"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens December 18, but thanks to the drip-drip-drip of the Galactic Marketing Apparatus -- also known as Walt Disney Pictures -- anticipation has been at ecstatic levels for months. Years. Who can chart such fervent energy?
Because, when it comes to "Star Wars," I'm in a distinct minority. Not quite as much a minority as Queen's Freddie Mercury, who penned the line
" 'Jaws' was never my scene, and I don't like 'Star Wars,' " but close.
For me, it's only a movie.
Pulp and grit
I was 12 when "Star Wars" came out in 1977, the perfect age to become a lifelong "Star Wars" fanboy. Though maybe not in my case, because I was a kid who'd begged his parents to take him to "All the President's Men" and had gone to see "Annie Hall," too. (It was no "Sleeper.")
Still, I was excited. Outer space! Cool characters! New worlds!
But what I saw seemed lightweight and flat to me.
Hadn't I seen these cardboard characters on Channel 8's "Sunday Morning Movie"? Hadn't I seen more impressive, and realistic, outer space special effects in "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Silent Running"?
I recently watched "Star Wars" again, and I get the basic attraction. The movie celebrates its pulpy predecessors, like "Flash Gordon," wisecracking hustlers and old war movies, instead of hiding them, something unusual for the time. John Williams' score is brilliant, practically its own character. The actors' chemistry is terrific -- which is fortunate, given director George Lucas' emphasis on machinery.
For lack of a better word, it's charming, like an old black-and-white late show.
Charm was in short supply in 1977, when New Hollywood (including Lucas' friend Francis Ford Coppola) was focused on the gray areas of human relations. Even 1976's "Rocky," a throwback if ever there was one, had plenty of grit.
So the zeitgeist was ready for "Star Wars," and what was going to be a B-movie dumped by its studio
became the highest-grossing film of all time, spawning action figures and a holiday special
And that was OK. Movies can do that.
As the years went by, I watched the "Star Wars" phenomenon with amusement. I enjoyed "The Empire Strikes Back" -- even was one of those idiots who shouted "Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father!" to crowds outside theaters -- though "Return of the Jedi," with those stupid Ewoks, seemed too cutesy by half.
Not that it mattered: "Raiders of the Lost Ark," with the combined talents of Steven Spielberg and Lucas (along with Williams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan), was better than any of them.
And that, I thought, was that. Lucas had made his point -- comic-book adventure was cool -- and good for him.
But then the weirdness started.
The hype strikes back
It was sometime in the early '80s when what had begun as an old-fashioned takeoff of movie serials became Serious Art. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo weren't just action heroes straight out of John W. Campbell
, they were archetypes straight out of Joseph Campbell
The Lucas who described "Star Wars" as a way to bring back the simple joy of movies -- "kids today don't have any fantasy life the way we had. They don't have Westerns; they don't have pirate movies; they don't have that stupid serial fantasy life that we used to believe in," he told Rolling Stone in 1977
-- was suddenly reciting chapter and verse of "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" to Bill Moyers
There's justification for that. Certainly, Han and Luke can exist in two worlds, as many other characters through history have done. But it seemed like Lucas was trying too hard, creating unnecessary bona fides for his multibillion-dollar juggernaut.
The "Star Wars" universe started taking on this awful weight, and I started sinking under the hype surrounding it. I stayed home from Episodes I, II and III. The clips I've seen since -- of senate hearings, awkward love scenes and long-eared Gungans
-- haven't changed my mind about catching up.
Since then, it's only gotten worse. "Star Wars" is more than a marketing phenomenon. If you believe census figures, there are hundreds of thousands of people who consider their religion "Jedi." Auctions of "Star Wars" action figures -- pieces of plastic manufactured for pennies back in the day -- go for tens of thousands of dollars
. Fans wind themselves up into states of Dark Side fury over perceived tweaks in characters and storylines. "Force Awakens" director J.J. Abrams is probably getting ready to hide in a fallout shelter.
Even Lucas, who birthed the whole thing, has been taken aback.
In a 2012 Hollywood Reporter interview
, he tried to tamp down the fever he'd seen from fans.
"Well, it's not a religious event. I hate to tell people that. It's a movie, just a movie," he said. He's made similar remarks with the coming of "The Force Awakens."
Of course, there's a whole 'nother movie about Lucas' battles with the fan base: "The People vs. George Lucas."
Listen: We all have our passions, and we all have our religions. My high school friends could tell you about this Beatles nut in their midst who seemed to know everything about the Fab Four and couldn't function the day after John Lennon was shot. These days it's nothing for fans to remix and retool their favorite movies
, TV shows and songs into whole new things, channeling their love in personal, and often wonderful, ways.
And there's also nothing wrong with blending high art with low, assuming such labels have value.
However, in the era of Internet culture, too much is never enough. For me, the "Star Wars" noise is just too loud, like hearing Meco on 11
. If I'm curious about the movie, I'm repelled by the rest.
I do wish the film well. I hope Abrams has invested it with both fun and spirit, and that the fans go away happy.
And one day, I may see "The Force Awakens." But for now, amid the marketing frenzy, the zealots, the "news items" and the incessant parade of "Star Wars" announcements, I'm going to retreat to a quieter world.
I understand there's land available on Tatooine.