Welcome back to “I’m All Out Of Love,” in which I take a pop culture subject (film series, director, actor, television show, etc) and dissect how my ‘love’ of them from early on slowly dwindled and what my current stance on them is.
An article about Star Wars? This week? What. A. Shock. Yes, we’re all eagerly anticipating this week’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the cinematic return of the beloved sci-fi saga, which hasn’t been seen on a big screen since Revenge of the Sith a decade ago… well, unless young count the Clone Wars film/TV pilot that was rushed to screens in 2008, but who really is? Speaking of prequels, I’m sure given the title of this series, some may expect this to be filled with nothing but full on prequel bashing from the onset. The type that was screamed large by first generation Star Wars fans back in 1999 and continues to this day ad nauseam. However, in that 15 year gap of time there’s been “an awakening” of sorts, in as much as the children who served as the primary demographic for The Phantom Menace during its initial release have reached their early adulthood and are (hopefully) capable of expressing their thoughts on films they grew up with.
Amongst those children… was myself. At time of release, I was the perfect age to consume each of the prequels; I saw Phantom Menace at age 7, Attack of the Clones at age 10 and Sith at age 13. Though I managed to see the original trilogy beforehand, the prequel trilogy served as the initial in-theater experience for the Star Wars franchise and helped launch an initial love for Star Wars as well as science fiction in general. For the children of 1977, the moment of the rebel ship being chased by a massive Star Destroyer served as their big screen introduction to the saga. For myself and others my age, it was the Galactic Republican ship docking onto the main droid hub in Phantom Menace. Some would say this is a major step down… and maybe it is, from certain eyes. But, as with any entry of I’m All Out Of Love, the thoughts here are only coming from one central perspective: my own.
Roughly twenty years ago in a room not too far away from where my grandparents slept, my father sat me down to watch the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS. This was just before the special editions were released in theaters, meaning it was the 1995 THX remastered trilogy packaging that served as the final pristine version of the trilogy before George Lucas made his initial of many bizarre and unneeded to one film he directed and two others he didn’t. Still, my first and most impressional viewing of the original trilogy came from their unaltered form. Despite watching them on a small screen, my rather young self instantly had an adoration for the simple yet elegant brilliance of that original trilogy. The story of a farm boy losing his humble childhood home and finding himself with the help of his friends managed to be something I could easily follow even in my pre-school days, yet still stir up genuinely complex emotions. Emotions wrapped up in earth shattering surprises of paternity, the slow build of a budding romance torn apart by an oppressive government force and the potential compromise of one’s will at the hands of temptation. Of course, none of those emotions were ones I could wrap my head around, but they were definitely seeded there to blossom upon later rewatches.
Fast forward to 1999 with the release of The Phantom Menace. Already being a massive Star Wars fan at age seven, this first entry in a new trilogy gave me my first giddy excitement for a film in the theater. I still remember owning many of the Phantom Menace action figures even before the release, having battles between young Anakin and Darth Maul in my living room. Of course, the final film didn’t provide such an admittedly unfair fight, but I was still excited. The elaborate planets, the over the top lightsaber fights, the goofy antics of Jar Jar. I was up for pretty much all of it at that age. Well, not so much the Senate meetings, which even then I found to be a bit plodding – or, more appropriate for a child context, boring – to sit through. But I figured they’d improve with age, much like the original trilogy already had for me by that time. Regardless, I was hooked.
The Love Affair
Post-Phantom Menace, I truly was head over heels for Star Wars. Family members would even argue I was “obsessed.” Even between releases of the prequel films, my love for Star Wars was kept alive by things like Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars animated series & the first two Star Wars: Battlefront games. I had every single bit of merchandise I could handle; Kenner action figures, bed sheets, promotional cups. I even owned an Anakin Skywalker podracer skateboard that I never really used. The Star Wars universe really captured my imagination, making me more aware of the concept that different worlds could exist within the feasible distance of space or that someone could become more than their initial status in life. Both Luke and Anakin served as inspirations for such fantasies, the former being more of who I hoped to be as I got older while the latter was a more of what I could achieve at that age, given I was roughly as old as Anakin at the time. I wanted to be either young person thrust from humble beginnings to a larger world, which were scenarios I played out with my toys and dreams in a fan fiction style context I wasn’t even aware existed at the time.
Even when this pretend angle faded with the release of the other two prequels, there was still a certain fascination with the universe that was being presented every time I sat down to see a new Star Wars film. Attack of the Clones showed me more of a diversity with the planets on display while Revenge of the Sith evolved the tone into places the saga had never really partaken in. My age really helped with the latter, considering Sith was the first PG-13 movie I saw in a theater without my parents being around. The thematic depth that’s at the very least objectively attempted in the latter is definitely worth commending, particularly thanks to Ewan McGregor & Ian McDiarmid’s extremely committed performances that elevate the tension. Seeing Anakin’s fall was crushing at that time, betraying everything he knew by transforming into the Darth Vader figure that had haunted my younger nightmares. Those were all things I was enchanted by then, roughly as much as I was the original trilogy. Back then, there wasn’t really a distinction; they felt like one consistent saga… for the time being.
Nothing Lasts Forever
Star Wars prequel bashing is perhaps the oldest and biggest pot shot to take on the internet. I could spend this entire section bringing up how elements like the CG backgrounds, clunky dialogue or underwritten arcs ended up “ruining” the entire saga. Hell, this could just be a Jar Jar hate paragraph and end on that. But that’s all well trod territory by the entire Star Wars fandom… including myself. When Sith first came out, I became more aware of the first generation’s rage against what Star Wars had become. All that bile puzzled me, motivating me to revisit the earlier two films before Sith, which was a fateful rewatch. Most of the childhood fascination began to melt like a popsicle on Mustafar, resulting in a disappointment that quickly turned to rage. Even with Sith, which I initially enjoyed for its darker themes, soon grew tired to me after giving in to more ruthless amounts of bashing against it. This only doubled with my discovery of RedLetterMedia’s prequel reviews and other content over the years that made me question them on more of a detailed story driven level. It felt like all that time I had spent playing with those toys as a child had gone to waste on soulless garbage. I felt betrayed, to the point of not even revisiting the original trilogy for several years.
Yet, as time has gone on, that hatred for the prequels – much like the initial love – really has subsided into more of an acceptance. Last year, I marathoned through the entire saga in order of release date with friends, the only time I’d ever done so as of yet. Only then did I come to peace with my true feelings on the prequels. It wasn’t the hot blooded anger nor was it a rekindling of the childhood nostalgic love. It was more of that practical mixture of disappointment & confusion. The choices of the prequels no longer have that “ruined my childhood” sense of bitterness that I had adopted from a previous generation. Instead, it was more of an honest acknowledgement that they were a part of my childhood that didn’t age well… and that’s fine. The fact that I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t necessarily ruin those memories I had. The nostalgia of watching those films in a theater or with friends doesn’t fade just because of Jake Lloyd’s stilted delivery in Phantom Menace, the abominable comedic relief of C-3P0 & R2-D2 in Clones or the rushed death of Padme in Sith didn’t have as much emotional impact for me anymore. Much like several aspects of life, the prequels aren’t something I prefer, but at the same time something I can live with and move on from.
After all the trials and tribulations, the unadulterated love for Star Wars has subsided. I still enjoy the hell out of the original trilogy and can somewhat respect the prequels for their place in my past, but the massive love faded away awhile ago. Because of all this, my expectations for The Force Awakens are rather middling. I’d love for it to be a good movie, even a potentially great movie, but I’m not expecting something astronomical of it or the future of Star Wars in general. This may seem silly, but coming to terms with my personal thoughts on the prequels felt like the moment you realize your parents are just regular people. On one hand, I’ll always have a place somewhere in my heart for that larger than life aspect of Star Wars. It was a big part of what got me into movies and sci-fi in general. On the other more cybernetic hand, I’ve realized that Star Wars is fallible and capable of letting me down. Even the original trilogy has a few elements that don’t hold up either, like Han’s lack of agency in Return of the Jedi or the lesser rear screen projection effects on Hoth in Empire. So, it’s healthy to have more realistic expectations, especially now that the franchise is in new hands and could easily become even more uneven than before.
Regardless, I don’t begrudge anyone who criticizes or loves the entirety of Star Wars within reason. While I really do disagree with those that enjoy the prequel trilogy, I’m not going to suddenly distrust their opinions simply because they enjoy them like certain other actors from different sci-fi franchises. Star Wars is enough of a cultural touchstone that everyone has their own odd attachment and/or detachment to bring to it. That’s probably what excites me most about the series continuing for as long as Disney is willing to spend money on them. For so long, Star Wars was limited to the perspective of George Lucas for so long that made the films become too familiar and stagnant in their own way. Now, a whole new host of people who grew up with it can come in and play with the universe. Sure, that leaves more than a few opportunities for fanboyisms to seep in. Yet, I’m open to seeing where it goes and how people play with these metaphoric action figures on a large scale playset like I used to do. Given how uneven it’s been, there’s just as much chance for every new Star Wars movie to be good or bad. It’s a universe worth exploring… plus Rian Johnson’s going to be one of those people come Episode VIII. How could I NOT want to see that?