Star Wars and Me
The seventies were a very curious time, especially in the UK. The post war world with its sensibilities, culture and etiquette was slowly slipping away. Sadly the future had not quite lived up to its scientific and cultural potential. Political, industrial and economic turmoil were rife. Even as a child I was aware that all was not right with the world. Then Star Wars was released and very quickly became a cultural phenomenon. I embraced it like many others and took it to my heart. It offered not only spectacle but a boundless galaxy filled with stories and possibilities, which captivated a child’s imagination. It had not only a strong sense of morality but a wider philosophical subtext. It provided a modern mythology just as George Lucas intended. Its optimism was in some ways an antidote to the prevailing cynicism of the times.
Because of Star Wars, I became aware of the concept of fandom and its sub-culture. It provided a gateway into other literary, cinematic and cultural works which I consumed with an equal passion. For the next twenty years Star Wars was ever present in my life and I was happy for it to be there. One of the greatest pleasures I’ve had as a Father was introducing my son to the classic version of the trilogy on Laserdisc in 1997. It was shortly after that the Special Editions were announced and the opportunity to see the films in the theatre again was sufficient to overrule my concerns over some of the changes that had been made.
Then came the new trilogy along with the accompanying hope and subsequent disappointment. It seemed that George Lucas had lost his way and had become sadly a victim of his own success. No one seemed willing to challenge him and by the time the new movies were made the damage was done. Furthermore this process took place during a decade when the marketing of the entire franchise reached new heights. Slowly it seemed that Star Wars was crossing the line from cultural phenomenon to pop culture ubiquity. Star Wars was simply another brand such as Coca-Cola or McDonalds. It was this transformation into a truly corporate product that tainted it for me and many others. When Disney acquired the rights to the franchise in October 2012 and promised us more, I just sighed.
Over the recent decades there have been substantial changes in the way we experience movies. In the seventies movies could only be seen at the cinema so unless they merited a re-release, once their initial run ended they were gone until they showed up on TV. This meant that fans had a very different relationship with the object of their affection. The rise of home video in the eighties changed this as did the internet in the nineties. Nowadays every aspect of a film is delineated and analysed, before it is even shown. Movies can be owned three months after release, offering a beautiful high definition experience along with a wealth of extras. Knowledge and expertise is no longer the province of the obsessive geek. It’s given away on a plate to anyone with the mildest interest.
It is this over familiarity that is perhaps the biggest factor with regard to my changing views on Star Wars. That and the recognition that our memories of are often specific to particular times in our lives. The Star Wars I experienced as a child has gone forever. Furthermore no matter how hard we try it is impossible to recreate those feelings we initially felt. For many people personal tastes change over time but this is just part of life and should not be feared. Therefore it would be unrealistic for me to still feel the same way about George Lucas’s movies after thirty eight years. In some respects the change in perspective is quite liberating, allowing me to revisit the movies with a more critical eye, as I have done so recently via Jamie Benning’s documentaries.
Of course not everybody will have necessarily had a similar experience to me and Star Wars still has a hardcore fanbase of unwavering loyalty. Devotion of this kind is arguably both a fans greatest asset and weakness. For me, I feel that my association with the Star Wars phenomenon has overall been a positive experience. Not in spite of my changing relationship but because of it. Perhaps the final lesson I have learned from that galaxy far, far away is the correct way to embrace nostalgia and to be comfortable with the notion of change. Whether those who now own the franchise understands this point is another matter entirely. Therefore I await the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a degree of measured interest rather than unbridled passion. My expectations are realistic and I suspect that this may be the key to surviving the pending hype and marketing.