Confessions of a Star Wars nerd
Join me, Star Wars nerds. Let us bask in our hopelessly arcane knowledge.
Does the phrase "earth tones" inspire you to fits of childish and utterly inexplicable laughter? What about "Yub-Nub?" Do you consider the replacement of Elaine Baker, the woman who played the spooky holographic Emperor in Empire, with Ian MacDiarmid one of the most egregious changes in the Special Editions? (Do you, in fact, refer regularly to the second Star Wars film as "Empire"?) How often have you complained to your wife or girlfriend, if you have one, about the absurdity of ret-conning "Darth" into a title, like "Sir"? Does the phrase "Zahn-era Expanded Universe canon" mean anything to you? Do you know how many novelistic accounts we have of Han Solo's marriage to Princess Leia, and do you prefer the one where C-3PO serves — naturally — as "Best Droid" or the one where Han kidnaps Leia and flies her to a planet he's just purchased, one inhabited by a clan of Force-wielding witches who want Luke to impregnate their chieftaness in order to produce some kind of super Jedi babies? Do you continually return to Mr. Plinkett's prequel reviews? Could you pick a Sullustan out of a police lineup? How about Bossk?
If you answered yes to any of my questions, it is possible to predict a few things about you. You are between the ages of 25 and 45. You are likely white and almost certainly male. Odds are you didn't see all the original Star Wars films, or maybe even any of them, in theaters. Your introduction came by way of the old CBS/Fox videocassettes or maybe the THX boxed set with the "One Last Time" preview and the Leonard Maltin interviews with George Lucas at the beginning. You had the Kenner "Power of the Force" toys from the mid-'90s rather than the ones from the '70s. You were confused by The Phantom Menace, disappointed by Attack of the Clones, and saw Revenge of the Sith with your friends explicitly to make fun of it. You think that the Special Editions of the film released in 1997 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Star Wars are even worse than the prequels because they sullied something you loved. You complain constantly about the unavailability of the original versions on modern home-video formats and make a point of reminding people who don't care about whether Han shot first that you own them on VHS. You might even own the laserdisc versions as well even though you don't have a laserdisc player.
If, on the other hand, you answered no to most or all of my questions but think that my asking them is occasioned by the upcoming release of Disney's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which I have no plans of seeing, you are wrong. Star Wars exists for fans like me in a realm that Disney cannot touch, in tapes and heaps of out-of-print mass-market paperbacks and coffee table books with titles like The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels and, above all, in memory. It is a hobby, a sport, and even a kind of cause. It is (to paraphrase General Motti) the ancient religion to which we are sadly devoted.
I cannot actually remember the first time I watched the films, except, oddly, Empire, which used to be my least favorite. At first I only had Star Wars. Then my mother taped Return of the Jedi from TBS the day after Christmas, complete with repeat airings of a Menard's commercial that I will be able to quote on my deathbed. A few years later I can recall being in Mrs. H's first-grade class compulsively rereading The Golden Globe, the first in the Star Wars Junior Jedi Knights saga, not to be confused with the roughly concurrent Young Jedi Knights series written by Kevin J. Anderson, much less the Star Wars Galaxy of Fear books, with their attractively spooky holographic covers. By the time I was 8 I could quote every line of dialogue from all three of the films. I had been Luke and Han for Halloween in immediate succession. I was old enough not to want to die of boredom during the romance scenes but young enough to want to leave the room from embarrassment.
One of the rites of passage for serious fans is recognizing that the hallowed original trilogy is not without its problems. So your very interesting and original opinion is that the Ewoks were a lame cash grab from Lucas, who clearly cared more about selling stupid toys than the cinematic arts? That's kid stuff. Real Star Wars fans can turn off the sound during the first film and tell you in any given scene whether Carrie Fisher is even bothering with her never-very-steady English accent. They can catalogue the various pronunciations of Han's name in Empire. They can point out to you how that film's timeline makes no sense at all unless you proceed on the unspoken assumption that it takes place over the course of at least six months, that Luke ran and did pushups and balanced cups on his nose for weeks on Dagobah while the Millennium Falcon crawled to Cloud City. (I would be lying if I said that I did not know a website where someone has done the math, using the speed at which the Falcon was able to travel without hyperdrive to arrive at an exact figure for how long our hero was with Yoda.)
Do the films hold up, though? It depends what you mean. It is certainly the case that, in the words that only we have committed to memory, they "changed movie-making forever," but it was almost certainly a change for the worse. They are fun, even Jedi, but are they any good?
When we are children, it doesn't really matter what we read or watch. The point is to have something to apply our silly minds to, preferably something that can inspire a sense of awe and longing, something that succeeds, however clumsily, in telling us a story about good triumphing over evil. It turns out that for a large-ish portion of American males in roughly my age bracket and slightly older, Star Wars was that thing. Forget the effluvium. The novels were boring by the time we were 10. The merchandise was a scam for which we should be begging our parents' forgiveness. But the films themselves were good then and are good now because they are true and even moving. We can still laugh with them even though we are old enough now to laugh at them as well.
There is nothing I would rather watch than Luke staring up at the twin suns of Tatooine, one blood orange, one faintly violet, framed by that ridiculous magenta expanse of sky, dreaming of something ineffable amid the strains of John Williams' throwaway pastiche of a score for the very simple but impossible to explain reason that it is the most beautiful scene ever filmed.