This month, today in particular, marks the 35th anniversary of Star Wars. This means Fan Boys and Comic-Con attendees everywhere are creating reenactments, and holding screenings of all six movies in their dark basement apartments. It’s a celebration of art, pop culture, and childhood. But you can be certain the original fans are pretending Episodes I, II, and III don’t exist even if they do star Liam Nesson & Samuel L. Jackson. Unfortunately, even if you boycott George Lucas’s attempt to reignite the imaginations of our childhood with over-the-top special effects and Jar-Jar Binks, it doesn’t change the fact that Star Wars no longer exists in its purest form unless you own a 1989 copy of the VHS.
This has lead me to wonder how I will introduce my children to Star Wars. Will I even bother? How do I protect them from the special effects crimes committed in the Special Edition trilogy? Do I let them watch Episodes I, II, and III first? Do I even tell them that Episodes I, II, and III exist? Do I cover their ears when Darth Vader shouts, “Nooooo!”? Yet, what kind of father would I be if I robbed them of the same obsessive, friendless childhood I had because of my all-consuming admiration and addiction to a galaxy far, far away? Can a child actually turn into a healthy, well-functioning adult capable of surviving in society without knowing what an Ewok or the Millennium Falcon is?
More importantly, what does it look like to live a lifetime of never knowing if Han or Greedo shot first?
Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon seemingly more popular than the story of Christ himself. I’d be willing to bet more people have heard of Star Wars than have heard the Gospels.
This is the story about that man named George Lucas, and our disgust with him as we cried out, “He raped [our] childhood!” Fortunately for me, Lucas didn’t do anything to my childhood but give me a sense of wonder. Star Wars was rocket fuel for my imagination. Today, as an adult, I cherish the memories of experiencing Star Wars as a young whipper-snapper cruising the streets in my knee pads and roller blades, making light saber noises and dressing up as Han Solo for Halloween. George’s cutting and recutting and re-imagining and releasing of the trilogy has not affected a single day of my adult life except for the fantasies I sometimes have about my wife wearing that gold, metal bikini.
I was five-years-old and in Oklahoma on a family vacation visiting relatives the first time I watched Episode IV: A New Hope. (I also discovered Dip-N-Dots ice cream and rollerblading while there, both of which, along with Star Wars, I would take back to Ohio with the intent of starting a revolution.) My oldest cousin, Shawn, grew up a fanatic. He was a teenager by the time I made it to Oklahoma, and perhaps realizing he was a bit too grown up for the Sci-Fi adventure (preposterous, you say?), I found the VHS of A New Hope stashed away in the back of his video cabinet. I took it out, turning it over in my hands, feeling the weight of its magic. I knew I had stumbled upon something special. When I showed my mother what I had found, she smiled and said, “Oh, you would really enjoy that.”
And so began my journey. In less than a year I knew the names not only of every character in every movie, but also every line of dialogue they spoke. I remembered the names and model numbers of their blasters and light sabers. I had the title of every planet in the galaxy memorized, knew the entire lineage of Luke and Leia’s family. I spoke and completely comprehended Wookie. I collected every action figure, every vehicle, Micro-Machine, Lego set, and even traded the Star Wars Customizable Card Game with my fellow elementary school student body. If only I had known American History as well as I knew Star Wars History, I might have graduated High School with honors.
Then in 1999, Jar-Jar Binks and a Yoda better suited for nightmares happened. The world shifted. There was, I’ll admit, “…a disturbance in the Force.” We’d given our money to George Lucas, and he duped us all. We tolerated and swallowed the bitter pill that was the Special Edition, but the atrocity of The Phantom Menace would not go down.
Kids, I’d heard, loved the new movie. But what about us adults? Where was our movie? Well, weren’t we all kids and teenagers the first time we saw A New Hope? That one was for us. Argue a case against Lucas all you want. In the end, he will always be a young artist who took an enormous risk on a movie he believed in when no one else did. His downfall is that he’s an artist who doesn’t know how to walk away.
I know I’m about to cause a coronary in someone by writing this, but, Star Wars is just a film. Hell, 87 minutes of Return of the Jedi is a Jim Henson Muppet movie that must have been shelved until George Lucas stumbled upon the footage in 1983 and thought, “I could make a movie out of this.”
Two years ago was last time I saw Star Wars. My friend, Dave, was 24 and still hadn’t seen the movies. I was so excited to share this piece of my childhood with him. Yet, as we watched, I couldn’t help but think, “This isn’t as exciting as I remember.” Maybe it was that CGI Jabba, or maybe, just maybe, I was finally seeing Star Wars for what it was: A movie made for the kid in all of us by a kid fresh out of college.
Somehow, screwing with the original Star Wars is like someone messing with your younger sibling. “Hey!” we shout to the bully in question. “No one messes with my brother or sister but me!”
“Hey!” we shout to George Lucas. “No one messes with Star Wars but us!” We lash out at the very man who created Star Wars like we could have done a better job. Now I’m not saying we couldn’t have. I’d have liked to have seen Episodes I, II, and III directed by David Fincher or Martin Scorsese. Did you catch Topher Grace’s cut of all six movies edited into an 87 minute, entirely comprehendible movie-watching experience? No other film in history has as many fan films and parodies inspired by it. Because the world George Lucas created is so much fun to play in.
It’s a world the creator himself still loves playing in.
Ask people where they were on May 25, 1977 when Star Wars was released, and they can recite with perfect clarity what they were wearing, who they were with, and what those precious moments of their life was like on the walk from the theater to the parking lot. I feel as though we have very few of those moments today associated with good memories. It’s always an assassination, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack that sparks such clarity.
The thing is, now when we watch Star Wars hoping to feel a bit of what we felt the first time, we can’t. Our past has been altered. So the problem, if you want there to be one, is that we as human beings take ownership of anything we have an emotional connection with.
The Special Edition movies of Star Wars are fan films made by the ultimate fan: George Lucas. He is an artist with no boundaries, which is a gift and a curse. He is a man who doesn’t understand that a work of art forever remains incomplete. He has never accepted this fact, and in search of perfecting his masterpiece, he upset the most important people of all: the fans who recognized a masterpiece before it was finished.
So who shot first? Han or Greedo? I have a better question for you: who gives a damn?
I say let George keep manipulating his work if it makes him happy. I’ll pay to see whatever he does next because watching him is like watching Da Vinci stand atop a ladder and drop a can of paint in slow motion on the Last Supper. I’d pay to see that.
All I’m waiting for now is George Lucas to admit that the last time he recut Star Wars, he ended up with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So instead of releasing a new edit, he called Steven & Harrison, and they just went with it.
May the Force be with you, George.