And so it began.
Along the way, I located an old friend who I'd presumed lost forever: the Star Wars fan within me. In the 10 years since I'd last seen him, he'd grown pale and gaunt. More animal than human now, he no longer wore clothes, or made attempts to cover his genitals or butt areas. He'd written the words "HAN SHOT FIRST" in poop on a nearby wall.
He peered at me out of the darkness. I peered at him. Then, to my surprise, he spoke. "Friend?" he croaked.
I decided I'd better finish watching the movies before I gave him my answer.
EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
*Naboo = the most boring fictional place ever invented.
*Worst line of the movie Mace Windu: "I do not believe the Sith could return without us knowing." Doesn't look too bad on paper? Try saying it out loud. See? Terrible.
*OK, new worst line just in: Yoda (to Anakin who is being assessed by the Jedi Counsel): "How feel you?"
*Anakin/Jake Lloyd driving his pod during the seemingly nine hours-long pod race = looks like he's playing with a bunch of cheap-looking props.
*Ewan McGregor's ponytail = creepy.
*There's a petty cockiness to the whole thing. This movie is less about expanding a universe or telling any kind of a story, and more about Star Wars taking a victory lap--hooray for Star Wars, everyone! hooray!--while George passes the hat.
*Line that made me put my belt in my mouth and bite down like a cowboy does in movies when he is having a bullet removed from his leg by another cowboy who is using a rusty knife as his surgical instrument: Anakin says these words while flying in space and inadvertently destroying an entire battle station: "This is tense." I'm pretty sure the expression on my face in this moment could be described as woe. This is the moment, I think, when my Star Wars pilot light blew out.
*There is a Forrest Gump mentality to the whole thing: Simply having pluck--not skill or intelligence--is enough to destroy entire battle stations. Another example: at one point Jar Jar Binks gets the arm of a Clone droid, still wielding a blaster, stuck to his foot. As he tries to shake the arm off, he inadvertently shoots at least three other Clone droids. More appropriate title for this movie: Star Wars Episode I: The Inadvertent Menace.
*On their death beds, the staunchest of Star Wars fans will still utter the words, "But...Darth...Maul...was...cool." The truth is this: Darth Maul is not a real character. He is a man wearing scary makeup and devil horns who enjoys doing lightsaber dances with the Jedi. That's it.
EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE LIGHTSABER DANCE PARTIES
*Side note: Before the movie debuted, Harry Knowles "leaked" his review of Attack of the Clones, stating that Episode II would right all the wrongs of Phantom. (No Jar Jar, less Senate machinations, more action, etc.) Harry lied to me, and ever since I've discounted his opinion, and Ain't It Cool's opinions, to $0.000001.
*Ewan McGregor grows an impressive beard.
*Watching this movie is like watching the world's most powerful money hose spray at full bore for two and a half hours.
*More dog shit.
*Anakin's ponytail = looks like the back of his head is shitting.
*Everything feels small and inauthentic. Every vista feels plastic and manufactured, probably because every vista was created in the George Lucas Synthetic Vistas Lab. Why bother going to Tunisia when you can recreate a digital version of whatever you want with computers on your ranch in the woods?
*Mace Windu gets another terrible line: He shows up at Count Dooku's arena and says, "This party's over." (Yes, someone got served.)
*Another terrible Yoda line: While hovering in a ship above the gladiator arena, Yoda says, "Around the survivors a perimeter create."
*More lightsaber dance parties.
*Boba Fett = now ruined forever. Both Phantom and Attack seem hellbent on stripping the Star Wars universe of every bit of mystique it once had.
*Yoda gets into a lightsaber fight. Now I'd been imagining this moment for more than 30 years. And it's so boring. He bounces all over the place like one of the Flea Men from the Castlevania games. That's his move: bounce, bounce, bounce, etc. What kind of bullshit fighting is that? I actually feel bad for Dooku in this fight because he must be so annoyed.
*These CG creatures all look like crappy toys I'd put underneath the wheels of my mom's car to see what they'd look like after she'd back over them on her way to work in the morning.
*Anakin and Padme's romance is the most bloodless relationship ever captured on film. Have two people ever been more neutered or had less chemistry? Man, you could practically see the erections on Luke, Han, and Chewie whenever Leia was around. Seriously, the erections were there; George later had them erased in his Synthetic Erection Erasing Lab. At the other end of the spectrum, when Anakin and Padme kiss, it practically creates a rift in time and space in which every love story ever written, including Romeo and Juliet and The Notebook and Love Story, gets sucked into, never to be seen again.
EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE OLD WOMAN LIPS
*Everyone is clenched in these damn movies. Ewan McGregor = clenched. Samuel Jackson = clenched. Natalie Portman = clenched. Hayden Christensen = so clenched. The only person not clenched is Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine/The Emperor. He and his old woman lips scowl and whoop like he just finished his shift as the host of "Monster Movie Matinee" before reporting to the Star Wars set. He seems to be the only person who had any fun at all while making these movies.
*Mace Windu's death = shit.
*George Lucas was once a student of life, but he is no longer. [Side note: I wrote this down while watching the movies, though now I'm not exactly sure what I meant by it at the time.]
*More lightsaber dances.
*Hayden Christensen is supposed to look angry and evil throughout the movie--he's the personification of the struggle between the Light and Dark Sides--but instead he always looks like a varsity quarterback who is vaguely bitter about losing "the big game."
*Darth Vader operating scene: Do they not have access to morphine at Darth Vader Transformation General Hospital?
*Also: Why is Darth Vader so short? He towers over everyone in the old movies--except for Chewbacca, of course--but here he looks like a kid wearing his dad's Darth Vader outfit. The proportions are completely off. Not for one second do I believe that the real Darth Vader is inside that suit.
*It's over. And all I can think is this: what a wasteful enterprise. Even when I was a kid in the 70's and 80's I understood why someone might be tempted by the dark side, how a person could be potentially be corrupted. When Vader reveals that he's Luke's dad in Empire, part of me, even as a child, thought, "Jesus, Luke, just go be with your dad! Go rule the galaxy together. It might be fun. Plus, you'll be with your dad."
But then George has to go and give us eight more hours of movie explaining how one might be tempted, to show us in the most painstakingly banal and condescending way imaginable the good/bad duality that we're all born with. The prequels presume that the audience members, adults and kids alike, are all mush-brained simpletons; that we've never lived a day.
Because how could we possibly understand anything unless George spends eight hours and millions of dollars explaining it to us? "George," of course, being a man who has lived like Howard Hughes--minus the pee jars--in his secret woodland retreat for the past 25 years? Surely he knows everything about life and has plenty of wisdom to share with us? Yes? [Note: That's sarcasm.] [Note 2: I'm pretty sure it's this exact thought that resulted in me writing the "George was once a student of life" note from earlier.]
EPISODE IV: HOLY SHIT THOSE ARE THE SKELETONS OF UNCLE OWEN AND AUNT BERU
*I'm tired of everyone always heaping praise on Empire at the expense of Star Wars. Empire is a lot of fun, but Star Wars is the better, more human, more complete movie.
EPISODE V: WHAT? WE ALL HAVE TO WAIT FOR THREE F***ING YEARS TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE?
*While Star Wars ends in a satisfying fashion, Empire leaves everyone and everything in jeopardy. One: Han is trapped in carbonite. Two: Luke learns that Vader is his father. Three: Luke now has two ghosts--Yoda and Obi-wan--in his ghost collection. True to its title, the Empire really did strike back in this movie.
*Now that I think about it, it's that three year wait between Empire and Jedi that probably turned so many of us into fans/nerds. I had three years, which at that point was approximately one third of my lifespan, to ponder the fate of these characters. Three years to go to bed at night thinking about them; three years to dream about them. That kind of intense wondering, that kind of extrapolation, especially for a kid, does something to a brain that can't easily be undone.
EPISODE VI: HA, HA, HA, WE'RE ALL MOVIE STARS NOW
*Yes, there's plenty of mugging and hey-now moments in Return of the Jedi. Yes, everyone was probably drunk and going to orgies at night and doing drugs while filming the movie, because they were all incredibly rich and famous at this point. But I don't care. I still love Jedi. The scenes between Luke and Vader are about as exciting as anything I've ever seen. And I've never understood all the hate for the Ewoks. They're in the movie for about 20 minutes. And they're not that bad. The only truly unforgivable moment for me is the inversion of the "I love you" moment. (Han says it to Leia in Jedi.) Otherwise, Jedi does an admirable job of wrapping up the storyline in a credible, exciting fashion.
And it's over.
Two more things before I wind this down.
I remember the night in 1977 when my Uncle Jack--now dead for several years--took my brother and me to see Star Wars. (My father, never one for flights of fancy, wasn't interested in this kind of "horse shit.") We lived in the country at the time, on a damp acre of rural property, surrounded by miles of pine trees. Uncle Jack drove us to the nearby city of Rome in his El Camino--not unlike the way Obi-wan takes Luke to Mos Eisley--and showed us something that would, unbeknownst to me at the time, forever change who I was.
When he dropped us off later that night after the movie, I remember the image of my mother standing in the glow of the porch light in her white nightgown. She was waiting for my brother and me to come indoors. I remember walking towards her, towards the porch light, somehow knowing even then that, like Luke, I wouldn't always live here.
For months my brother and I coveted the two-album John Williams score for Star Wars with all our hearts. Each time we'd visit the local Western Auto--a chain of auto parts stores that also carried housewares, sporting goods, and, yes, records--we'd fondle the shrink wrapped album until the sales clerk would ask us to kindly cease doing so.
One October afternoon we came home from school to find our grandparents' car sitting in the driveway. When I walked into the house, I knew right away that something was different, that something was happening. The Star Wars theme was coming from the stereo speakers. A closer inspection of the stereo revealed that album one of the two-album set was indeed playing. Our grandparents--like Uncle Jack, also now dead for several years--had brought it to us as a gift.
My brother and I practically began shitting ourselves with joy. Which was an actual danger for me, as I had literally shit myself with excitement on Christmas morning only a year earlier.
Man. Sometimes I really miss that kid--the one who once could get so worked up about something that shit would involuntarily come out of him.
After my recent 48-hour Star Wars digression, to my surprise, the old pilot light flickered back to life again. What's surprising to me is how much time I've spent thinking about Star Wars since. I've had hours of conversations about the movies with friends and co-workers. For years now I've operated as if the Star Wars universe is no longer relevant to me. For better or worse, that's not entirely true.
Since revisiting the movies, I've located the untampered-with original trilogy on DVD. (It's the 2008 box set. I found it on Amazon. It wasn't cheap.) And, after acquiring said box set, I saw Han shoot first for the first time in about 20 years. It's absolutely cathartic seeing this footage again. And it's also oddly pornographic, as if you're watching something taboo, something that you're no longer supposed to be able to see.
All of which, I suppose, is my way of saying to the revolting, pathetic, poop-flinging Star Wars fan who still lives in me:
"Yes, old buddy. Friend."