Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Holding On To That Star Wars Feeling

Title of this post inspired by "That Teenage Feeling" by Neko Case

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is coming out this week, and I will probably get around to seeing it on a weekday matinee with my wife in the week after Christmas on a day my children are in day care.  Ah, the glamour of parenting!

My feelings about seeing it are a little mixed, even if (or perhaps because) Star Wars has meant more to me than any other piece of culture.  When I first heard about it, I thought (rather boldly) that I would not see it, since it was just another Hollywood cash grab taking an old property to milk it for money.  I figured it would be just another boring product of the machine, only with "Star Wars" slapped on it.  Why bother?  After seeing the second trailer, I began to change my mind a little, and allowed that I would go see the film and have some fun.

Then my mind changed yet again.

I think the triggering incident was the new season of The Star Wars Minute, a podcast that breaks the Star Wars films down, minute by minute.  They finished all of the original trilogy this summer, and even though the hosts made their hate of the prequels known, they've decided to do them now, too.  The difference is striking, obviously.  The original Star Wars minutes were bursting with layer upon layer of interesting things, the individual minutes of the prequels hold no such bounty. Instead each one keeps asking the same question: how on earth did something so good go so bad?  It only reemphasizes how special those original films were, and that everything since has only diminished my great memories of them, submerging them under a tidal wave of cinematic sewage.  (I can't even rewatch the originals, since Lucas has fiddled with them so much that I can only watch a late 1990s version of them.)

The danger of this with the new film is even greater, considering that the original characters are going to be appearing again.  I want this movie to either be phenomenal, or to be a catastrophic disaster akin to the Star Wars Holiday Special. If the new films are so bad that they have to be seen to be believed, I will cherish them. Films like that are rare jewels.  On the other hand, the worst that could happen is that if the new films are mediocre, or competent but not great.  Why?  Because it would turn Star Wars into just another crummy Hollywood film franchise.  I need for Star Wars to be something more than that.

What perhaps disappointed me the most about the prequels was that they so rarely gave me what I can call "that old Star Wars feeling."  It's hard to clarify, but it's the feeling that welled up in me when I saw the originals and which sometimes comes back when I rewatch them.  It is a swelling in my soul, a kind of magic.  I think I felt it twice during the prequels.  The first came when the credits opened on The Phantom Menace with the John Williams score blaring.  That moment transported me back to my youth, and was so mystical that I didn't notice the inanity of the crawl at the beginning and its talk of trade federations.  The other came at the end of Revenge of the Sith.  Obi-Wan's impassioned speech to the now burnt and defeated Vader got that old feeling welling up from inside me again.  I felt like the seven year old who watched Vader take off his mask with wonder and dread.

That feeling came pretty late in the game, and probably had less to do with the movie and more to do with fulfilling thirty years of anticipation over the moment when Vader become more machine than man.  I wish I could believe that the new film will give me that old Star Wars feeling, but I am beginning to think that would be too much to hope for.  Looking at JJ Abrams' track record, he has talents but not genius.  I am sure that I will see a well made piece of Hollywood entertainment when I go to Force Awakens.  That would be fine if it was just another Marvel movie, but I am chasing a feeling that goes well beyond such crude matter, to quote master Yoda.  Is that fair to the movie? Probably not, but this is something that transcends fairness, whether that's realistic or not.

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