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.
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.
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!