Coming Home to Star Wars

N.B. This is an old post from the previous iteration of this site. I’ve tweaked a few things here and there in the entry, but they are mostly unchanged. My previous website was more of a jobs site, so a lot of the entries are Classics-centric, and that won’t necessarily be the case going forward. This particular entry is interesting for what it gets right and gets wrong about the sequel trilogy.

When I first heard rumors and rumblings about the new Star Wars movie, subtitled The Force Awakens, it was a giddy feeling. Like practically everyone and their dog, I grew up transfixed by the original trilogy. Any kid’s dream come true. Space battles, adventure, lasers, even a little romance! My parents had a VHS tape of the first film (viz., “Episode IV”), which we must have watched a thousand times as kids. Doubtless my parents saw it in theatres, likely not long after they started dating. They were both probably sophomores in college when Star Wars came out in 1977. I know that my parents like the films, but I’m not sure if they have, or ever had, the sort of wonder that it, even in its Nachleben, has indelibly impressed upon audiences over the decades, including myself. Seriously, it’s been almost 40 years since the original came out. That’s quite a legacy, one nigh unbroken, regardless of your thoughts on the mixed bag that was the prequel trilogy.

I don’t remember when we got that VHS, but it must have been in the early ’90s or late ’80s, since the special editions hadn’t come out yet. I’ll admit that I’m a real purist when it comes to my Star Wars. People will fiercely debate one another about which versions are better. I don’t know many people who prefer the special editions, and I would imagine that they’re in the minority. Seriously, I think that one could construct a personality test and have “Special vs. Original” be one of the questions. C’mon, it’s important! Who knows, perhaps someone has done it already. The films have undergone a myriad of changes over the years, some great, and some terrible (Wikipedia summarized many of the changes in the linked article, if you prefer an epitome). Personally, I’d throw the bad out with the good, just since I grew up with the originals — the nostalgia is strong with this one (!), and, I would imagine the same applies for many others. I have watched the special editions a couple of times, though, but I think their aesthetics remind me too much of the frustrations of the inevitable prequels after their release. Note, however, that The AV Club recently proposed a kinder reading of the prequels.

For some reason, one of my earliest associations with Star Wars was being home sick from school as a kid. That may seem like a weird association, but I remember watching and being comforted by the film. My mom told me that, at some point when I was younger, I was scared of Return of the Jedi for a long time, since Darth Vader’s “head fell off or something.” One of us must have been conflating Vader’s helmet removal in Jedi with Luke’s shadow-Vader decapitation in The Empire Strikes Back, or perhaps that’s just me rationalizing it now. Nonetheless, it therefore took me a while before I saw Jedi. Eventually, I watched all three back-to-back, satisfied that I had completed a full viewing of the trilogy, and could consider myself a bona fide “fan.”

By the time the Special Editions roared into theatres for the 20th anniversary in 1997, my sister and I were huge fans, having played video games — Super Star Wars and its sequels were early favorites of mine on SNES (but let’s not forget the NES games of the first two films), and the Atari arcade Return of the Jedi game was quite fun as well. Like most other people, we had a chance to experience the magic all over again and see the films in theatres. That’s a rarity these days. Few movies have as enduring (and endearing) a legacy as the Star Wars films, and it’s not every day that a film (or film series) is so beloved that it receives a re-release 20 years later. I don’t know what my parents were thinking when our family went together to see the films, but I hope that they recovered some of the magic and awe that they must have felt in the ’70s and early ’80s. It must have been a cinematic homecoming of sorts, a cinema-nostos (κινηματόνοστος?), the significance of which I didn’t fully understand at the time. It would have been a far different experience had I been present for the original releases of the films. I would guess that it would indeed be like a return “home” to these films that people have treasured and loved for so long. To experience all of that nostalgia and fan love as we all watched it together on the screen!

As we all prepare for The Force Awakens, then, a similar thing is happening. Across the gulf of years from 1983, a little over 30 years later, a new film emerges as a direct sequel to Jedi. My generation has the opportunity for its own νόστος to the Star Wars universe, which promises to be glorious. First, only a teaser trailer trickled out — ~80 seconds of pure magic. Thankfully, J. J. Abrams has done a great job keeping things under wraps, parceling out just enough morsels of information to tide fans over. However, when the second teaser came out in April, fans, myself included, went bananas:

This particular teaser really provided the initial impetus for this post. I’m sure all of you have seen it already, likely many times, but I thought it was worth embedding here. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and clearly others have too. After an exhilarating and dizzying sequence of events, the teaser is capped off by the triumphant appearance of a world-weary, grizzled, greying Han Solo and Chewie, his perennial fidus Achates, and Han says three simple words: “Chewie, we’re home.” Han’s mere appearance onscreen was enough to raise the hairs on my neck with excitement, but the dialogue! Where is “home”? The Millennium Falcon? His home planet of Corellia? A reunion with Leia Organa, reportedly now a general (though, by some accounts, Leia and Han, unlike in the Expanded Universe, didn’t marry in this new timeline)? Is Han a weary, galactic Odysseus of sorts? What sort of transformation has he undergone over the gulf in story time between Jedi and this film? Those three words open up so many diffuse and distinct possibilities, and have haunted me since I first saw that teaser. My first thought, though, is that with the return of Star Wars to the big screen, we’re home to where we need and desperately want to be — back in the main timeline of the Star Wars universe, not the darkest timeline of the prequels. I know that I probably doth protest too much about the prequels. However, they are at least a darker timeline, as they demolish the the rose-colored view that the Old Republic was somehow better than the New. Clearly it was no proverbial walk in the park, nor a milk-and-honey Golden Age.

I can’t wait to see to what home Han and Chewie are returning. Again, this is an opportunity for us all to return to the Star Wars of old, and I hope that this next trilogy recaptures at least a fraction of the magic of the original. I know that the original movies aren’t Oscar-winning, by any means, but they’re so deeply burned into our brains and woven into the cultural milieu that they’ve achieved, arguably, κλεὸς ἄφθιτον (Homer, Il. 9.413). I’d like to revisit this topic after I see the film. My wife and I, being huge nerds both, ended up getting tickets not only for opening night, but also for IMAX a couple of days later, so I’m sure I’ll have some more remarks after it comes out. I’m very excited to see the context surrounding Han’s pronouncement, and I may be entirely wrong on my speculations, but it’s certainly fun to theorize. A more traditional trailer was released recently, but didn’t quite have the punch of the teasers (although, perhaps it’s true that this trailer wasn’t for me). However, the recent two TV spots, the latter even more than the former, are quite exciting.

A lot is riding on the film — Disney/Lucasfilm has continued to double down on marketing and licensing for the new film, and I hope that it’s a massive success that bodes well for the rest of the trilogy. After the disappointments, by and large, of the prequels, fans undoubtedly are hoping that this is the film they’re looking for. I think that it will be, but we really won’t know until it comes out. I can’t wait, personally, and I’m glad it’s coming out sooner than later. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts on the film, and my more general thoughts on Star Wars. Everyone has their own Star Wars story, and this is part of mine.

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