I originally wrote this piece the week that Lucasfilm released a trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which delved into the events that took place before the classic trilogy. While many other people were writing about this trailer and the future of the franchise, I felt compelled to revisit my own history with Star Wars, in a galaxy not so far away!
I am 11 years old.
My family has brought me to an exhibition at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, California, commemorating a series of old movies that I haven't actually seen yet.
My fledgling nerd brain is overawed by the dazzling displays of artwork, props, costumes, and models. Amid the matte paintings and concept drawings are hints of a great battle between good and evil–darkness and light. Along one wall of the exhibit, there are mannequins mounted three high on a scaffold dressed as helmeted troopers or furry creatures. I gaze at the spectacle that towers over me, and then wander, thunderstruck, through the floor displays featuring exotic aliens & shiny robots, space pistols & laser swords, big angry triangular ships & nimble little space fighters.
I have absolutely no idea how to process what I am looking at. I'm told that these movies were a big deal before I was born, and that a lot of people still remember them fondly. This, of course, turns out to be a bit of an understatement. What they are describing is the global phenomenon known as Star Wars.
I am 14 years old.
The Special Editions of the original trilogy are in theaters to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the initial release of Star Wars (which has since been re-titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.) Despite Greedo inexplicably shooting first and a few bizarre CGI choices, it is the adrenaline rush of a lifetime to see my favorite movies on the silver screen.
Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi truly are my favorite movies. I now know the full names, functions, and histories of every item that was on display at the "Art of Star Wars" exhibition three years before in San Francisco. Every vessel and alien species has a backstory that has been fully explored in the expanding universe of tie-in materials, and I have devoured as much of it as I possibly can.
I have dozens of novels, resource books, and comics; I have board games, action figures, Lego models; I play the X-wing flight simulator game on my Mac pretty much every day and read the strategy guide obsessively. I only have a few friends who share my enthusiasm for all things Star Wars, so mostly I practice my fandom alone, pouring over artwork, annotated screenplays, and technical manuals.
I know it all by heart.
I am 22 years old.
The final film of the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, has been released, and though it is better than its immediate predecessors, I am forced to admit that these films have complicated my relationship with the Star Wars franchise.
I long ago became the "Star Wars Guy" in my friend group–a group that, of course, also includes a "Star Trek Guy" and a "Tolkien Guy," a "Nintendo Guy," and a "Horror Movie Guy," and all the other myriad varietals of nerd. I am still ardently immersed in the lore of Star Wars, but being the Star Wars Guy has necessitated becoming somewhat of an apologist for a man once universally revered.
The list of questionable alterations made to the classic films for the Special Edition releases has been joined by more and more inexplicable choices in the prequels: the over-reliance on gimmicky CGI characters, storylines that undercut the plots of the original trilogy, and cringe-worthy dialogue. Watching these new films, the main thing I feel is confusion at the rampant squandered opportunities.
In the space of a decade, being a Star Wars fan has changed. While once it was a niche pursuit, full of wonder and excitement, it has become instead a slow decline into mourning and disappointment.
I am 32 years old.
It is December 2015, and I am one of tens of millions of people around the world experiencing something special. We sit in the dark and wait for the familiar fanfare to begin... and, at last, there it is:
The Force Awakens
By the end of the opening weekend, I have seen the movie three times; by the time it ends its theatrical run, I have seen it seven times. Each time I go, I see young children who are just now being introduced to the Star Wars galaxy, and older fans who spent the summer of '77 captivated by the film that started all of this glorious madness.
The Force Awakens inspires a bizarre and fantastic feeling of nostalgia for something I never actually experienced firsthand myself–the sense of wonder and adventure and aspiration described by so many who saw the original movie when it first came out.
I am reinvigorated–not because Star Wars is "cool" again, but because Star Wars is good again–because Star Wars is FUN again. I could not be more excited that there are many more Star Wars films on the horizon, due to be released every year until the end of the decade.
While The Force Awakens is spectacular, it is also, of course, imperfect. Each of the forthcoming films are sure to be imperfect as well, but something that was lost has been recaptured, and while there will always be those choose to focus on the negative aspects of this fictional universe that I adore, I now have something I lost many years ago: a new hope....