Why I Said What I Said About Star Wars

Imagine 8-year-old Jesse in 1983.

Imagine he has waited all Summer to see the blockbuster of the year but hasn’t had the chance because his family and everyone was too busy. At the beginning of the summer, just before school ended, he had been sick and was unable to go see the film. As consolation, he had received the first two issues of the comic book adaptation, the novelization, and several toys based on the film. While still excited to see it, there was some level of confusion in the future Rapidly-Aging Geek Icon.

Why did Star Wars have a bunch of teddy bears in it.

The film, of course, was The Return of the Jedi, which would eventually come to be known as Star War, Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi.

My experience with Star Wars began when I was the age of three, watching it with my parents in a drive-in in 1978. The science-fiction blockbuster was still breaking records across the globe more than a year after its release leading to parents, including mine, taking their young children to see it and experience it; despite the fact that it includes not one, but two scenes of mass death (the murder of over a billion people when Alderaan is destroyed on the order of a megalomaniacal government extremist without the consent of the governing body and the nearly one-million deaths that take place when the employees aboard the Death Star are the victims of an attack by a fringe, anti-government terrorist organization).

I’ve been taking this into consideration a great deal, the last few weeks. There is a podcast that I produce, Exxilista, in which Chelsea Flint, Laura Sherwood, and my wife, Kristen Edmond talk about life and culture and living in the modern age. It’s a very simple premise that, with lesser performers, would have been a mildly interesting execution with some interesting conversation. Instead, with the level of talent that gets on those microphones once a month, Exxilista is one of the funniest things I have ever experienced. The fact that I am allowed to be a part of the production of this amazing dialogue (which, after 7 episodes, was nominated for Best Podcast in Rochester by CITY magazine!!!) is a huge honor for me.

So, on the most recent episode, when a comment I made about Star Wars that was found controversial, I overstepped my bounds. For this, I apologize. Exxilista is not a forum for me to spew my bullshit and, in fact, I have a website and my own podcast that I can do this on. The focus of Exxilista is on the stories of the girls who make it what it is so, for this reason, I am releasing an abridged version of the podcast without the offending remark and conversation. That way, fans can pretend it never happened.

However, as I have a website where I can write articles, I can use this to serve as my reason for saying what I said.

As a three-year-old, I was immediately obsessed with some of the ideas presented in Star Wars (which would eventually be known as Star Wars, Episode IV: A  New Hope); the raw diversity of the culture represented by tons of strange aliens, the bad-ass smuggler with his awesome ship and cool Wookie partner, the intelligent droids, the space battles, and, mostly, the amazing villains of the piece. I gravitated, instantly, to the Empire and its forces. Darth Vader had the coolest look in the film and the stormtroopers, TIE fighters, and other elements of the Imperial Machine kept me enrapt with the movie.

I don’t remember much of it, to be honest, but I do remember marveling at the bad guys.

Soon enough, I was receiving toys from the movie: the aliens, the villains, the droids, and, of course, the heroes. I remember (and have noted in a number of different articles) going to get Star Wars toys and the only ones I didn’t have were Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. While I would eventually have an ‘Old Ben’ figure, I never wanted a Luke and, on this particular trip, I actually convinced my mother to get me a Starbuck figure from Battlestar Galactica, instead.

My days were filled with playing with my action figures and I remember imagining the adventures of Harrison Ford’s smuggler, Dirk Benedict’s fighter pilot, and their Wookie mechanic as they battled the combined forces of the Empire and the Cylons in a landscape of strange aliens, never knowing whom they could fully trust. This, combined with a number of issues of the Star Wars comic book from Marvel (which I assumed must have been done by the same people that made the movie… why wouldn’t it be?!) informed my knowledge of this strange and amazing universe.

We went to see The Empire Strikes Back (a.k.a. Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back… sigh) early in the run when I was five. I remember it being early Spring and I have long thought that it was on opening weekend. I definitely remember that the theatre was packed to the brim and that I had no interest in and of the popcorn or candy or soda that was being passed around by my mother, her brother, his wife, and some friends. I also remember, very specifically, being enthralled by what happened on the screen.

From the first moment, after the opening scroll, everything about this Star Wars was different from the first one. Environmentally, the planet Hoth was a 180-degrees, both figuratively and literally, compared to the planet Tatooine. The characters seemed more human, more accessibly than in the comics or the first film. I remember feeling like I could engage with these people more, even as a child. It was a stylistic departure, as well. Tight close-ups and fast tracking shots had replaced the slow, methodical pace of Star Wars and the drastic palette shift felt fresh and inviting.

Of course, I didn’t know the specifics about why I liked this film, but when it had finished, I was a Star Wars fan. I didn’t really remember much of the first one except flashes of images and a feeling of boredom, so I thought that I had simply misremembered how I felt as I saw it. Whatever feelings I had had about aspects of Star Wars melted under the heat of new fandom.

Years later, what would be interesting for me to consider about this was that Empire is about the villains winning. This is not something I had encountered as a youth, until that point, and I was fascinated by that. I can remember thinking about how much of an idiot Luke was, leaving Yoda before his training was done, and being excited by the prospect that he was not, ultimately, the last hope for the universe, as indicated by the ancient, Muppety Jedi Master. I remember being firmly adamant that Han was not dead and could be revived from his carbonite tomb. I remember digging the bounty hunters and wanting to learn more about all of them. Most of all, I remember feeling exhilarated by the idea that the idea that evil could win in movies. I had already come to understand that this was the case in life, why not fiction?

Lastly, I was no longer a fan of the villains. They were clearly bad, in my mind, and

Between seeing Empire and the release of Jedi were perhaps my most informative years as a young SF fan. I discovered Doctor Who from my Grandmother, as well as Monty Python and the rediscovery of original Star Trek. G.I. Joe was released, which had an amazing comic book by Larry Hama that I have discussed on this site, and my comic book collecting had really begun to come into full swing (especially the Star Wars comic). I saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the theatre which instantly replaced Empire as my favorite movie (and remained my favorite science fiction film for many years). I had also begun to read science fiction, including H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series.

This led to me being a more informed fan of SF as well as starting my burgeoning desire to add my name to the list of luminaries creating these worlds. I also began to become more critical of SF, in general, leading to my being less-than-pleased with Galactica 1980, Battle Beyond the Stars, The Shape of Things to Come, and a handful of other less-than-stellar SF faire while gravitating towards the strange and unusual stuff (Galaxy Express 999, Wizards, Blade Runner, and the Godzilla films, for example).

So, when the summer was coming to a close in 1983, when I was finally able to see Return of the Jedi with the family of a friend, my experiences and expectations had altered, considerably. Sure, I may have been all of 8, but I had seen enough science fiction and read enough stories to understand what quality was.

To this day, I have only seen Jedi twice. The first time was in the theatre and the second was on video tape when the ‘Special Edition’ versions of the original Star Wars trilogy was released in the theaters. Watching Star Wars and Empire back-to-back in early 1997, opted to never view the Special Editions again, if I could avoid it.

But for me, from beginning to end, Return of the Jedi was a disappointment. The set pieces each looked amazing and the effects were stunning, but the story was lackluster and much of the plot felt unnecessary. The continuity skewed from Star Wars, as the second Death Star, supposedly the same as the first one, had an entirely different means of being destroyed. Then there were the Ewoks. Now, I’ve come around on the the Ewoks; perhaps, one day, I shall release my terrifying and strange assumption of the Ewok history; but in 1983, amid the rumors in magazines that the planet was supposed to have been inhabited by Wookies, Ewoks were the worst thing ever.

I mean, this was 14 years before anyone had even heard of a Jar Jar Binks.

For me, Return of the Jedi was little more than a disappointment. In the years that followed, everything Star Wars sort of disappeared from the popular landscape. While there were definitely those hardcore Star Wars fans who held out, with no new films, support for the franchise through dwindled away. What forums there were for Star Wars in media suffered from a lack of quality or focused on aspects of the property that people didn’t seem to care about.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that Star Wars really began to return. With a new series of novels by Timothy Zahn and a series of comic books released by Dark Horse (Marvel having lost the license), the Expanded Universe of Star Wars offered hope that there may be more films coming to thousands of fans. Soon after re-entering the pop culture landscape, it was announced that the prequels would be released and the hardcore fans rejoiced.

For me, this was the period in my life that I was introduced to a wide array of cinema and learned more about the history of science fiction, in general. This led to awareness of several key aspects of the Star Wars mythology, which led to…

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So, that’s where I ended up.

I was watching Kurosawa films and noticing that every single scene from Star Wars was taken from them. It is well-documented that Lucas looked into making a new Flash Gordon, but was rebuffed on getting the rights to the property. He also considered securing the rights to Hidden Fortress, but decided to rework his original idea to differ from the original story. This hasn’t prevented criticism of Lucas for lifting much of his best-known work from Kurosawa.

Frankly, I could give a crap about creators lifting elements from creative works that were influential on their work and, in fact, Lucas would eventually publicly acknowledge that Kurosawa and Hidden Fortress were very influential upon him, even meeting Kurosawa. However, this was going on amid several accusations (legal and otherwise) from Lucas towards other works for being derivative of his work.

Including Battlestar Galactica.

The battle between Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica is far too complex to get into every detail here, but for George Lucas to attack other works for plagiarizing him while blatantly borrowing from a wide variety of influences and, at the same time, failing to admit that all works of science fiction share similarities. Surely, someone would call Lucas on his hypocrisy, right?

Yeah, not quite.

The fan base for Star Wars is notoriously devoted to it. I have endured personal insults from Star Wars fans on multiple occasions for voicing my opinion on the films and, more than once, sustained threats of physical violence. I am always willing to engage in a conversation, but I have my limits when it comes to people being unreasonable, especially about something that is a simple work of entertainment. Rabidity in fandom is simply something I cannot tolerate. Certainly I am a fan of a wide array of things, but no piece of fiction is so sacrosanct as to prompt personal attacks from me.

And this is where the cult of Star Wars worries me.

Works of fiction, regardless of one’s personal opinion as to the quality, should be about fun and escapism. When it gets to the point that someone is feeling personally attacked when hearing an opinion about a movie, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate personal priorities.

I’ve never been what one might call a Star Wars fan, but I’ve still read the books, the comics, played the role-playing game, and purchased the toys. I’ve experienced the expanded universe and enjoyed it a great deal. For much of my life as a nerd, I have found myself gravitating towards all things science fiction, including Star Wars, and plenty of my hard-earned money has gone towards supporting the franchise. So when I express my disappointment in the movies, it is from a highly-informed place of personal experience. I have earned my disappointment in Star Wars with more than three decades of being disappointed by the films starting with Return of the Jedi and continuing through the prequels.

I will admit that I am excited for this next film. Even I, as jaded as I may be, have been swayed by the trailers. Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens looks like the sort of film that I have been waiting for since the end of the Summer of 1983 when I sat down to watch Jedi. It’s possible that I will stop saying ‘I am not a Star Wars fan,’ upon walking out of the theatre.

Regardless, I will wait to pass judgement upon watching the film but I should not have intoned my displeasure for the whole franchise through the forum in which I did. For this, I apologize. Instead, I should have done what I have always done and used the proper forum of writing an article on this website to discuss my issues with Star Wars.

Which I just did.

The ‘Abridged’ version of the ‘Pumpkin Spice Spectacular’ episode of Exxilista is available now for any who were offended by my comment. Enjoy!

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