'Star Wars': The kids were all right
For the last two years, my kid has repeatedly asked me multiple variations of the same question: When are they making another Star Wars movie? A know-it-all classmate had assured him that a new sequel was coming out very soon, and no matter how many times I explained that the movie franchise was finished, my now-7-year-old refused to accept that. I understood his frustration: He was born two months after the final Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, opened in theaters, so although he understands the original trilogy’s place in pop-culture and how the prequels fit in to that universe, all six films were before his time. He never got to experience a Star Wars film in real time — the anticipation, the hype, the spectacle — on a big screen.
So yesterday, when George Lucas and Disney announced their billion-dollar agreement that included another trilogy, the first chapter of which would arrive in 2015, I had never been so happy to be wrong. Breaking the good news to him felt like a gift, and his brain quickly shifted into posing the same questions that the rest of the Internet is tackling right now: What will the story be? Will Luke be in it? Will Chewbacca have gray hair?
Like most post-Sith babies, my son experienced the trilogy and its prequels on DVD. Before he could properly pronounce Millennium Falcon, he was spoon-fed them in the order they were released — beginning with Star Wars: A New Hope and culminating with Anakin’s fall from grace in the final chapter — and he’s blissfully unaware that Lucas has re-released versions of the films with both subtle and drastic changes. (There is no Han Solo/Greedo debate in our house.) But when I asked him to rank his favorite Star Wars films, it’s clear he’s not inherited my generation’s snobbery. His favorite was a little surprising, Return of the Jedi — he loves the Ewoks and the battle for Endor, as well as Jabba the Hut — and his choice for least favorite, The Empire Strikes Back, broke my heart. (Blame the father, not the child.)
As much as I disagree with his choices, his sunnier tastes are a reminder of something that older Star Wars fanatics sometimes forget. These are movies for children first, and the darker, more brooding installments don’t always connect the same way with kids. When The Phantom Menace was panned by hardcore loyalists for its “Yippeeee!” sensibility, Lucas barely blinked. “The die-hard Star Wars fans have grown older and somehow expect the films should be for them, but they’re not,” he said back in 1999. “I think that’s the reason so many people are saying The Phantom Menace is more kid-friendly than any of the other films, which is categorically not true. It’s just that the original fans have lost sight of what thrilled them in the first place. These films were intended for 12- and 13-year-olds. My intention has always been to make a Saturday afternoon serial for children.”
Consider me one of those disgruntled older fans. I was 9-years-old when Return of the Jedi came out, and I can still remember the theater, the awe I felt seeing Jabba for the first time, and the jubilation of witnessing my heroes finally triumph over evil. I became one of those grown-up idiots who paid for a ticket to Wing Commander just to see the first trailer for Phantom Menace 16 years later. How could the prequels not have felt like a cruel disappointment?
This new Disney-fied trilogy news promises to dredge up all the old cynicism from diehard fans, but my scars have healed. Star Wars is no longer a world I worship. But my son will likely be 9 when Star Wars: Episode VII arrives in theaters, and I don’t expect his trip to a galaxy far, far away will be undercut by unreasonable expectations. He and his friends will have their own Star Wars experience, filled perhaps with entirely new characters than the ones we grew up with. To be a witness to that excitement, to that sense of wonder, is different than experiencing it yourself back in 1983. It’s better, actually, and it’s why this Star Wars snob is thrilled that more adventures are in the works.
P.S.: We’ve since hired that 6-year-old know-it-all and named him our chief Star Wars correspondent.