Star Wars and Me

My first introduction to Star Wars was in a blockbuster video rental store, circa 2001. The sands of time have unfortunately clouded the picture a bit; I can’t seem to recall the transition period from VHS to DVD – and in my mind, they’re DVDs. But a tiny bit of research tells me that this would have had to have been in the chain’s twilight VHS days.

On a break from school, the family headed to the local blockbuster video store – our regular weekend routine by this point. In the days before Netflix, people could (and did) spend hours looking at all of the different films and TV shows available. Not to mention the limited, but still impressive, accumulation of console video games about – usually by the front of the store. (Not even Netflix has video games)

It was this fateful day when I got my first real glimpse into George Lucas’s galaxy far, far away….

Sitting towards the back of the store were four tapes – all with popping artwork. They promised exotic planets, climactic battles, and perhaps most striking of all, the elegant weapons from a more civilized age; the lightsaber.

Ok, truth be told, this wasn’t my actual first encounter with Star Wars. For Christmas a year prior I had been gifted a play-a-sound interactive board book (the R2-D2 one) and an Anakin Skywalker watch by a relative. They were fun distractions, but for someone unfamiliar with Star Wars, weren’t as engaging as they would be to an actual fan. I think I got more use out of the watch, too, as I wore it for over a year or two afterwards at school and such for a convenient personal time keeper. My younger brother really loved the book with its cool sounds.

Our parents were massive sci-fi fans, and tried getting me into Star Trek: The Next Generation at an early age. But it just didn’t stick. Warf and the TNG Klingons were just too bizarre and foreign to my eyes, and this child just didn’t have the suspension of disbelief to believe in a humanoid robot, or android, that was as spitting an image and lifelike as Brent Spiner’s Data was. That, and the logic heavy, moral debating, treaty negotiating, space peace brigade was all a little too boring. And I still can’t really get into The Next Generation either.

This had, understandably, disappointed my parents a little. And, while they had all but prepared to give up on getting me into sci-fi, these wonderful spacey collages in front of me were starting to reel me in. That, or it was just about time to go. Either way, I snatched up the VHS tapes and we headed back home.

I remember thinking it odd that Episodes II and III were missing. Perhaps they were being rented at the moment – I thought. If only I knew. They hadn’t been made yet!

On the car ride home, the excited conversation from my parents accidentally slipped the spoiler that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. Not only that, I overheard that Darth Vader, the cool yet menacing baddie on the cover of these tapes, died in the final film! What luck!

But, really, I think most of us who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up with the original releases probably had them spoiled for us in some way or another. (In retrospect, I see homages and references all over the place, from Rugrats episodes, to a joke in Chicken Little, to even some of Lucasfilm’s own commercials!) And, for any who had the films spoiled for them yet still became massive fans – you’ll know how really inconsequential a spoiler is to a legitimately dramatically impactful scene – or story – or saga.

A couple of years go by and I get the original trilogy DVD set as a birthday gift. And, let me tell you, we watched those films like it was nobody’s business. I remember us heavily renting the blockbuster store’s copies of The Phantom Menace and, eventually, Attack of the Clones (once it was released) too. Had Revenge of the Sith not been PG-13 (I was only 10 at the time) I would have certainly seen it in theaters!

But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Before the release of Revenge of the Sith, to tide fans over, Lucasfilm and Cartoon Network produced a mini series of animated shorts – the brainchild of Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Lab creator, Genndy Tartakovsky. Initially 5 minute segments that would air between the main cartoons during little bumper breaks, these shorts eventually ballooned into 15 minute stories in the final season – all of which interconnected various battles and events that happened between episodes II and III, during the clone wars. For those disappointed with the prequels (at the time) lack of clone wars content, and for all those kids craving more Star Wars, the 2003 Star Wars: Clone Wars was an absolute fever dream!

The space ship battles far outmatched anything in the live action films, and overall, the action just seemed to completely eclipse the films at the time – animation, as a medium, really setting their creative minds free.

George Lucas, of course, wouldn’t be bested, and, within the opening moments of Revenge of the Sith, burst forth a gigantic space battle, still unmatched in scope and scale in fictional media to this day! It certainly brought a brilliant, shining end to the saga.

But not all was sunshine and roses.

Many fans had been dissatisfied with the handling of the clone wars. Granted, I can’t exactly blame them. The event was first mentioned by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original film, back in 1977. If I had been fantasizing about a massive war in my favorite fictional universe for just shy of 30 years, I might have been a little uninterested in what we finally got too.

To make up for this, the Lucasfilm camp decided to reboot the clone wars, and create a new series, making up for the previous one’s perceived failings. This series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (notice the new-fangled “the” affixed) premiered in 2008 and aired until… well, we’ll get to that later.

Regardless, my thoughts on the 2008, Dave Filoni led series are succinct and were applicable from the moment I watched the premiere of the pilot film. I absolutely hated it. The soundtrack alone being a perfect archetype – it’s all over the place, downright disrespectful in some places, and doesn’t hold a candle to the original and familiar (the impeccable music of John Williams – who only topped his OT work in the Prequels). While I had a lot of friends who really enjoyed The Clone Wars, I couldn’t get into it. It was the first real black mark against Star Wars in my book.

In an attempt to distance myself from the tv series while still entertaining other Star Wars media, I began to turn to the Expanded Universe… albeit lightly. Star Wars Battlefront II quickly overtook 007: Nightfire as my most played video game. And Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, as well as its sequel, completely blew my mind with just what could be done with a story set in the Star Wars universe. As well as in a video game. The attention to detail, dramatic story, and excellent voice work have only really been bested by the Uncharted series in my experience subsequently. And I still go back and play The Force Unleashed – from start to finish – a couple of times every year if I can find the time for it. Absolutely stunning game that hasn’t diminished in impact (although a bit in graphics) in the last decade!

As for the meat and potatoes of the Expanded Universe, the novels, I got into those a bit more slowly. Always a fan of reading, around this time my interests began to shift more to writing. Odd that I preferred writing to reading (both are needed to be any good at writing) but, I was just starting to find my creative footing. Side note aside, I picked up some of the film novelizations (Episode III being my favorite) as well as some of the junior books. The Jedi Prince volume 1 (compiling the first 3 of 6 books) and Boba Fett: The Fight to Survive – a chronicle of Boba Fett’s life between Episodes II and III. The latter book really took my interest. It was cool to read about Episode II and Kamino from Boba’s perspective, and to hear the pain of loosing his father from his perspective – along with him coping with becoming a bounty hunter in his own right at such an age was truly gripping. I haven’t had a chance to go back and re-read this book in a while, but I remember it being an absolute joy. Exactly the sort of experience a kid would want in being introduced to the greater canon of the Expanded Universe.

So, as you might of guessed, I was a massive Star Wars fan. Even got a couple of T-Shirts and the like from relatives over holidays and birthdays – all of which were greatly appreciated. Even the ones in The Clone Wars art style. And, within my circle of friends (and even my brother’s friends) just about all of us loved Star Wars.

It wasn’t until 2009 or so when I was first introduced to someone who wasn’t. Really wasn’t…

At one of my brother’s school events, I got to talking with another kid’s older sister (the only other person around my same age there) when she revealed she hated Star Wars. I was taken aback. Sure, I could understand differences in opinion and such, but I thought these films and stories were so amazing, how could anyone dislike them. That’s when she explained that her main motivation behind hating Star Wars wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the films – on the contrary, she used to be a big fan. But years of lackluster content (wasn’t a fan of the Prequels, nor the at the time still ongoing The Clone Wars series) as well as the inescapable advertising and pestering fandom from her younger siblings had driven her into rejecting the fictional universe and all within.

On the car ride home, I remember thinking she was probably just a bit bitter because of some recent event and would eventually get over it – I’d just caught her at an inopportune time. But, the meeting did leave me wondering; Could anyone really hate Star Wars?

Surely not, I thought. Sure, there were the prequel bashers online (even going at lengths to claim the similarly received Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull “raped their childhoods”) but, those were just some people collectively shouting into the void, right? People didn’t really enjoy one aspect of Star Wars, yet hate another, right?

The news of George Lucas’s sale of Lucasfilm and Star Wars to Disney was a little surprising. Although, I had no ill will towards the Walt Disney company (boy how that would soon forever change) I still thought it an odd marriage. Sure, Lucas had been extra buddy buddy with the company for decades now, and at the time, Disney really was the only other company that could have bought up Star Wars and not made an absolute crap show out of it. I’ll still admit that today. But it was quite an odd event.

I’ll always bitterly remember 2014. In some respects, it was one of my favorite years. (for reasons I’ll omit for the sake of not writing any more of a novel here) But it was also the same year Disney decided to de-canonize the Expanded Universe.

Instead of selectively retconning and decanonizing elements through future installments (largely the practice, albeit sparingly used, in the Expanded Universe) Bob Iger and Kathleen Kennedy decided it was best to throw out just about everything to give them more creative liberties, while starting with a clean slate. Ok, from a business standpoint this is actually an understandable necessary evil. But it didn’t make me cry any less.

I’m man enough to admit a shed a few tears.

What’s worse, the only things not on the chopping block were the two trilogies of films and that stupid Filoni cartoon! Boy was I excited.

Remember those great stories I really attached to – the Boba Fett junior novel, the Battlefront II campaign, and the Tartakovsky micro series? Well, they were all out. And, even before Disney’s sealing of their fate, Filoni’s The Clone Wars had largely decanonized each one, little by little, since 2008.

I hate to use the term headcanon, especially with the fan community’s stigmas associated with it, but to be honest, that’s one of the aspects I liked most about the old Expanded Universe. George Lucas’s canon was on top. Next were the novels and stories (before the 2008 series came in and needlessly added another level to the hierarchy), and finally there were the non canon video game alternate endings and comic book one shots. You were free to pick and choose which elements from each were in your own personal headcanon – and it was fun to discuss and debate with other Star Wars fans about how your views of the universe differed. Often times, friends could get one another to accept a new story into their own continuity, or vice versa. It was an ever growing, ever evolving atmosphere of ideas – all of which had been struck down by the mouse in one swift stroke.

Had I known about Matt Wilkins and the Expanded Universe movement, I might not have gone to see The Force Awakens, but wanting to be completely fair to this new start, the family and I set out to give it its fair shake.

I had mixed to positive feelings about it.

While some aspects, Rey and Finn’s characters, the locales, and the story, were delightfully surprising, others – Poe’s character, the First Order, and the state of the galaxy post Return of the Jedi – were somewhere between disappointing and outright angering.

Poe Dameron, in particular, brought to mind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Starlord, in particular. Regardless of your thoughts on the MCU and that (in my opinion) horrid film, I didn’t want to see Star Wars be “Marvel-ized.” I wanted Star Wars to be Star Wars. From the character’s first few lines (including the, as I’m now aware, on set add-lib by Oscar Isaac which was left in the final cut) I just couldn’t stand him. As would put it, this character was an all around jerkass.

Indiana Jones is a bit of one – as is Big Trouble in Little China’s Jack Burton. The difference between them and, say, Chris Pratt’s film characters, though, is in my opinion about as night and day as fire and ice. There’s a likeable jerk (even if to point and laugh at), but for every one of them, there’s just as many unlikable ones. And the unlikable ones are often down to a matter of personal opinion. And when they’re written as bold, daring leads, they’ll always fall flat to those uninterested and unimpressed. Poe Dameron was an unlikable jerkass.

Other aspects of the film, like the all-CG in-flight space ships, and the other CG “enhancements” to practical elements were a far cry from George Lucas’s dense compounding of miniatures, live elements, and CGI – which, appreciate it or not, was blended rather seamlessly.

Perhaps the only element of The Force Awakens I really loved was the locations. And, don’t get me wrong, they absolutely astonished me. Almost tear bringing. It was like the Expanded Universe I had always imagined, projected out onto the silver screen. While some disliked the similarities to the past (desert planets, giant circular death station, etc.) I found the settings fascinating. Never before had we seen (outside of the Tartakovsky clone wars) a snow blanketed world in Star Wars before. And, the junky, food portion bargaining society surrounding the desert oasis market was, in my opinion, fresh and exciting.

Star Wars fans seemed split on the film. You either loved or hated the film. I remember when I first put forth my thoughts on the film, I made no friends on either side. To the defenders, I was out of my mind to dislike Poe Dameron – the clearly lovable hero. To the haters, I was way too defensive of their perceived faults in Rey’s character. And, could I not notice the clear re-treading of A New Hope’s plotline? In my opinion, both prevailing opinions jumped the gun a bit, and made too many presumptions off of just one film. However, Star Wars was almost just one film way back when, so what did I know?

In retrospect, the Disney films are, akin to Marvel, low effort theme parks – or, perhaps more aptly, jangling keys in front of an infant’s eyes. Eye candy in the moment, but not containing enough substance elsewhere to make them worthwhile on their own. Sure, as a large connected marathon, I’m sure people will rewatch the MCU and Disney Star Wars films for years to come. But, who’s really going to go out of their way to watch The Force Awakens or Ant Man 2 on their own, separately from the larger, connected, story?

By contrast, I’ll gladly sit down and watch The Empire Strikes Back or Star Wars: Clone Wars volume 2 any time.

Overall, Disney’s first outing with Star Wars left a bitter taste, but had some promise.

Truth be told, I never intended to see Rogue One in theaters. Granted, the Star Wars celebration teaser had me giddy, even bringing the goosebumps at seeing the crawl of that original film flip around to the sound of blaster fire and war shouting. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. But, I thought the whole concept of doing offshoot films was milking the cow a little too thin.

Had Lucas himself done it, I might have been a little more accepting (and, indeed, he did approve of the two, for-TV, similarly standalone Ewok films) but the mega corporation Disney doing it? Something just seemed a little bit off. I guess now that there’s Disney+ I’d be fine with them making as many films and TV/streaming shows as they want, but I’d prefer if they keep the hallowed halls of the cinema junk free. Well, relatively junk free – so long as the MCU is still kicking around.

Rogue One was an immediate rent from Netfilix DVD, though, and the family and I had a fun time watching it. It’s not that we enjoyed watching the film though. On the contrary, the dull color correction, unimpressive camera angles, over reliance in CGI, boring characters, and overall un-Star Wars-ness of the whole thing led to us finding more entertainment in ridiculing the film than actually enjoying it. And I hate stories that end with either “it was all a dream” or “then all the main characters died.” And, while Rogue One ends with the latter, I only wish it was the former.

Granted, there was one saving grace in the film – the finale scene with Darth Vader. And, while I wouldn’t have hesitated to say this was the only part of the film worth making in the first place – as I now understand it, this sequence wasn’t even Gareth Edwards at all! But rather a corporate addition filmed by another director to ‘better the film.’ Crazy that, had this sequence not been there, I might have given up on new Star Wars right then and there. The last minute, rushed addition was, in my opinion, the only good bit!

And, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this bit. Perhaps a bit too violent to show the little kids – it’s an all around awesome moment for one of my favorite Star Wars characters. If every film was as hyped and respectful as that one scene is, every film would be absolute gold. But, as is, this scene stands alone.

The wounds of the severed Expanded Universe and Rogue One’s uninterestingness had mostly subsided by late 2017, and so, like the Pied Piper’s rats, we gleefully waltzed into The Last Jedi.

I remember the conversation my brother and I had upon going to see Justice League that same year. We were in the parking lot, walking towards the theater when I made a revelation. And, to this day, I still don’t know what compelled me to say it, but, I turned to him and quipped: “I’m either going to hate Justice League and love The Last Jedi or love Justice League and hate The Last Jedi.” He look at me, a bit amused. While we’re both massive comic book fans, (myself formerly a Marvel fan too, believe it or not) we had been increasingly disillusioned by the Zack Snyder-led DC Cinematic Universe, as people are tending to call it.

Man of Steel was alright (although nowhere near as engaging as Superman Returns, although infinitely trying harder visually and more original) but Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a let down. Not horrible, but a let-down. Truth be told, should its theatrical cut ever be released on Blu-ray stand alone, I’ll buy it up in a minute.

As you might have guessed, to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed Justice League. Granted, akin to The Force Awakens, there were aspects I despised (The Flash being one) but, hearing the Keaton and Reeve respective Batman and Superman themes again – and in one film – was a euphoria I might never experience theatrically again!

Remembering my prophecy, I became increasingly more and more worried going into The Last Jedi. Although I was still excited, I had my premonitions even from the beginning. The title, let’s face it, sounds like something the word stumbling Hulk would say. “The Last Jedi” why not “The Last of the Jedi” as Yoda says in Return of the Jedi? Remember when Star Wars had pulpy sci-fi titles? I do. They don’t anymore.

I’ve recounted this story a few times elsewhere, but will briefly restate it here. My theatrical experience seeing The Last Jedi was eerily predictive and soberingly singular. It’s opening night. You couldn’t fit a sardine in the place – it’s probably a person or two over capacity. (At least, it feels that way) The film ends and about 12 to 15 people cheer, standing up; clapping like Orson Welles’ Charles Kane. The rest of the theater is dead silent. The clappers stop, and sit back down. It was awkward – and you could cut the difference in opinion in the air with a knife.

A few people grumbled, and then people started getting up a leaving. Post Marvel, my group has become accustomed to bolting before any of those disgusting after credits sequences play. But I was surprised to see so many others doing so too. Post Avengers, that’s, in my experience anyway, becoming more and more rare.

I’ll never forget it. Returning home, and the subsequent weeks and months and now years later, and that opening night packed theater was a perfect representation of the online fan reaction. You either had a religious experience or wanted your money back. Granted, again I was somewhere in the middle – but this time, admittedly, I was further into the negative camp.

Ironically, my least favorite part of The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron, actually became my favorite element of The Last Jedi. Although, of note: I nearly got up and walked out of the film at his Marvelized ha-ha radio play with the first order towards the start. Maybe I’m alone here – but I don’t like Marvel. And I don’t want things I don’t like in Star Wars. And, with such a bad experience as seeing Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters was, I never want to repeat that.

Overall, I found The Last Jedi a forgettable space movie. My brother and I have even come to call the new Disney canon Bob Iger’s Space Battle – as, love it or not, you must admit it’s very different from what came before. (The OT and Prequels)

I didn’t see Solo – in theaters or otherwise. Granted, Anthony Ingruber or Jamie Costa would have taken my money in a heartbeat. But Alden Ehrenreich!? He looks like The Clone Wars’ Anakin Skywalker – nothing like Harrison Ford’s familial mug. And, the increasingly U.S. politically liberalized characters, stories, and elements feel so out of place in a galaxy far, far away – just as I’m sure they do when these things play in Europe and elsewhere. Not that these things can’t be in films (although, being an escapism lover, I’d much prefer them as little as possible) I just don’t care for them in high fiction like Star Wars.

Between now and then I discovered the Expanded Universe movement – a group of fans politely asking Disney to bring back the old canon in some way or another – really anything other than tossing it into the non-canon junk pile that Iger and Kennedy have. Marvel and DC have multiverses – why can’t Star Wars. Well, in 2019, they partially got their wish with the release of the Marvel comic book Star Wars 108: Forever Crimson. A continuation of the old 1970s and 80s Marvel Star Wars storyline (which was originally left unfinished) it was a brand new piece of fiction bearing the otherwise retroactive “legends” banner. While I’m currently at an ends with Marvel, even I’m tempted to pick it up.

And that brings us to today, December 19th, 2019. The day before the official release of Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

With all things considered, I’m not going to see the film. Not just theatrically, I don’t care to watch it, no matter what the reviews are, even once its on streaming, DVD, and Blu-ray. I’ve got enough content through Lucas’s 6 main films, the Tartakovsky Clone Wars, and the plethora of novels, comics, and video games I’ve never even experienced to keep my love of Star Wars alive.

As a critic I had to ask myself: do I really want to go see a film with the cards stacked against it… a film I’m certain I won’t like – just to end up lessening the overall review percentage? No thanks.

I’m happy for those that can (and do) enjoy the new Star Wars films and content. And I feel that, in one small way or another, I can only serve to hurt that if I go see the film, and drop its Rotten Tomatoes audience score by a percentage point or two. And, as much as I don’t care for Bob Iger’s Disney, the MCU, and the new Star Wars – I have no malice intent against those that do.

I’ll never see “the end of the saga” because, well, the saga already ended for me.

I hesitate to call myself a Star Wars fan (although I’m even wearing a Star Wars T-shirt writing this 😛 ) anymore – as it inevitably will bring back my memory of that girl who hated Star Wars. I do think overexposure to something does cause fatigue. (Remember the old saying: too much of a good thing…) So, for now, Star Wars – what I consider to be Star Wars, is limited to this:

I’m all for expanding that headcanon, but the Disney stuff just isn’t for me. Outwardly, I’m no longer a Star Wars fan. And, to be entirely honest, I’d gladly see it die out at this point. It’s still my special little thing – my all time favorite franchise. But, I just can’t bring myself to repeat the attitudes I loathed – that of the girl and the older Star Wars fans who hated on the Prequels.

I’m mature enough to know that if you don’t like something, you can just turn the other cheek and leave. So I’ve left.

I’ll still watch the 6 main films (and micro series) all the time – as well as play the games, and continue reading the Expanded Universe comics and such. And, Ill be sure to continue to post my reviews of the above pictured films in the coming future.

But otherwise, I’m done with Star Wars.

Edit: 12/20/2019

Sad, too. With these opening night ratings:

Echoing A New Hope’s reception way back in 1977, I just might have liked the film. But when have I ever agreed with Rotten Tomatoes critics OR audience scores anyways?

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