May the Fourth Bewail You! Or maybe not.
More than most people, I am hard-wired to love Star Wars. As a nine year old boy seeing A New Hope for the first time during its first run in 1977, I was part of a unique generation. For sure, subsequent films have offered a far more elaborate and hyper-real versions of visual fantasy. But the step up between 1976 and 1977 in terms of spectacle was a loftier jump than any subsequent innovation. You can only compare films with what you’re used to. Habituation destroys the sense of wonder. I was “wowed” as a nine year old in ways that subsequent nine year olds cannot be wowed. How then, have I managed to escape my programming and determine that, all things considered, Star Wars has been “a bad thing”? It takes a special brand of person to do undermine the immense goodwill I felt for the Star Wars universe back in 1977 and that special person is George Lucas. We currently have six movies to consider. Of these movies, four of them are bad and only one of them is really good. Return of the Jedi is a series of set pieces stapled together. The culmination of the narrative is to apparently demonstrate that a storm trooper with a laser cannon is no match for teddy bear with a slingshot. The prequel trilogy only serves to demonstrate that Lucas suffers from a very rare form of narrative disability. Almost all human beings are hotwired to ration the release of information in exciting ways, to balance action and discourse, and to identify sympathetic characters. Lucas on the other hand leaves his characters light years behind his audience for much of his story. (Everybody in the movie theatres can tell who the real Dark Lord of the Sith is, but the Jedi, with all their famed telepathic powers – cannot.) Lucas, of course, has never been able to write dialogue. That thing that happens when two or more humans are in a room together and attempt to communicate has never really impacted upon his memory or imagination. We’re now told that the real reason why Star Wars movies went to hell is that George Lucas split up with his first wife Marcia. Marcia was an experienced script editor who had worked with Martin Scorsese. It was Marcia who would say – “speed this up and cut to the chase” and “slow this down – you need to establish characters”. It was Marcia who instinctively knew what sort of filmed narrative worked and what didn’t. They split up some time in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which may make theirs a rare marriage destroyed by Ewoks. “Really George, a bunch of teddy bears armed with slingshots defeat elite stormtroopers armed with laser-cannon? Is that your ending George?” “Yes wife. On this I am adamant.” “I’m leaving you George…” Some say that J J Abrams has more power than any human should have – taking charge of the direction both the Star Wars and Star Trek universes (and it’s said that he also has his sights set on controlling Doctor Who, Metal Mickey and The Klangers). There has been much debate about whether or not Abrams can stay true to Lucas’ original vision. I can only say I hope not. Of course, in many ways, the entire Star Wars franchise has defined itself as the very antithesis of science fiction. “Long Ago, in a Galaxy Far Away” is an opening declaration that the story we’re about to see has no claims whatsoever upon human futurity. Nothing that we’re going to see can possibly affect us. Relax. This relaxing “pastness” of the series is underscored (often overscored) by the lush conservatism of John Williams’ soundtrack. But I’ve been and gone and ranted on this topic already. The “pastness” of Star Wars is also indicated in the iconic weapon – the light sabre. In efficient military terms, the light sabre was superseded by the consolidation and perfection of longbow tactics, round about 1370. The unassailable logic of devices that kill your enemies quickly while they are some distance from you somehow never made it to Jedi College. The sorry truth is that George Lucas is a bad film-maker – somebody who tries to use film as a medium to tell a story and who fails rather than succeeds. His influentially bad films have helped make the world a duller place. Of course, films would have deteriorated anyway, because they are so expensive to make – as Pauline Kael demonstrated in 1980 in an essay that is authenticated by the fact that she likes Empire Strikes Back. Lucas is a symptom not a cause. The whole “May the Fourth” be with you joke has a sinister side to you. It’s an attempt by a major brand to try and buy a date in the calendar, to become part of the rhythm of the year, the liturgy of our imagination. It’s an act of colonisation and an effort to naturalise and inevitabilise the consensual greatness of all things Star Wars. If we let Hollywood get away with it, we may well deserve it.
But wait – forget everything I just said.
Because I’ve seen Force Awakens three times already – and already I am nine years old again.