Star Wars: My Declining Interest

Last weekend, a new Star Wars movie opened in theaters and I honestly was rather startled when I realized that I don’t particularly want to see it.  Right now, my thought is that I might get around to watching it once it comes out on DVD, although even then I’m not entirely sure.

The new movie, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is an animated feature that serves as essentially the premiere episode of an upcoming series of the same name that will be airing starting this fall on Cartoon Network.  The idea behind the series is to fill in the details of the titular war, which was initially referenced in passing during the original Star Wars way back in 1977.  The war became a key story element in the much more recent prequel movies, but most of the actual war mainly took place off-screen between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Like a large portion of my generation, I basically grew up with Star Wars, seeing the original film during its first run (although I didn’t really take to it until a second viewing during the reissue 2 years later).  The release of The Empire Strikes Back and especially Return of the Jedi were then huge events during my childhood.  Collecting toys and other memorabilia related to the series was a big thing, with my sister and I even maintaining our "Star Wars wall" in the basement, which was covered in news clippings and other paper goods related to the movies.  Growing up, I suspect I would have found it impossible to imagine not going to see a new Star Wars film opening weekend, much less deciding to forgo seeing it at all in the theater.

When I first heard that George Lucas was planning on returning to the Star Wars universe via television projects (both this upcoming animated series as well as a planned live action series that would bridge the gap between the two trilogies), my reaction was cautious interest and an expectation that I would probably at least check them out.  The news earlier this year that the animated series would be kicked off with a feature film also left me with the impression that I would probably end up going to see it, even despite the fact that my movie-going has been curtailed quite a bit since the birth of my son.

My enthusiasm quickly started to wane once the first visuals from the movie and series started to come out and then pretty much dropped like a stone once I saw the trailers.  Quite simply, I immensely dislike the visual style that is used for the animation.  For some reason, they seem to have gone for something vaguely resembling the Japanese-style of animation, which I’ve never really cared for all that much and which seems hugely wrong for Star Wars.  I think one of the things that has always been appealing about the movies was that, despite the otherworldly setting, the whole Star Wars universe had a basically realistic look to it.  Even at its most alien, the setting always seemed like it was in places that could really exist.  I didn’t get that feeling at all from the look of this animation, though, which instead seems exotic and excessively stylized.

Of course, I admit that this is kind of judging the book by its cover and that it is completely possible that the visual style is something that I could adjust to.  That brings me to the second problem, which is that I generally have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for this particular aspect of the Star Wars extended storyline.  I’m not one of those that especially disliked the prequel trilogy, but I also wasn’t particularly excited by them either.  I enjoyed all three films (especially Revenge of the Sith), but have not had much interest in revisiting them.  I have seen each of the films of the original trilogy more times than all of my viewing of the prequel films combined.  I haven’t really taken any interest at all in the related merchandise (other than the soundtrack CDs) or the various novels set during that part of the story.  While the films were fun, I just don’t find the characterizations or situations all that compelling.

Related to my preference for the parts of the story surrounding the original trilogy, I will say that I haven’t completely lost interest in all things Star Wars.  While I have little interest in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I am somewhat interested in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game, which is set during the time between the two trilogies.  Similarly, I am at least somewhat interested in the announced live-action TV series that will also take place during that same time period.  On a somewhat broader subject, I do look forward to the time in the next couple years when my son will be old enough to introduce him to the films, although I’m definitely more excited to share the original trilogy with him than the prequels.  I do know with some certainty that I’m going to encourage him strongly to watch the movies in the order they were released.

I’m really pretty torn when it comes to my overall feelings about Star Wars at this time.  While I still have a definite affection for it and certainly still admire the creativity and overall breadth of George Lucas’ creation, I also can’t help but feel like something that I once found extremely special has been diluted by an excess of mediocre product.  On the other hand, I also can’t help but recognize that it might be just as much a reflection of my own aging and changing tastes and priorities too.  I was 13-years-old when Return of the Jedi was released and I’m sure my impressions of all the films are inevitably colored by my stage in life when I saw them.  Had I been an adult when the original trilogy came out, I’m sure my views on those films would have been somewhat different as well.

Even taking into consideration that my views on the films are filtered through childhood nostalgia, I do still think the films of the original trilogy were simply better movies.  The original Star Wars (I’ve never been able to bring myself to call it A New Hope…) had some pretty bad acting and goofy dialog, but it also had a very tight, self-contained story and the big advantage of being an introduction to something truly new and exciting.  With The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, George Lucas wisely brought in much more skilled screenwriters (Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan) to flesh out his stories and also handed the projects off to more technically-skilled directors.  I really think Lucas is much more effective when he takes a role of creative oversight while letting others handle the details.

Critics of the recent Star Wars projects often bring up the idea that George Lucas should be working on telling other stories, including possibly the "small films" that he has sometimes talked about wanting to do.  I admit that I’m now finding that I am wondering if Star Wars might be the one and only great creative concept that Lucas really has.  Sure, he has done a few other projects that have had some success.  The Indiana Jones films are the most obvious, although I do tend to think that a lot more of the credit for the success of that series really should likely go to Steven Spielberg than to Lucas.  American Graffiti, which was Lucas’ one big hit prior to Star Wars is his one other pretty much unquestionable personal success, but it was a very early work that is also pretty clearly autobiographical in nature.  I’m not really sure how likely he is to have another story of that kind in him, particularly at this late stage of his career.

Regardless of what Lucas does going forward, I do think his place in film history is pretty secure.  Weaknesses aside, the Star Wars saga is a pretty remarkable accomplishment that really has been tremendously influential and is also likely to ultimately survive the test of time, at least to some extent.  His companies have also been responsible for a great deal of innovation in film, including significant advances in special effects, sound, digital editing, computer graphics (a lot of people don’t realize that Pixar was originally a division of Lucasfilm), and digital photography.  Even as I think he may be overextending Star Wars itself, I can’t see anything he does ever erasing or even substantially diminishing those accomplishments.

As a concluding note, I suppose my commentary in this post has been kind of all over the place, but it really is a reflection of very conflicted feelings.  The original motivation to post this was really the fact that I wanted to want to see the new film, but I just don’t.  In many ways, Star Wars has been an important cultural component of a large portion of my life.  I can’t help looking at my fading interest with a bit of wistful sadness.

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