Geek Ink Thinks: From Episode IV to The Force Awakens: Some Ramblings on Four Decades of Star Wars

The following is a guest editorial by BanzaiBob

I was barely two years old when Star Wars landed for the very first time in 1977 and changed the film world forever.

To the best of my recollection, I must’ve been around 10 years old when I saw the film for the first time on Betamax at a friend’s house. I honestly don’t recall if it had that much impact on me, but I do remember that I never saw the whole thing as his folks had to leave so I was shuffled off home. I had another friend who had all the original 3 ¾ inch action figures along with (what I now know) was the Death Star playset. I remember them all being cool as hell, but whether I associated them with Star Wars at the time, is again something I really couldn’t tell you.

Jump ahead a few years, and it would be my very early teens when Star Wars would make a massive impact on my life. The lonely, fat, largely friendless, geeky kid I was finally found something to immerse himself in that took me away from the tedious world around me – an artificially divided country who’s politics I understood little about, a distant father who had no interest in me or anything I did, and the terrible boredom of standardised education. In between reading volumes of other science fiction and fantasy tomes, I watched VHS copies of “Episode IV” and “Return of the Jedi” over and over again (for a time “The Empire Strikes Back” was a “lost” film to me as the local video stores didn’t have copies for some reason). Empire would soon join the set and the films became a staple of my teen years (along with the original Indiana Jones, Robocop, Terminator, Alien and Predator films).

And of course, there was soon so much more than just the films. There were the games. From the fairly terrible “Rebel Assault” where you were locked into a simple story with occasional pew-pew moments, to the massive space combat simulators of “X-Wing” and “TIE Fighter”, and first person shooters like “Dark Forces” (which got me to buy my first ever CD-Rom drive) which let you muck about with all sort of Star Wars weapons up close.

Then there were the novels. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy created one of my all-time favourite Star Wars characters (the titular Grand Admiral Thrawn). Other novels filled in stories between the films, such as “Shadows of the Empire” and the various “Tales of the…” which seemed to have a story for almost every background character while others went from the day after the Battle of Endor to decades beyond. Some were really solid, and some… not so much, but the Star Wars story expanded, and expanded, and the films increasingly became a bright glowing core of a much bigger universe (there were also a ton of comics from Dark Horse, only some of which I’ve read, and those only recently).

Then came the big news! Lucas was making a new trilogy. We would see the rise of Darth Vader, and the origins of events (such as the Clone Wars) only ever hinted at. I was overwhelmingly excited by the news (I had started to develop severe depression by this point in my life, and as absurd as it may seem, for a while, waiting on a new Star Wars film was one of the few things I felt I had to live for). The trailers started coming out not long after. When that oh-so-familiar music started, the Lucasfilm logo sparkled across the screen, and the first glimpses of a whole new Star Wars world began to unfold, excitement welled up inside me.

And then “The Phantom Menace” came out in 1999, and it was just… so mediocre. So disappointing. So not really Star Wars. How could a whiny kid seriously be the origin of one of the most terrifying beings in the galaxy? Add in terrible dialogue, silly nonsense like midichlorians and a virgin birth (yes, I do understand the irony of that sentence), even calling lightsabres “laser swords”. It took me out of the film, and that, for me, is immediately a cinematic failure. Yes, it had a few decent moments. The podrace was exciting enough, the final battle was pretty good, and the climactic sabre duel was superb, but in the end I walked out in a bit of a daze and I remember thinking “what the fuck was that”. The whole experience had soured my love for Star Wars.

Episodes II and III came and went. And they were kind of okay. Better than “Menace” at least, but with more emo Darth Vader, and more daft dialogue. They really aren’t great films. I have younger friends who really liked them, but for me they weren’t quite Star Wars as it should be. More novels and games came out (Knights of the Old Republic would be the first RPG I played, loved, and finished), but for a while, Star Wars wasn’t quite as fun as it once was. Eventually, I would file anything extra from the prequels as not worth my time, and would instead concentrate on the original films and the events following them. I’ve since made my peace with episodes 2 and 3, and thanks to the Machete Order (try it – it works really well) they have now have a place in the films for me. Not “Menace” though. Never “Menace”. It goes in the box with the Ewok movies and the Christmas Special. It exists, but we do not speak of it if we can help it.

Now we are literally weeks away from a new Star Wars film, and I promised myself I wouldn’t get excited. I promised… and I failed. Each new trailer brings back the waves of emotion I used to get from the original Star Wars back in the day. I’m 40 years old now. When I see those trailers I feel like a kid again. I have faith in JJ Abrams because I like what he did with Star Trek.

Am I bummed that Disney wiped out all those years of stories and characters that sustained interest in the fans over the decades? Sure. I think it was a bit too sweeping. But nothing is stopping me from re-reading any of it at any time. Hell, comic book universes get wiped clean all the time. It makes room for new stories, new directions to take existing characters and add a fresh coat of paint that will appeal to new fans.

I may be old, grouchy, and cynical, but you know what? I’m really looking forward to The Force Awakens. I can’t wait to see it!


One thought on “Geek Ink Thinks: From Episode IV to The Force Awakens: Some Ramblings on Four Decades of Star Wars

  1. I’ve always thought that Star Wars did more to change the landscape of movie merchandise marketing than it actually affected the film world, except for the legitimizing spec fic as a mainstream film genre. Lucas delved too deeply, and harvested too freely, from his source material–but he sure could sell toys.

    Liked by 1 person

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