Star Wars: Boomer reflections

How’s this for 2011-12 holiday fun? Watching all six Star Wars films in order. And no, we didn’t do it all at one time!

My generation, the Baby Boomers, has a sentimental connection with Star Wars. The first film premiered in 1977, when we were young adults. It was followed by The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). The three-film prequel series premiered in 1999, by which time many of us had families and mid-career working lives.

Follow this link if you’d like to see a nice set of Star Wars reviews. Rather than attempt a recap of all those, I’ll just post a few thoughts from my perspective as a Boomer:

  • It’s hard to communicate just how special the 1977 premiere of the original Star Wars was. I was working at my first career job, as a reporter in Richmond, Va., when my news editor told me: “You’ve got to take your girlfriend to this new movie. It’s science fiction — and I hate science fiction — but I loved this movie.” So my girlfriend (now my wife of 34 years) and I went. It was a new universe, with Wookiees and lightsabers and Darth Vader. Previous space adventure films just hadn’t come close. We eagerly awaited each new film, and we were not disappointed.
  • The theater experience in general was vastly more engaging than anything else in our audio-visual lives in 1977. Today big-screen TVs with big sound provide a theater-like experience at home. In 1977, a 19-inch screen was considered large, the sound was poor, and many of the screens were black-and-white. Going to the theater for Star Wars pulled us out of our universe, figuratively anyway.
  • Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi hold up well, all these years later.
  • Today’s viewers seeing the films in order, starting with the 1999-2005 prequels, can’t enjoy the delight I felt on first meeting Yoda. That’s because the prequels show that Yoda is an influential and wise Jedi master. But when we Boomers first saw him on screen in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, we weren’t sure who he was. He looked like a comic relief character as he ransacked Luke’s supplies. It was a total surprise to me when I found out the little green guy was himself Yoda, the Jedi master.
  • Just as I was surprised to find out the little green guy was a Jedi master, I was stunned when Darth Vader told Luke, “I am your father.” Really. I didn’t see it coming. And today’s viewers, seeing the films in order, can’t feel what I felt in the theater that day — because they know Luke’s history from the start. (To my wife, who was way ahead of me in reading science fiction and fantasy at the time, it was obvious.)
  • About the three prequels, from The Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith: As much of a Star Wars fan as I am, I have to agree they’re not up to the quality of the original trilogy. In seeing the films again recently, however, I can offer up two good things about them: (1) The final prequel redeems the first two, by allowing us to see how Darth Vader could have become so evil; and (2) The wedding scene at the end of Attack of the Clones is beautiful in a tragic way. John Williams’s score, the staging, and the acting without dialogue (thank goodness!) combined to produce in me a sweet sadness, knowing that Anakin and Padme’s marriage was doomed.

My bottom line is that the six-film series is well worth watching, even if the first three films are flawed. I will leave the deeper questions about the franchise, including the theology of The Force and the elitist nature of the Star Wars universe, to others. To me it’s just a fantasy tale from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” But to young viewers today, I recommend seeing all six films, if for no other reason that to appreciate this part of the culture. We Boomers will always have a soft spot for Star Wars.