When I say that it’s time for us to stop caring so much about Star Wars, I want you to understand: When I was a kid, my obsession with Star Wars was all-encompassing. I had the original trilogy memorized — not just the lines, but the sound effects. I had a massive collection of Star Wars action figures: the Ewok village, the Y-Wing fighters, the Empire Strikes Back-era rendition of Han Solo, when he was wearing that awesome blue jacket. I collected Star Wars comics, Star Wars fan magazines, Star Wars T-shirts. I lost track of how many times I played through Shadows of the Empire on my Nintendo 64. In fifth grade, I had only one real goal in life: To write a series of books for the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The books were going to star Davin Felth, the stormtrooper who says “Look sir, droids!” in the first movie. (I can’t tell you why, exactly, I was so fascinated by such a minor character. Maybe it was his initials.)
What I’m trying to say is that Star Wars simply was my childhood. I didn’t have many friends, and I couldn’t play sports, so my obsession was splashed with a massive dollop of yearning. I wanted so badly to live in the Star Wars universe. Which meant that, for a young me, George Lucas was more than just my idol: He was a walking representation of transcendence.
And, as it happened, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way: When I was an adolescent, the God-Cult of George Lucas was a massive cultural force. There was a Star Wars exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum. You couldn’t walk through a philosophy section of a bookstore without seeing at least five books describing how Star Wars was a modern myth, how George Lucas was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell, how Carl Jung was all over The Empire Strikes Back. Since the ’90s were a miserable time for sci-fi/fantasy movies — Lost in Space, Dragonheart, Wing Commander — the promise of more Star Wars films just over the horizon made Lucas seem (to my young, naive eyes) like the anointed savior of the cinema.
Like every other science-fiction-loving movie fan from my generation and earlier, I can pinpoint the specific day that I lost my innocence: May 19, 1999, the day Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace opened in theaters.
There was already an anti-George Lucas movement growing in the dark corners of the Internet after the 1997 Special Editions: You know, Greedo shooting first, that ridiculous Wampa costume, the bizarre choice to make the Sarlacc Pit look like a refugee from Little Shop of Horrors. But Episode I cemented a whole Star Wars counter-myth, best expressed in the eternal cry of the betrayed Star Wars fanboy: “George Lucas raped my childhood.” That’s a sentiment that returns to the spotlight every couple years, usually when a new version of Star Wars hits DVD with additional “corrections.” Certainly, it’s the most common response to the news — reported yesterday by EW — that the new Blu-ray version of Return of the Jedi will feature Darth Vader melodramatically screaming “Nooooo!”
Believe me, there is a big part of me that wants to join the chorus of betrayed fans. But why? Why am I so angry at the man who was responsible for some of the major formative moments in my existence? Studying various Star Wars encyclopedias was a gateway drug for enjoying actual genuine history books. Watching the films on repeat taught me basic film grammar. Star Wars made me love science-fiction, so I have to thank George Lucas for indirectly pointing me onwards to Philip K. Dick, to Iain M. Banks, to Robert Heinlein and Orson Scott Card and every other great S.F. author. George Lucas can’t ruin my childhood, because my childhood already happened.
And that, I think, is why all the George Lucas hatred is fundamentally misplaced — and, in fact, why my initial gut-reaction (“Screw you, George!”) reflects much worse on me. The reason why our first response is to hate George Lucas is not because Lucas is ruining our childhoods. Far from it. Lucas is, perhaps accidentally, forcing us to admit two things: First, that our childhoods are over; and second, that the things we enjoy when we are children tend to be silly.
Because make no mistake: Star Wars is extremely, extremely silly.