Star Wars, A Love Story

Took the kids to see Star Wars last night. That sentence still kind of gives me a thrill. I always felt a little cheated by the universe that I was born a decade or so too late to see Star Wars in the theatre when it first came out. I grew up absorbing the story by osmosis, hearing about it and acting it out and seeing it in bits and pieces before I could even parse the plot as something more coherent than a vast, mysterious mythology that enveloped my childhood inner life.

It was another kind of thrill, certainly, to see the prequel episodes in the theatre as a young adult. But they were so different in tone, and, alas, so full of cringe-worthy moments, that even when they were shiny and new and full of cutting-edge special effects, you couldn’t quite fall in love with them the way you instinctively did with the originals.

Still, I faithfully watched the series every Christmas, just as my family had done when I was a kid. I bought my children light sabres and Star Wars legos. When we moved to Tunisia, almost six years ago now, our first sightseeing trip was to the south, to see the breathtakingly intact original Star Wars sets near the real-life Tunisian town from which Tatooine received its name.

I was trepidatious, as many people were, to hear that Disney would be acquiring Lucasfilm and assuming responsibility for the near-universal mythos of what is now three generations of humanity. I cringed at the idea of my childhood idol Leia being added to the infamous lineup of Disney princesses (for the record, as a kid I wore my hair like Ewok jungle Leia, not giant double mushroom head Leia).

However, two Disneyfied Star Wars movies in, I have to say that Disney does Lucasfilm better than Lucas did Lucasfilm. Once I had grown up enough to analyse the phenomenon, and having parsed the data of all six Lucas-produced movies, I was forced to conclude that the original Star Wars had been a sort of serendipitous accident–product of an erratic genius dreaming about magic-mushroom-inspired science fiction in an exotically-inspiring landscape. Reading Dune in the Tunisian desert seems to have led almost spontaneously to the spectacular, gritty brilliance that is Star Wars. It’s almost like the alignment of stars that elevated a run-of-the-mill, rushed production WWII war propaganda film into the iconic classic Casablanca.

And it was a brilliance Lucas seemed unable to replicate in future films. The second two Star Wars films, while much beloved, fall slightly short of the perfection of the original. And the latter three aren’t even in the same universe, so to speak, even if Hayden Christensen does eventually pull off destructive rage rather more convincingly than tortured romance.

After The Force Awakens and now Rogue One, I am more than thrilled to give my money to Disney every December for as long as they want to make a new Star Wars movie every year. With The Force Awakens, I had the impression that they were establishing their credentials by recreating the experience of the original Star Wars, and incorporating as many nostalgic moments as possible. And they managed it beautifully whilst simultaneously telling a great story with compelling characters, and giving the franchise a long overdue kick in a generally feminist direction. My favourite scene in the movie is the one where Maz Kanata gives Rey the light sabre, simultaneously passing the Bechdel test and recompensing us for that one time when George Lucas turned Frank Herbert’s powerful all-female Bene Gesserit into the male-dominated Jedi.

In Jyn Erso, we have another fabulous female Star Wars lead. Plus, the entire cast and story line is a fascinating glimpse into the rank and file of the Rebellion–you know, ordinary people who have to rely on grit, determination, and a willingness to sacrifice everything, with no recourse to supernatural powers inherited through an elite bloodline. It’s different, for Star Wars, but refreshing.

I was a little startled that one of the previews to Rogue One was Assassin’s Creed, but by the end I could see how it could be watched as a war-themed action thriller, even by someone who had less interest in all the tie-ins to the main Star Wars story. But those tie-ins, as well as the various character throwbacks to the original films (e.g. brief glimpses of C-3PO and R2D2, or that great scene at the beginning with the scar-faced guy from the Cantina in Mos Eisley) are a treat. And the sarcastic C2B5 Imperial droid felt very Star Wars, and added some hilarious but not too heavy handed sarcastic humour to what was otherwise quite a dark and desperate movie.

I have mixed, but mostly impressed and positive feelings about CGI Tarkin. They didn’t at all try to minimise the scenes he was in (in fact, he might have had more lines than in the original series), and he was pretty convincing, even if the CGI made him slightly creepier (if possible) than normal. I was less enchanted with CGI Leia at the end. But I think it was mostly because they were just showing her off and panning around her face, rather than having her actually do anything. Which was a sort of unnatural situation for Leia, and probably why it didn’t come off very well, rather than any lack of technical skill on the part of the animators.

All in all, I am very happy to be alive and attending the cinema when this new incarnation of Star Wars is happening, and so excited for every new Star Wars movie set to come out in upcoming years. I guess I haven’t been cheated by the universe after all.