Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Star Wars: The Next Generation

I was eight, maybe nine years old when I first saw Star Wars in 1978. I was the perfect age for it, being young, impressionable and full of beans. Even though I hardly remember anything about actually seeing it for the first time on the big screen I do remember how I felt. Amazed, excited, deliriously happy; Star Wars encompassed my life at that time and, even though the theatrical release of The Empire Strikes Back passed me by (you can blame Tolkien for that) I still retained my enthusiasm for it enough to see The Return of the Jedi three times in one week when it came out. After that, along with bestest buddy Mark Newbold, I continued my love affair with George Lucas’s creation. Together we wrote stories, recorded audio dramas, created worlds and characters and locations, spent years playing the West End Games roleplaying game and the computer games and then falling in love with it all over again with the Special Editions. I like to think that I was one of the millions of fans that helped keep the Star Wars torch burning.


So when Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was announced, I pretty much spent a couple of years in an excited daze, trying not to read or watch too many progress reports because I was sure my body couldn’t produce that much saliva.


To say that Episode 1 was a disappointment to me would be an understatement and I’ll not list the reasons why I disliked it here; there’s been more than enough opinion, discussion and downright hatred sprayed over the internet pretty much every day since the film was released. I will say that the primary thing that upset me was that I felt that I had been let down as an adult fan of the saga. After waiting for the possibility of a new film for fourteen years, and then waiting for the actual film for another two, I was hurt when I was pretty much told, ‘Yeah, but this film is for kids, isn’t it?’ So… I supported Star Wars for all these years to be told that this new film isn’t for me? That was quite a blow.


How would I ever get past that? That notion would discolour my view of Episodes II and III no matter how much I tried to like them and I could feel my love for the Star Wars universe unravelling.


My son Bruce is four years old, now. Recently I tried to sit down with him and watch Episode IV: A New Hope but – and it’s hard for me to say this – he didn’t like it. After the initial battle and the droids escaping the blockade runner, he got bored. Big vistas with lots of sand, some people talking, some weird old guy making funny noises to scare away ‘men in bandages’… he wasn’t impressed. We didn’t even get to Mos Eisley. I was kind of sad about that but he’s only four, though, plenty of time for him to appreciate it when he’s older.


So, I decided to sit down with him and watch Episode 1. I put in the DVD and sat back, settling him down with a drink and some lunch.


He didn’t just like it, he loved it. He was in danger of losing interest during the opening sequence, but once the battledroids approached the gas-filled room and the lightsabres appeared he was transfixed. He laughed at the battledroid’s silly voices. He sat and marvelled at the Jedi leaping about. He laughed at Jar Jar Binks and even had me wind back to watch his first encounter with Qui-Gon Jinn again as he thought it was hilarious. He loved the Gungan city and once again I had to wind back so he could watch Boss Nass again to laugh at his antics. When they were travelling through the planet core, he was on his feet yelling, ‘Look! Look, there’s something behind them! Oh no!’ During the escape from Naboo he got upset because the droids were getting shot off the ship. We had to watch the pod race three times – three times! – because he loved it so much (although I did laugh when, during the first viewing, he turned to me and asked ‘Is this a computer game?’). He cheered Anakin’s win every single time. He gave me a hug when Anakin left his mom behind and kept asking, ‘Will he go back?’ to which I had no answer. He even sat there and watched the senate stuff, and had a good laugh at Yoda’s voice and all the strange aliens on the screen. Then the space battle, the Gungan fight and the lightsabre duel amazed him. When Obi-Wan fell down the shaft he grabbed me tight – I had to tell him what was happening, as he couldn’t watch - and at the end he smiled, laughed and asked, ‘Can I watch it again?’ And through it all he laughed at everything Jar Jar Binks did, everything he said and every fart/poop joke he participated in. He loved him. He loved the film.


Most importantly, I felt all this with him. I felt every bit of excitement, fear and amazement he felt. I watched his eyes widen, silent wow’s spread across his face and I smiled every time he turned to me with a huge smile or a request to wind it back. I could feel everything he was experiencing and through him experienced it myself, saw the film through fresh, young eyes and enjoyed it as if I was watching it for the first time. I realised that he loved the film for the same reason I loved Episode 1 thirty-three years ago; it was something he’d never seen before. It wasn’t an obvious cartoon or a computer animated feature, it was actual people interacting with real starships, robots and aliens. The world of Star Wars was alive.


How can I stay angry at a film that does that for children? Amazes and impresses them? I know Bruce is only four, almost five, and no doubt he’ll have his attention drawn away by the next sparkling thing he sees, but this was the first movie he sat all the way through and responded to with such enjoyment.


Not only that, but I experienced Episode 1 in an entirely different way. Gone was the expectation, gone was the fear that the movie would be bad, gone were the years of creating the perfect Star Wars movie in my head. I hadn’t watched it for a long time but I was expecting the same feelings to surface; annoyance, frustration and disbelief to rear their ugly heads at certain points in the film, but none of them did. I felt no anger to the film at all because it was as if Bruce was loving the film for me, and I was finally seeing, through him, what all those moments in the movie that I disliked or hated were designed to achieve. There were no preconceptions, hopes or fears. There was just the experience, the experience of watching the film for the first time and loving it because I once again felt young enough to love it.


I’ll never rid myself of those impressions of seeing Episode 1 for the first time. I’ll never forget how I felt when I left the cinema, or the moment I realised that I shouldn’t be actively defending the film because if it was that good a film it shouldn’t need to be defended. That will always be with me.


But I’ll also never forget the day I realised how good the film is, not for me but for those who are going to inherit the saga. How much fun it is, how amazing and how dramatic.


It took a viewing with my four year old son to make me realise that I can enjoy the film. That I don’t have to have it on my DVD shelf just to ‘complete the collection’, and that I can pop it in my player and watch it and enjoy it, and rid myself of those dark thoughts of 1999 and immerse myself in the fresh child-like experience of 2011. I could fully love and appreciate Star Wars again. All of it.


It took me this long to realise it, but Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace really was made for children.


I’d just forgotten how to be one.




This article originally appeared on http://www.jedinews.co.uk/