And that’s hard for me to accept.
The last trailer for the final installment of what they’re calling “The Skywalker Saga” dropped this week during Monday Night Football. Have you seen it?
Yeah, me too. And I don’t really know how I feel about it.
I am very much a Star Wars over Star Trek girl. I will always choose the archetypal emotional fantasy over the big ideas political allegory. (And yes, Star Trek has great archetypes and Star Wars has its own politics, and no, I don’t want to talk about it.) The very first movie, which we knew as Star Wars, not Episode Anything, came out when I was 13 years old. I became best friends with the woman who is still my best friend because of a shared love of Star Wars. We watched it literally all day every day for weeks in the summer of 1977, the only two patrons most days at the Cinema Twin in our tiny, sci-fi resistant hometown. By the time I was a senior in high school and finding my first real nerd tribe, I could boast that I had seen it more than 100 times. The Empire Strikes Back was and is my absolute favorite of the series. Return of the Jedi was and is not, but I still loved it because it wrapped up my story, MY story, the Skywalker saga in which I was invested in a way that felt satisfying and complete. Even with the ewoks.
When The Phantom Menace came out, I was about to turn 35, an adult with a job and a home and responsibilities–I was already being paid to write fantasies of my own. I didn’t like the movie much at all, but it didn’t upset me. It hurt my feelings more that I didn’t care. The fact that I felt completely disconnected from it felt like another symptom of my mid-thirties malaise. “It’s for kids,” I thought, wincing at the pod race. “Maybe Star Wars always was.” I saw each of the second trilogy movies the week they came out, and I did more than my fair share of ranting and raving about Jarjar Binks and the infantalization of the Anakin/Padme relationship and any number of other details that pissed me right off. But it was abstract fury, lit-crit passion. They didn’t hurt my heart.
Then Disney bought Star Wars, and these new movies started coming out. I had hope going in; I really did. I was old enough by then that I had made peace with not being that nerdy teen-ager any more. I was a nerdy middle-aged woman, and I was okay with that. I owned the first six movies on DVD and watched most of them pretty regularly. (I think my copy of The Phantom Menace has been out of the box precisely once, when we showed it to my niece for the first time.) The people making the new movies had made other stuff I liked, and I was very enthused at the idea of a few more central characters who weren’t white guys.
Then I saw The Force Awakens. (It’s very telling that I just had to look up its actual title.) And while I liked a whole lot of stuff about it, the overall effect kinda made me sick to my stomach. Because the whole premise was that the first saga, the original saga, MY saga, hadn’t mattered in the slightest. These characters that I loved were right back in the same soup they had been in when Episode IV started. Some of the names had changed; the universe was a lot more complicated; archetypes had given way to angst-ridden individuals that seemed layered to me in the way that characters on night-time soapies are layered. And I was just shattered. My husband (who’s 19 years younger than me and an avid gamer, cartoon watcher, and comic book nerd) loved them and tried to explain to me that they referenced and incorporated soooo much canon that I knew nothing about. Which did NOT make me feel better. I saw Force Awakens a couple of times, but it didn’t really stick with me. My one abiding memory from it is Han Solo dying for no good reason as far as I was concerned. I’ve seen The Last Jedi once in the theater and once on Blu-Ray, and though I am usually the girl who can remember the plot to every episode of every sitcom she ever watched while doing her nails and reading a magazine, I couldn’t begin to tell you much about happens in it. I remember Luke Skywalker drinking that blue milk and a lot of interpersonal astral projection that wouldn’t make sense in an episode of Legion, much less a Star Wars movie. Mostly the new trilogy so far has left me bitter and disinterested and cold. And that’s pretty much where I am watching this new trailer.
It’s not for me.
That 13-year-old in 1977 believed that good was good and bad was bad and any notion of morality or truth being subjective was just the higher thinking of inscrutable, immaterial gurus bathed in mysterious light. Even the 13-year-olds of today know that isn’t so. (I know this to be true; my niece is 13.) Teenage me wanted a faceless villain in a mask that acted like a purely evil machine right up to his moment of redemption when being a good dad triumphed over all. I know now that neither villainy nor redemption work that way; those concepts just aren’t that clean. People younger than me, the people the new movies were made for, have known that truth all along. The world they’ve always lived in has made it impossible for them not to know it. I might not want that truth in my story, but without it, their story can’t work.
And Star Wars is now their story. Not mine.
I want my sagas to end in absolute, permanent triumph. I want good to vanquish evil for all time. I want happily ever after. Not in every story, of course, but in my fantasy? Hell yes! But that kind of story doesn’t work for people who have come of age in the world we live in now even as a fantasy. For them, that kind of story is too . . . dare I say it? Disney. Hell, even Disney fairy stories don’t trust that arc any more–have you seen Maleficent? Or Brave? People my husband’s age and my niece’s age know, like Roland of Gilead (since we’re talking about sagas), that ka is a wheel. That nothing lasts forever, good or bad. That it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination. Kids these days know everything dies in a way I didn’t really learn until grad school. I hate that for them; I grieve for the innocence that was my privilege. But my grieving doesn’t bring it back, not for me and not for them.
So I will try to shut up and let people enjoy this new, inclusive, shadowy story where even the brightest light is edged in darkness. I’ll celebrate the diversity of the cast and try not to take the heavy-handed nostalgia beats too personally. I’ll cry for Leia and feel jerked around while I do it the same way I cried for Han and Luke. And the possibility is strong that I won’t love it. I might even hate it.
But that will be okay.