Though it may be four days before a presidential election, I just don't feel I can let the issue of the future of Star Wars pass without comment. In case you don't pay particular attention to these things, Disney is buying the franchise from George Lucas, and plans to release more Star Wars movies. Our own Tom Carson responds without much enthusiasm, writing that though he was never particularly crazy about Star Wars, "I think one reason for the deep bond fans feel with Star Wars is the awareness that the whole stupid, nutty legend all came out of one man's head. Those tin-eared character names, goofball non-human sidekicks—Jar Jar Binks (boo) no less than Chewbacca (yay)—and inane narrative compulsions are all homely testimonials to an authorship that stayed idiosyncratic and personal even when Lucas hired other hands to direct four out of the six installments." I agree up to a point, and in Disney's hands the next installment will probably end up expertly executed but without the barest hint of idiosyncrasy.
A major studio with authority over its director would have sent someone down to say, "Um, George? The studio says you've got to lose the Stepin' Fetchit alien. And we're bringing in somebody to punch up the script a bit." Supposedly, Harrison Ford read the script for the original movie and said to Lucas, "George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can't say it." But Lucas' tin ear for dialogue (and his rather unique ability to get otherwise excellent actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman to give the worst performances of their careers) didn't stop him from creating something extraordinary. So for a Disney Star Wars I envision something like this summer's The Avengers: a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and interesting in a number of ways, but not something anyone is going to get emotional about 30 years from now.
And it's almost impossible to disconnect that emotion from anything having to do with Star Wars. I was 9 years old when the first movie came out, and it wasn't just a great movie or something that meant a lot to kids my age. It was the most incredible thing we had ever seen. It blew our frickin' minds. It planted a little nugget of joy in our brains that pulses to this day. I like to consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but you could make a movie that was nothing but a bunch of monkeys fighting with lightsabers for two hours, and while I might not pay to see it, if I came across it I'd at least watch it for a few minutes. Because hey, lightsabers! I even enjoyed watching The Phantom Menace, without question the worst of the Star Wars movies, not because it wasn't terrible (it was), but because hey, lightsabers! For those of us who were infected with Star Wars at the right time, it's like heroin.
The only thing comparable that has come along in the decades since in terms of its lasting impact is Harry Potter, which I'm sure will still have great meaning to those who read it as kids long after they grow up. That too came out of one person's imagination. So while I'm sure Disney will make a lot of money on its new Star Wars movies, I doubt they'll change anyone's life. But I'll still go see them.
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