Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Galactic Mashochism

NOTE: This whole idea was launched by my overwhelming love for what is definitely the BOTM for June 2007, The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. Buy it for the Geek in your life TODAY!
A small amount of explanation regarding the above title is in order.

By now it's no surprise that I am, as they say in more conservative circles, a "geek." Whether it's playing Steve Jackson card games in college, arguing about whether Go-Bots were better than Transformers back in junior high (I guess this settles that question), or proudly placing Garth Ennis and Alan Moore* next to Flannery O'Connor and Mark Twain on my bookshelves today, I have always been honored to align myself with the geek crowd.

But there's one thing, one single solitary item, that truly labels us as the geeks we are. One event, one place in time, originating back in May of 1977 but reverberating all over the galaxy to this very day.

Yes, my rebel friends. I refer to, of course, STAR WARS.

There are few things I can think of that played a larger role in my formative years. My mother (of course), the Atari 2600, and STAR WARS, although not necessarily in that order. Witness what is still the most memorable Christmas in my life, taken in 1979:
Yessir. Sure a lot of people had the Millennium Falcon, and maybe even a few of you had the Death Star action playset. But how many of you had the original Star Wars Droid Factory?

Quick aside: Let me take a moment to mention the extreme love and affection my mother obviously had for me - despite their somewhat nappy appearance, who else would have taken the time and effort to latch-hook their son portraits of both Batman and Superman? Damn I love my moms...

Okay, back to the subject at hand. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK followed on the heels of STAR WARS, and from the moment Luke crash landed on Dagobah there was no going back for me - I was completely hooked. A few years later RETURN OF JEDI crashed into theaters and geeks everywhere celebrated the appearance of Princess Leia in a bikini, suffered with good cheer when the Ewoks appeared, and cheered like crazy whenever Han Solo was onscreen. Fans the world over celebrated the conclusion of a saga that would stand the test of time...

...until 1997, when everything changed.

In the mid 90's the rumors became official when George Lucas announced he was going to film THREE!! NEW!! STAR WARS!! FILMS!!, all taking place before and leading up to what was now known as "Episode IV: A New Hope." The roar of a billion geeks could be heard from as far away as Tatooine. And to top it all off, Lucas was going to RE-RELEASE THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY IN THEATERS, WITH SOUPED-UP SPECIAL FX AND "A FEW NEW SURPRISES"!!

My friends, the glee was enough to shatter the Death Star all over again. The chance to relive our youth and see the films the way we had in the beginning, up on the big screen. A chance for people who came to the game late to get in on the experience the way we did so long ago. I waited on line with friends for those early tickets, eager to see what new marvels awaited us.

What? Whaddya mean Greedo shot first?!

To be honest, I wasn't as offended as other people were by the changes in the new trilogy. True, I vastly preferred the films in their original incarnations - there was something wholesome and sincere about the practical effects, matte paintings and old-world charm that embodied the movies. But I wasn't going to fault Lucas for going in and "improving" on his original intentions - certainly not when the promise of three new films was on the horizon. Sure, I was dubious when I heard the first film would be called THE PHANTOM MENACE, but there was no cause for alarm, was there?

Two words: Jar-Jar.

Earth slowly tipped in its orbit that day, as a million collective shoulders sagged at the inane childish antics and shady accents that permeated the PHANTOM, and I think today most geeks put the "new" trilogy of films slightly behind HOWARD THE DUCK in terms of quality. For myself, I know that as we watched the second film ATTACK OF THE CLONES my wife pronounced out loud that it was the worst film she ever saw in her life, and we both laughed out loud at REVENGE OF THE SITH'S ending where a seemingly midget Vader screams, "Padme!" with his fists clenched in petulance.

Let down, folks. Money back, drop your light-sabre in disbelief let down.

But hold on...maybe we were a little too hard on things? After all, we weren't comparing the new films to the old films, not really. We were comparing the new films to both the old films and the sense of adventure, joy, and possibilities that came with growing up with those films. Was it really fair to judge Episodes 1-3 against your childhood?

Well, that's what I'm going to attempt to find out. Starting tonight I'm diving in where few dare to tread again - I'll watch, take notes, and report back on STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, and REVENGE OF THE SITH, and see if indeed, they really were as bad as all that.

Wave your Geek flag high and come along over the next few weeks, won't you?
* If you don't know who Garth Ennis or Alan Moore are, chances are you're not a geek and may safely move on to another post.

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