When I was a kid, I played with Star Wars toys. I owned ‘action figures’ of Luke Skywalker (the same one pictured above), Boba Fett, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Leia, and more. I saw the movies in theaters, and thrilled to all of them. A friend of mine owned a model of the Millenium Falcon, and the fact that he owned that was a major draw whenever I was looking for a play date.
I played with those toys for years. At a certain point I grew tired of them; then, I was ready to bury them. I remember I took my Luke Skywalker to the backyard with a ligther I’d found in the house, and tried to burn him, in secret. The plastic didn’t melt very well, and made a bad smelll; the side of Luke’s face was lightly charred, and only if I kept the flame pressed up against him. At a certain point I gave up, buried the plastic body, and went back inside.
It took years for it to devolve to this, but that was only the first wave of my Star Wars involvement, it turned out.
In college, the sequels came out. I thought I’d reconnect with this series from my childhood; it was true that I had outgrown it (I was tired of it all those years ago), but there was still a reservoir of goodwill there. So I tried to get into the spirit of it, stood in line for tickets, and shared in the excitement of the people around me, who had decided to organize around this screening and make it an Event.
I can’t say that this feeling of rapturous anticipation came naturally to me, but I worked at it, and by the time the movie came around, I was primed to see it in the best possible light. I waited breathlessly outside, rushed inside with my friends to grab a seat, and parked myself in the seat. The lights went off; the crawl started. We cheered.
Best part of the movie, unfortunately.
The film sucked. It was a bad movie. And I found myself in the weird position of wanting to defent it and like it, but not being able to when faced with the simple test of experience. If I told the truth of my experience, I had to say it was bad.
Then the next movie came out.
This time, it was like I could hear the clanking of the machinery of the public relations. The new movie didn’t look much better; I know I could expect a similarly disappointing experience. Without the same warm feeling for it, I become more and more aware of its purpose as a commercial vehicle, that seemed to almost arrogantly expect me to fork over my money on the strength of that childhood attachment alone. And why should I do that?
I paid to see the second movie in theaters anyway. I was already willing to extend the benefit of the doubt, already predisposed to like it; but if the movie couldn’t win my approval even with all those advantages, I wasn’t going to roll over and say I loved it anyway. I expected some effort, some attempt to make a decent work of pop culture entertainment without grading on a curve. At some level I had to cut the breaks and expect it to be good on its own merits. It wasn’t.
The third movie, with no prospect of a rebuke at the box office or any kind of commerical correction, even from me, was equally lazy and bad.
Yet the nostalgia, bubbling up from people who had seen the ‘good’ movies as kids, was unstoppable. Nothing could dent it. Not a bad product, not the grinding of commercial gears, nothing. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in a million iterations, made by real artists who seemed to be inspired by genuine love for the source material.
Then it got co-opted by the commercial machine.
Star Wars products were now riding the same wave, a wave which was over two decades old by that point, replenished by people who were outside the original creative circle and making derivative (in the literal sense) art.
I respected what the original movies had done, all those years ago. It was a simple, popcorn enjoyment, though, without the ugly tinge of kneeling at an altar. I could enjoy them then and the craftsmanship that went into the movies, without going bonkers over it.
The problem was that the nostalgia went bonkers, and the commercial machine was waiting there to exploit it. And, even if it’s for a simple work of pop culture, I hate the feeling of being exploited. I don’t want to be manipulated into seeing an endless series of bad movies because I liked something years ago.
Normally I’m not aware of the studios and the actors behind the movie engaged in a commercial project, but with Star Wars, you couldn’t not see it. In a way it was almost like the first time that I became aware of being manipulated into buying something, in a particularly gross and plain way; I could feel how thin those bonds of PR-inspired excitement were, and how hard I had to work to justify seeing yet another bad movie, knowing in advance that I wouldn’t like it.
Looking back at my childhood, I started to question how much I really needed all those silly toys anyway, and why they had been so important to me. If I’d been more aware of it as a cash cow, would I have liked it so much? Probably not.
So I gave up. I stopped giving the tribute of my praise to the movies. I stopped jokingly bringing them up, or really trying to make any kind of connection to them.
A long time ago they made a few good Star Wars movies; they were entertaining. I played with they toys as a kid and contributed to the project’s commercial success. I learned, as an adult, to be more skeptical of the associations such commercial products try to make, and to back away from unhealthy and adulatory relationships with such products.
The consequence of that childlike adulation was adult skepticism, the final lesson of Star Wars for me.