Movie News & Reviews

Star Wars: Episode VII passes the torch back to Gen X

Everything was supposed to have led to this.

Months of product tie-ins, trailers that have moved middle-age priests to tears and speculation over whether BB-8 identifies as a boy or a girl have fed and sustained the hype for a new Star Wars film that opened this week.

But looking at red carpet photos of Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, who reportedly were ordered to drop 40 pounds, and Harrison Ford, who now has a metal plate in his leg because a door (which presumably weighed more than 40 pounds) dropped on it on set, something other than The Force awoke.

These aren’t my idols. This isn’t my movie.

My induction into the cult of Lucas was in 1999 when Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace deeply disappointed men in their 20s and 30s. I didn’t understand why Jar Jar Binks, a CGI half snail, half Jamaican caricature, was so deeply derided. I was 8. But my fondness for the film isn’t of its podracing scene or Master Yoda’s dope hover chair. It’s the hours I spent podracing on Nintendo 64 or fawning over Lisa Kudrow’s parody at the MTV Movie Awards. I love Star Wars ... branded-video games and merchandise.

More than anything else, Star Wars is a language we all speak. Everyone knows by now that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father and that Chewbacca looks like a dog. I’ve loved these characters because they are referenced in our culture constantly. They are family friends, a joke that is accessible to even the most unhip of grandpas. Watching a haggard Han Solo alongside the franchise’s new leads doesn’t elicit the swell of excitement it’s designed to do.

Because, for the first time in my 24 years on this planet, a blockbuster film hasn’t been designed to appeal to me.

George Lucas made a film for children called Star Wars (sans subtitle) in 1977 that aged with its audience in each installment. They are nostalgia pieces of Space Age optimism with technical achievement masking cornball dialogue and hokey characters. He did the same thing with a green screen in 1999 for kids my age and was crucified for it by the same children he raised.

Episode VII, with a cast and crew rife with award winners, seems poised to right all of the wrongs of Lucas’ Star Wars. Characters will have deep motivations with stars no longer ethnically homogenous. Director J.J. Abrams turned down the job until he was offered the opportunity to shape the story and seemingly everything else. All of the promises Phantom Menace couldn’t deliver on are about to come true.

That’s not the Star Wars I recognize.

Simon Pegg, the British actor who’s appeared in revivals of Star Trek, Mission: Impossible and now Star Wars, sent the web atwitter this year when he voiced concern over the “infantilization” of pop culture.

“Nerd culture is the product of a late capitalist conspiracy, designed to infantilize the consumer as a means of nonaggressive control,” he said before immediately walking those comments back on his blog. The way to counteract that, it seems, is to have your lead character cry while flying a $2 trillion starship. I fully expect that to happen in this movie. That’s what we’re spending all of our money on?

Wouldn’t you rather watch Lupita Nyong’o in a Todd Haynes movie like Carol?

Now I’m no different than the 24-year-old complaining that The Phantom Menace sucked because it wasn’t designed to appeal to me. This time the film is aimed toward my dad.

It remains to be seen if The Force Awakens will shut me up. I hope it does.

But I know one thing for sure — my kids are going to hate Episode X.

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