Manufacturing Magic… Why I’m done with Star Wars

Kristene Perron as Princess Leia

Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar…

You go to a place. Maybe the place is a bar, or a restaurant, an annual event, a hotel, a vacation spot, a party. Any kind of place, really, where other people come together and share an experience.

You go to that place and have an amazing time doing whatever it is you do. Not just an amazing time but the most amazing time you can imagine. When you leave that place, you know you will never forget the time you had there. You know, fifty years in the future, you will still remember that place and the time you had there. There was something magical about that place.

Time passes. Maybe a year, maybe a decade. You return to that place. You can barely control your excitement. This is the magic place!

Except this time there is no magic. You have an okay time, or a very good time, but it’s not the same. Something is missing. Maybe you have a rotten time. When you leave, even if you had a very good time, you feel disappointed. You remember this place as the place where you had the most amazing time ever but now it just feels like any other place.

Familiar?

Like me, you probably deduced that the place itself was not magic. There were hundreds of tiny details that combined in a sort of spell that made the magic happen. Everything that happened in the hours, days or weeks leading up to that place and time. Everyone who came together and everything that happened to them in the hours, days and weeks leading up to that time and place. The temperature, the volume of the music, the state of world affairs, the order in which people arrived, the price of the food or the drinks, the time of day or night, all these elements and hundreds more had to align perfectly.

You can return to that place, you can try to recreate the events, but you can’t manufacture the magic. It happens or it doesn’t. In fact, trying and failing to recapture the magic can dilute the memory of that special moment. Sometimes it’s best to keep the memory and leave future magic up to chance.

*

I often call myself a “child of Star Wars”. Seven years old when the original movie exploded onto the big screen, I was awestruck. This was more than a movie, this was a portal that catapulted my imagination into other galaxies.

Like so many others, I was changed forever by the magic of Star Wars.

Twenty-five years after its debut, the original Star Wars (the movie I will always think of as the “first” Star Wars, no matter how they are numbered) was re-released in theaters for a limited time. I was working as a veterinary assistant alongside another die-hard Star Wars fan, Rose, and together we rallied the troops to join us for a night of sci-fi spectacle. The evening was nostalgic and fun. The audience cheered, booed and jumped to their feet for a standing ovation at the end.

Despite its flaws (man, Luke was sure whiny!), it was easy to see why this movie had made such an impact. The story is as old as time (and pilfered from a variety of previous films, as I understand now), but the special effects were mind blowing for 1977. MIND BLOWING! And instead of the stereotypical shiny newness that marked every other sci-fi offering, Star Wars showed us a future that was old, shoddy, and sometimes falling apart.

Falcon

Lucas’s future had a past. Original!

Because we’ve lived with the Star Wars universe for almost forty years, it is easy to forget how much of that first movie was original. But it wasn’t just the movie that created the magic. Remember, back then we didn’t have thousands upon thousands of movies to choose from whenever our hearts desired. Movies came to a theater and if they were good enough they stuck around a while. Sometimes you missed movies because they came and went before you had the time, transportation, and money to get to the theater. Star Wars was not just a hit, it was a phenomenon. I can vividly remember the newspaper articles showing the long lines of eager fans, month after month! How long could this go on?

When I think back to 1977, I don’t just remember the movie, I remember all the excitement swirling around the movie, that tangible sense of “This has never happened before!” I have never experienced anything like it and I’m not sure I ever will again. It was magic, rendered moreso by the golden glow only seven year olds can bestow on memories.

Of course I watched the sequels—The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Of course I loved them. Of course I was a little sad when the credits rolled on “Jedi” and I knew that was really The End. Of course I was thrilled when I learned about the prequels that Lucas was rolling out. Of course I was heartbroken and disappointed by those big screen disasters. Of course I still went to see the latest installment, The Force Awakens. Of course…

And here’s where my story takes a sharp turn.

*

If I have a muse, it is Seven Year Old Kristene Marrington. That girl is a force of nature. And fearless? Wow. She makes stunt woman Kristene look like a wussie. How did she make it to eight years old without losing a limb, or two? If her parents had known half the crazy antics she got up to, they would have locked her up until her twentieth birthday!

Seven Year Old Kristene stands over my shoulder as I write. She smacks her Hubba Bubba bubble gum and picks at the scab on her knee, underneath her green Cricket pants. Her white blonde hair looks like she stuck her finger in a light socket, she has dirt on her face, and the iron-on Star Wars decal on her t-shirt is cracking because it’s been worn and washed too many times.

“That’s boring,” Seven Year Old Kristene says as I complete another clichéd scene.

I try to explain to her the literary merit of my creative choice, about how readers like it when characters behave a certain way, when you stick to a particular convention.

“BOR-ING!” she says.

Seven Year Old Kristene is never satisfied. She’s seen Star Wars, after all, and she thinks that makes her an expert on storytelling. Worst of all, she’s infected me with the notion that the best stories take risks, strive to be different, break away from convention and expectation. Maybe she doesn’t use those words but I understand what she means.

Nothing annoys her more than movie sequels. There are a few exceptions. She enjoyed Aliens, Terminator II, Mad Max: Road Warrior, and some others. “They’re not boring,” is her explanation. What she means is that the sequels she likes don’t content themselves with recycling the same plot, even if they work with the same characters in the same universe. They take risks.

I was hesitant to take her to the new Star Wars. She didn’t speak to me for a long time after the abysmal prequels. But I was seeing enough positive feedback online that I considered it worth the risk.

Half way through The Force Awakens, Seven Year Old Kristene fell into a deep sulk. At the end of the movie, I asked her what was wrong.

“It’s all the same,” she said. “It’s all the same movie just with some different characters.”

“Some of it was good,” I said, hopefully.

“Why do you keep trying to go back?” she asked. She was angry. “Why can’t you let me have my Star Wars and you can have other stuff? Why do you want to wreck it for me?”

I thought about that one for several minutes.

“Because I want the magic back,” I said.

She crossed her hands over her chest and looked at me in that way seven year olds do. That look that asks why adults are so stupid. “It doesn’t work that way,” she said.

No. It doesn’t.

Lots of people loved the new Star Wars and I’m sure many young people found their own magic in this return to the Star Wars universe but I am not among them. This new Star Wars was safe, predictable, and boring. I would rather spend my time and money on new stories, original stories, stories that take risks the way that the original Star Wars movie took risks. The elements that came together for Seven Year Old Kristene to create the magic that dazzled her developing mind cannot be manufactured, cannot be revisited. I didn’t sit through three prequels and a new sequel because I wanted a good story, I did it to try and recapture a time and place that is long gone.

The magic of Star Wars belongs to Seven Year Old Kristene, and may the force be with her. I am done.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my muse out for a chocolate dipped cone as an apology. She’s a mouthy little brat sometimes, but man does that girl know how to tell a story!

This entry was posted in Entertainment, On Scribbling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Manufacturing Magic… Why I’m done with Star Wars

  1. Josh says:

    *spoilers ahoy*

    I didn’t mind so much that it was a rehash, except in one particular that I’ll get into later. I fully expected that it would be a rehash, given the disaster of the last trilogy and the parent company involved, which realizes that the Star Wars property is basically a license to print money.

    What bothered me was that the movie had such poor storytelling. Nobody accuses the original of being high art, but they established characters.

    Luke: is whiny, but he’s shown to be basically a good kid who’s stuck in the dead-end town and wants the big city and adventure. However, when push comes to shove he’s also loyal and stands by his family, even at the potential cost of his own dreams. This is established with the droids in the oil bath, his conversation with Ben, and the argument with his aunt and uncle. So by the time he really gets into action, his moral core and motivations are established. We know why he risks his life to go rescue Leia.

    Leia: gets established in bad-ass fashion. First she drops a Stormtrooper. Then she stands up to Vader, who was about the scariest science fiction movie villain ever circa 1977. When her rescue shows up, she gets on mission immediately. She has purpose, motive, and character.

    Han: Shoots first, owes money, and ultimately has a moral moment that drives him to come through when needed.

    Contrasting this with the big three of the new film and we get the following.

    Rey: Basically decent, hard life, orphan, and… not much really. Other than when she was directly under threat or after she got kidnapped, I never got a sense of motive. Why did she risk her life when there wasn’t a direct and dire threat? She was a blank slate, essentially, easy for the viewer to project motives onto because she rarely evinced any of her own.

    Finn: Annoyed me because for somebody who was raised in a hyper-obedient military, didn’t really show much mark of it. Take a look at people who come out of the military, especially immediately after they get out. There are patterns of behavior that come ingrained, and this man was in a much more intense environment from literally childhood, but I never got that sense from him. He had a motive of sorts, at least.

    Poe: Charismatic hotshot fighter pilot with generic cockiness, and…? My favorite because the actor carried the role with a lot of charisma, but there’s nothing to the character.

    Then we get into key plot elements. When Alderaan is destroyed in the original, it’s a huge moment. Now, why does the viewer care about this fictional world full of fictional people? We don’t, really, it’s abstract in the movie, just a matte painting of a planet. What we do care about is Leia, who’s been made into a character that we sympathize when and root for. When she lies to protect her world, and argues with Tarkin, and then Tarkin blows up her home, we’re mad at Tarkin because he fucked with our girl Leia and we want her to shoot him in his beaky face.

    Contrast this with the primary ignition sequence of the new movie, and beyond providing a spectacular visual and an uh-oh for our heroes, what does blowing up a bunch of worlds we never heard of amount to? We have no attachment, we had been given little to no significance for these worlds. Abstractly we know that blowing up planets full of people is a bad thing, but the job of a fictional universe is to make you care about events like these on a personal level, and the movie failed.

    Now, where the movie did bother me for being a rehash was the entire lack of tension in the latter portion. As soon as the new PLANET-SIZED DEATH STAR shows up, we know what’s going to happen. There’ll be plucky X-Wing jocks, some of whom will die dramatically. It’ll be blown up at the last minute. Somebody big will die (and if you didn’t see it being Han from the time that Kylo Ren’s parentage is revealed, whelp…)

    One last complaint: when the Falcon lifts off at the very last second and the ground crumbles away from under it, my honest thought was “Of course it does” because every other moment in the movie was pretty much that dramatic at-the-last-second bullshit. The first time you see Indy get under the door just before it slams shut, it’s exciting. The fifteenth time you pull the same gag in the same movie, it has no cool factor at all.

    Blerg.

  2. John says:

    Josh’s analysis is on the money, and, Kristene, I had some of the same reaction to the movie that you did. At 26, I wasn’t quite so enthralled with A New Hope as many, but it grew on me over the years of VHS viewings, especially after introducing the films to our children – all born after Return of the Jedi was first released. Now I count myself a diehard fan (not to be confused with a fan of Diehard). My sense of The Force Awakens is that it was mostly about reclaiming the emotional pull of A New Hope in order to ensure the loyalty of another generation of fans for the next several iterations. More than two, in my estimation. And for all I know, Disney succeeded at that. I think I may go back to see The Force Awakens a second time now that it has arrived at my favorite second-run theater. I might just come away with a different response now that all the surprises (or most of them) won’t distract me from watching the movie as a movie and not as an experience in rebooted magic.

  3. Josh says:

    Honestly during the entire Death Star sequence I really had to pee and was wishing they’d hurry up and just blow the damn thing up already.

  4. Nick says:

    Yeah, I’m done too. I came to that realisation after seeing the utter disappointment that was the farce awakens. Can’t even be bothered to go see Rogue One. From what I’ve seen from trailers and such it looks decent but I’m just not into prequels and I just don’t care anymore. You’re absolutely right though – you can’t manufacture magic. And that is what this movie was trying to do. It’s a shame so many people can’t see that and I’m sick of these apologists trying so desperately to justify the rehashed storyline like it was some kind of necessity. There’s absolutely no excuse for it. They could have furthered the story of Star Wars in several ways. They could have even pulled from any of the EU source material. What a waste. And all for the sake of taking the safest route to appease the masses. Well done Jar Jar Abrams! George Lucas said it best in his take on tfa when he said “Lack of imagination and fear of creativity”. Anyway, rant over.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s