It fell to a coin toss that I, thankfully, won. So, I sat there and watched as it all flashed before my eyes. I literally had to contain a shout when Senator Palpatine put his hand on young Anakin Skywalker’s shoulder and told him he’d be watching his career with interest.
I then spent a long time defending a movie no one seemed to like. It was Star Wars! What was wrong with it? It wouldn’t be until I grew older that I started to see the flaws. I still bought the books, I still bought all the toys, and I asked for The Phantom Menace the moment it came out on VHS. I even played that preposterous video game adaptation far more times than was healthy. For me, this thing that was Star Wars was still perfect, but it started to feel different. Attack of the Clones would kick off my first major issues with the franchise.
I still remember sitting in the theater, my grandfather snoring softly behind me, and groaning at the love scenes. What happened to the kind of love I’d watch bloom between Han Solo and Princess Leia? This, well, this was like a soap opera. I literally rubbed my forehead when a C-3PO came awkwardly running out of the gates attached to the body of a battle droid and cracked a joke about his situation. And Obi-Wan’s hair. He just looked so stupid, but that’s a pretty mild concern overall. I walked out of the theaters that day happy with the Battle of Geonosis, Mace Windu, Jango Fett, Yoda, Count Dooku, and an ending that hinted at the glorious rise of the Galactic Empire. I kept my feelings about the rest of the movie buried deep inside where I hoped I’d forget.
After that, though, things did start to change. I still bought quite a few books that were based around the new Clone Wars era, though it was never as many as I used to buy. I’d still buy the toys occasionally too, though that was really rare at this point. About the only thing I spent most of my money on after the second prequel film was Star Wars video games and even they could be disappointing at times. Still, games like Knights of the Old Republic or Battlefront kept my spirit from wavering too far and the comics still entertained me from time to time. Then, of course, there were always the originals to enjoy.
Revenge of the Sith was something I thought I could have faith in to turn things around. I eagerly bought my ticket for the opening day (I guess I lied, I started seeing things opening day as a senior in high school) and prepared my Jedi robe for the viewing. I recruited friends to see the show and I swore to myself that this would be something great. The mini-series that was airing on Cartoon Network prior to the movie had me really excited for something that was going to be nothing like Attack of the Clones or even The Phantom Menace. My forum activity on the official Star Wars message boards was at an all time high. Then I saw it.
It was okay.
There were wisecracking battle droids, terrible writing, unbelievably bad love scenes, General Grevious ruined, and the triumphant arrival of Lord Vader marred by one of the sillier scenes in the entire franchise. I still preferred it to the other two movies though and to this day it is the only prequel film I own on DVD (though I’ve watched it maybe two or three times since buying it). That was, more or less, the end of my true love affair with Star Wars.
After that I still showed interest, but it was never as much as it used to be. I discovered Warhammer 40,000 around the same time and the books of the Black Library pretty much replaced the part of my book budget that used to be devoted to Star Wars. I stopped visiting the websites and I stopped buying all the memorabilia. I eventually bought the DVD releases for the original trilogy when it was released because it promised to have the original cuts on a separate disc, but this time I wasn’t so forgiving about the changes being made to the trilogy. Those DVD’s were the first time I felt like George Lucas no longer had the right to play around with his own work. From there it stayed downhill as I noticed that old excitement fading away every time I saw something new that was Star Wars. I don’t remember exactly when I realized it, but one day it just came into my mind that there was one real reason I couldn’t bring myself to care as much anymore: I was no longer a child.
I still consider the Original Trilogy to be classics in almost every way. The Star Wars of today, however, is a different breed of franchise all its own. The Star Wars of today has one single goal and that is to cater to younger audiences. That’s why the enemies make silly jokes and perform slapstick. That’s why one of the biggest sections in a toy area of any store is still devoted to Star Wars. I grew up and Star Wars, for the most part, didn’t.
Sure, there are notable exceptions. The video games still come through from time to time and I will pick up the odd book now and again (although I got annoyed long ago when I noticed an obvious cycle of plot elements in the Expanded Universe). There are also a few good comics that would come across my desk, though I rarely go out of my way to find them. In the end, Star Wars has gone from being the all consuming interest of my childhood to a fun novelty that I might indulge in now and again.
As the Blu-rays were about to come out I couldn’t help but smile at all the displays featuring Darth Vader and Yoda around the Walmart near me. I still felt a little bubble of excitement as I walked by the electronics section and heard the soundtrack playing as scenes from the trilogies flashed by on thirty televisions. I was in a Best Buy yesterday and I walked over to the display holding the discs and I picked one up and had a flash of a small boy years ago clutching the Special Edition box in his hands and pleading with every fiber of his being to have the opportunity to own something so special.
I then put it back on the display, turned around, and walked out of the store. As I walked out I noticed that I didn’t feel anything special and, honestly, that was okay with me.