I’ve been in a bit of a Star Wars feedback loop.
For the last month since I saw The Last Jedi, I’ve been writing a review in my head, editing myself, throwing away entire mental pages. The trash can in the corner of my otherwise empty melon is overflowing and trust me, there’s no maid coming anytime soon.
Let’s forget for the moment that most of my theories prior to the release of the movie were completely desperate overreaches. That’s just part of the fandom fun. I love for movies to prove me wrong, and they often do. I was never disappointed that reality differed from my prognostication. But I was ( and continue to be) mired in an internal struggle to reconcile some long held beliefs when it comes to Star Wars.
Finally, as I crunched my paleo turkey bacon this morning (trying Whole30, fandom, gimme a break) I had what we call in the forest an epiphany: No one cares about my Last Jedi review. It’s nearly a month old and everyone’s said most of the things I would say and then some. Part of me is happy that I agonized in my own head for a month about what I’d say until frankly the problem went away. It’s been said.
As I gathered with close friends and their kids to watch the latest saga installment on December 18, I knew they were watching the movie but they were also watching me. Except for the 12 and 13-year-olds in our group, I was the biggest Star Wars nerd they knew. So my reaction might actually sort of “matter” somehow. Not that it would tell them how to feel, but they would look to me to gauge how this movie fit into the larger Star Wars universe. My old school friend David looked at me and knew the answer – it was his own. We’re both 50-ish guys who like to call attention to being “original fans”. That’s not an honorific, it’s just an admission: Star Wars has been a part of our lives for more than 40 years. It’s a formative element.
The answer was we didn’t know how to feel about it. So we shook hands and vowed to take up the discussion again. Being 50-ish men with day jobs, we haven’t had that opportunity yet but it may not be necessary in the long run. Men of a certain age learn not to dwell on things – there’s always bigger fish to fry.
So I’m not here to tell you how I feel about it or to dissect it. I’m not here to discuss plot points or the merits of story arcs or related payoffs. Like I say, it’s been said. And more to the point, I’m still digesting it. I told the members of the Port-Haven.com community shortly after I saw it “I feel like I should have more to say about it, but I just don’t right now.” And I still don’t, and as time goes on I’m less inclined to jump into the fray.
Meanwhile the reviews from fans have ranged from well-thought out essays, which I appreciate, to the worst kind, the kind I’ve seen since The Phantom Menace disillusioned the masses. Those are the kind of reviews when people not only trash the movie, but then set out on an effort to trash anyone who likes the movie. And now I’d say there’s a counter-force in fandom in that people are now trashing the haters as well.
I’ll just say this, Fandom…
Firstly, I defy any of you to make a better Star Wars movie than Rian Johnson. I defy any of you to make one with more complexity and emotion (perhaps the most depth of those elements we’ve seen in Star Wars in a long time). I can’t.
Secondly, there’s something to this idea that this movie is receiving critical acclaim while portions of fandom pan it. It’s usually the other way around for Star Wars. But what we may lose sight of as an aging Fandom is that critics focus on one movie at a time, while our lot in life is to connect everything Star Wars together into one giant stifling tangle of continuity that rivals Clark Griswald’s holiday lights. In other words, we get in our own way. We’re our own worst enemies when it comes to liking something. As I get older, I realize that but I also know many people aren’t ready to accept that yet.
Thirdly, I’m going to steal from my own previous online comments to make an important point. I think a small number of folks are driving extremely critical or overly positive narratives about it, to the point that they criticize others for being on “the other side”. People who are still working to understand The Last Jedi are not necessarily all “haters”. People who love it are not necessarily all mindless sheep. There are things to love about this movie for many. There are uncomfortable things in this movie for many. Compared to the rest of the Star Wars saga, this is a very complex movie. And even the simplest of things don’t appeal to folks universally; thank the Maker we have these diverse perspectives. There’s room for more opinions and I enjoy the revived Star Wars discussion. It means Star Wars is still relevant, still alive and still causing ripples across our collective psyche. So please Fandom, give each other a break. You can’t convince someone to love something they don’t, nor can you turn someone away from something they resonate with. Because this isn’t politics, there’s no right or wrong. Its a movie, which is art, and art reflects something that is already complicated and divided enough: Us, the world “out there”, the daily grind, the very thing we ducked into a movie theater to escape, the very thing we needed a moment to reflect on from a detached perspective. Let’s not do the “you destroyed my childhood” thing again, because guess what? The last time that happened, well… it didn’t. I still love Star Wars, Jar-Jar and all. I love it like the members of my family, who you might not choose on the street to be your running buddy, but you’d pull them close at the thought of losing them. So I’ll correct myself a little: Star Wars isn’t just a movie, at least to me. It’s family. No one gets thrown out of the family (come give us a big awkward hug, Jar-Jar, ya big crazy-eyed bastard.)
Lastly, the overriding theme in this movie turns out to be its salvation for me. Elsa herself could have swirled in like some sort of Hoth Jedi and banged out her signature song and it still would have fit (much to Disney’s omni-channeled marketing delight): “Let it go”. I realize as a 50-ish Star Wars fan, a so-called “original fan” who sat in the dark at age 8 watching that mind-blowing experience in 1977, I might be in danger of missing the point. It’s not about me, it’s not about how Star Wars has impacted my life, it’s about what Star Wars has to say now to a new group of fans. It’s about their hopes, their frustrations, and their day-to-day struggle to either engage or escape from the world around them. And the world has changed since 1977.
It wasn’t easy watching the end of The Last Jedi. Nor was it easy walking out of that theater with a forced smile for my friends. But I realize now it’s not supposed to be easy, this getting older thing, this thing we do when we hand off our treasures to a younger and more able generation. Letting go of the important things isn’t supposed to be painless, but it does help us grow.
May the Force Be With You, Star Wars Fandom