Nostalgia, like the Dark Side of the Force, is seductive. It can fool you into believing in a time - and not just in childhood, either - that was better than it really was. People wrap their emotions around pieces from that time, and it can change memory, even self-identity. It happens all the time. Enjoying nostalgia for brief moments is enjoyable, even healthy. Wallowing in it isn't. It can blind you to the reality of how things really are.
If you're a geek, you're guilty of this. That's just part of the package. To deny it is futile; we all do it. It's okay, as long as it isn't a crutch, and you can step out of that Instagrammed world and back into reality. Some people can't do it easily. I know I can't. It's easy to be drawn back in. We have so much emotion wrapped up in the things we love, because, let's face it, some of us escape in those aspects of our past. Perhaps it's a lie, but it's a warm embrace of a lie.
My love for STAR WARS isn't nostalgia. My love for STAR WARS is true. It doesn't live in my past - it lives in the now. And because it is love, it examines and admits the shortcomings, just like true love does. It recognizes them, because it is a love that is honest. Those who cannot recognize those shortcomings, and love blindly, are doing themselves a disservice, because it means that they are slaves to their emotions. I will always look at art with a critical but optimistic eye. I have to, because that's how I'm built. It wasn't always that way, and I still struggle with it, but I feel like I'm a better fan for being able to do that now. I'll be the first to admit that for STAR WARS, it's different. Whether that's good or bad I can't say, but while I can be critical of STAR WARS, there's too much history and emotion wrapped in it that I must acknowledge.
It's been a... strange week for me as a STAR WARS fan. With the announcement of the new cast, I like many others was happy to see that picture. It was concrete proof that it was happening, and the story I've always wanted to see since I was 13 years old is going forward, somewhere, right now. That's incredibly exciting, and my first reactions were happy ones. But STAR WARS, while probably the McDonald's of science fiction franchises, is always going to be complicated, because so many of us came to our fandom through it. Only two women cast in the film? Only one black character? No Lando Calrissian? (That one, to be honest, bothered me the most at first glance.) STAR WARS by its nature is supposed to be inclusive, and for many people this cast didn't feel very inclusive at all. Of course, it was announced that casting was not yet complete, but for many this was outrageous. STAR WARS has always been something of a Boys' Club, but times have changed since 1977. Hell, since 2005.
And, to be honest, I didn't have that sense of outrage because of it, although, again, my love for STAR WARS doesn't mean I don't recognize its shortcomings. This is an issue, because so many women have come to fandom through STAR WARS. I have a lot of emotion wrapped up in this Saga. These films are some of the primary films that made me a movie fan. These movies made me want to write - not just about movies, but just plain write, to tell stories. STAR WARS introduced me to Akira Kurosawa. To John Ford. To Howard Hawks. To more influences that I can name right now. My first reaction to anything STAR WARS is always going to be from my heart and not from my head.
STAR WARS should be more inclusive. It doesn't change my love for it, because I can still love it even with its faults. But I also started watching STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS this week. I'm now a third through Season 3, and having a grand time with it. Is it silly? At times, yes. There's never going to be a universe where I embrace Jar Jar Binks, one of the worst characters in all of fiction. It's just never going to happen (although I haven't finished THE CLONE WARS yet. Perhaps the character redeems itself. But I doubt it). Sometimes the broad humor of the Saga can be grating, and that's just as true for the Original Trilogy as it is for the Prequels and THE CLONE WARS. There's nothing subtle about what makes George Lucas laugh, that's for certain.
But THE CLONE WARS has, also, some of the most spectacular imagery and character building, and I absolutely count the series as an essential part of the Saga. The duel between Mistress Luminara, Ahsoka Tano, and Ventress may be one of my favorites in the franchise.
THE CLONE WARS is full of great women characters, and it also does the impossible - THE CLONE WARS makes the Prequels better. The Prequels, on their own, and judged as individual movies, are as flawed as they've always been. There's no way around that - the storytelling is sloppy, the acting is terrible (except for Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid), and they are missing the essential, indescribable stuff that makes STAR WARS STAR WARS. They take themselves far too seriously, but when they aren't serious they simply aren't very funny. By themselves, it feels like there's very little humanity in them. But, as seen as part of a bigger story with THE CLONE WARS, and all the context that the series provides, they become more profound. THE CLONE WARS is full of great STAR WARS moments, and the episodes draw their inspirations from many sources.
That's not to say THE CLONE WARS is perfect - it isn't, and like many television shows there are good episodes and bad ones. STAR WARS has always been a mixed bag - even in the Original Trilogy there are moments that do not work, but they do not take anything away from the moments that do. These films and this show are never going to be Shakespeare or Proust, but they do address different themes and stories that have obviously struck a chord with millions of fans throughout the world. There's a ton of cool imagery in STAR WARS, but I think people keep returning to the Saga because the characters ring true, the stories have resonance, and the emotions are genuine.
Take Princess Leia, who is one of the most important characters in all of science fiction. She's a heroine for the ages - she's a politician, a good fighter, fiercely intelligent, and full of compassion. She has the Force, and she killed one of the main villains of the Saga. This of course makes no excuses for the entire Slave Leia outfit, which, let's be honest, is pretty humiliating. Carrie Fisher doesa great job of keeping her dignity during those scenes, and it helps somewhat that we know that Jabba the Hutt is a lech and a foul gangster, but that doesn't excuse the imagery. This was 1983, after all, and the movies were full of sexist portrayals of women. Still are. But you can't change the past.
But you can change the future. If JJ Abrams is adding more characters to the Saga, he should feel free to add more women. Or more actors of different races. Because the STAR WARS I love has room for everybody. That said, who knows what the future will bring? I have not even the slightest idea where the story is going. If John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are the main characters in this new series of films, I'm excited to see where the story is headed. This is merely the beginning.
For a while, I put STAR WARS in my past. I didn't watch the movies for a few years, and I steered away from it after the Prequels. Perhaps it was the overdose of the marketing, which was (and still is) everywhere. Hell, they practically tried to invent a holiday. Perhaps it was the sheer badness of the Prequels. I still don't like them very much, but there are moments in the films that shine, and I can choose not to watch them if I don't want to.
Being a STAR WARS fan isn't some obscure section of fandom, because STAR WARS is everywhere. For many people it's their introduction into genre cinema. There's nothing punk rock about STAR WARS. There's very little subversion in it, and if you're a STAR WARS fan, it's a lot like being a fan of white bread, or Coca-Cola. But there are pleasures in STAR WARS that I simply don't find anywhere else. My skin still tingles with goosebumps when I see Luke and Vader on the scaffold. Or when the Star Destroyer flies overhead. Or when Luke stands at the funeral pyre of his father. Is it nostalgia? Maybe. Or maybe it's just a cracking good story, weill told, and as immersive as it always has been.
For me, STAR WARS isn't merely nostalgia. It's a part of me because I can't change the past - STAR WARS brought me to where I am today in many ways. It made me want to write. It made me want to love cinema. It helped me bond with my friends. I'm not trapped by STAR WARS - I don't collect figures, for example. My love for it isn't in buying stuff. My wife isn't even a fan. That's a good thing, because my wife complements me in other ways, and I don't need other people's recognition of my love of STAR WARS to justify my own. But without STAR WARS, I wouldn't be here. I never would have gotten to visit Skywalker Ranch. I don't think I would have ever fallen in love with story the way that I have. Perhaps something else would have come along to fill that void.
Is this criticism? No way. When it comes the STAR WARS, I'm going to choose optimism every time. I don't know how good a critic that makes me, but I do know it makes me happier. And I'm going to choose happier every time. I hope JJ Abrams does cast more women and non-whites in the film. But I'm also going to wait to see the story that they tell. I'll still love STAR WARS. I'll always love it, because it's not nostalgia. It still lives and breathes in me. It's integral to who I am. It's why I write, and why I love cinema. It's family.