Sorry, haters, but you are living in an era of wonderful Star Wars, and your childhood isn’t being ruined. And I’m not even sure if things peaked with The Empire Strikes Back.
The latest Star Wars sin, if you’ll believe my Twitter feed, YouTube comments or other online chatter, is that a new video game features a dancing mode that turns Cloud City into a disco and features Han Solo and Lando Calrissian dancing to pop songs that have been remixed with Star Wars-themed lyrics.
What problem can the Star Wars haters have with sarcastic Han Solo and paisely-lined-cape Lando Calrissian acting like goofs?
I guess they take Star Wars seriously.
The last time I took Star Wars completely seriously was when I was three years old, I lived in Seattle and the local shopping mall had a guy in a Darth Vader costume stride down the aisles and greet some kids. I was terrified and tried to hide behind one of my mother’s leg. That was 1979. Since then, I played with Star Wars toys, I tried to process why George Lucas had Luke smooch with his sister and I saw a man do his entire set at the MTV Movie Awards dressed as previously-scary Darth Vader.
Since the last time I took Star Wars completely seriously, I’ve watched the cornball Star Wars: Holiday Special and played three slap-stick Lego Star Wars games. I laughed with all of them, even when Lego Star Wars showed me that I could play as Darth Maul in a scene on Dagobah that originally featured Luke Skywalker.
I have no problem with Star Wars camp, but what about the haters who would have you believe that modern Star Wars retroactively ruins childhoods? Must we throw out dancing Lando with steps-in-dung Jar Jar Binks? I say no.
But the haters aren’t just complaining about Star Wars comedy. They seem to complain about most new Star Wars: something about George Lucas ruining it all, which might go back to the time he said he was considering casting the members of a boy band for a cameo in one of the prequels or maybe to when the opening scroll for the first Star Wars movie in 16 years promised an epic about tax policies or when endless tinkering with movies that were good enough the first time around produced such non-minor debates such as whether a rogue protagonist should shoot the guy who is shaking him down in cold blood and whether a sometimes-evil dad who redeems himself by saving the life of his son should appear in ghost form as his younger pre-evil self or as his older redeemed-dad self.
George Lucas brought this on himself, we can agree.
Yes, modern Star Wars howlers, George screwed up, but you’re making it way worse.
I understand why modern Star Wars haters are protective of their childhood. I believe they are nostalgic not just for old Star Wars but for the forgotten era of Star Wars scarcity when there was so little Star Wars content that on average, as whole works, each was pretty good. I believe their withering grumpiness is a byproduct of Star Wars proliferation. There’s now so much Star Wars stuff, that many, many whole works of Star Wars content — entire movies, instead of just scenes; entire video games, instead of just levels; etc. — are now spoiling the whole batch.
Hard as it is to imagine today, there was a period when new Star Wars content was rare. Star Trek was the milked sci-fi franchise with new novels and spin-off shows incessantly beaming into existence. Star Wars was maybe too good for that.
I remember that era of Star Wars scarcity. I remember a time when there were only two Star Wars movies and I can remember, in high school, in 1991, when a novel called Heir to the Empire came out. The novel was the first major piece of new Star Wars content in eight years. It counted. It told me what happened next to Luke, Leia and Han. It mattered, and it was pretty good. Grand Admiral Thrawn was a great new bad guy. If the caretakers of Star Wars were going to be this judicious, they may have never been swatted with today’s backlash.
Eventually, Star Wars sprawled. We got more than three movies and three new books and the odd comics or Splinter of the Mind’s Eye that eked out. We got shelves of novels. We got piles of video games. We got some terrible stuff, including the first major comic book expansion to Star Wars lore that was so bereft of good ideas that it brought back the presumably dead Boba Fett and Emperor Palpatine.
In other words, as soon as Star Wars started sprawling, we got more crap. I think Princess Leia would assess the situation thusly: the more you loosen your grip, the most junky star systems are held by your fingers.
What could have seemed, in the past, like the perfect airtight franchise that only had excellent movies to its name became the franchise that had some stinkers and some clunkers. In my preferred corner of entertainment, video games, we didn’t even half a ratio that was that good. In video games, the bad Star Wars has been outnumbering the good Star Wars for ages, which really just makes Star Wars like anything else.
The tiresome backlash against Star Wars simply conflicts with the idea that this thing — this franchise that started with its fourth episode and was therefore always presented as being part of some continuing thing — now no longer is always good. That fall from the loftiest perch was inevitable. It doesn’t make things bad; it just makes Star Wars realistic.
Perhaps modern Star Wars haters would have liked Lucas to have left it all alone. Don’t tinker with the old movies. Don’t’ make new ones. Let it all stand still. Turn them all into museum pieces. A Carbonite-frozen Star Wars would have kept us from the great role-playing game Knights of the Old Republic. It would have blocked us from Lego Star Wars. It would have robbed us of Revenge of the Sith a movie that improves the emotional impact of A New Hope.
A petrified Star Wars would have disallowed the great ongoing Clone Wars computer-graphics cartoon as well as the lovely hand-drawn one that preceded it. We’d have been robbed of many dozens of excellent John Ostrander-written Star Wars comics from Dark Horse.
I can laugh as much as anyone at how busted the lightsaber battles of The Phantom Menace were.
But did you know the The Clone Wars show regularly showcases lightsaber balls that are more exhilarating than any ever put in even the best Star Wars films?
And that it does the same for space battles? (Sorry about the music that the person who made that compilation used!)
The Clone Wars is a series ostensibly made for children. I’ve seen adults turn their nose up at it for that reason. Mistake. It has the characterization and heart of the old movies, and it out-dazzles any spectacle early-Lucas ever produced. It is the progeny of his vision even though he’s barely involved in it, and it’s as great Star Wars content as there’s ever been. It even sometimes makes Jar Jar Binks interesting.
The ideas that old Star Wars was perfect or ineligible for parody or impossible to further serialize is as flawed on the complaints from yesterday’s grandpas that the music or TV or movies of today is no good. George Lucas messed up by messing with his old movies, by doing the opposite of the video game studio BioWare and changing his epic when no one was even asking him to. But his re-editing of the past doesn’t prevent the future of Star Wars from being wonderful and sometimes a bit camp.
Current Star Wars is plenty good. Some of it is better than the things Star Wars old-timers like me loved when we were kids.
And Han Solo dancing in Cloud City? That’s funny (it’s just the rest of the game that stinks).
It’s time to complain about something else. Star Wars is doing just fine.