A Mote in the Eye of the Beholder

or How Star Wars Didn't Change My Life

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Are you now, or have you ever been, a StarWars fan? Don't worry, if the answer's yes, there is still hope for you: all you have to do is turn around completely, state (as publicly as possible) that you have outgrown the whole sorry mess and seen George Lucas for the perfidious royalistic scumbag that he is, and you can be saved. Appropriate rites performed, you will be able to hold your head up high again, and ride with all the modernistic intellectualists of the day. Even better, if you add to your confession that you feel betrayed by the insiduous megalomaniac who forced you to dream of princesses and sabres in your tender years, you will be praised for the acuity of your wit and lauded by the multitude of anti-fans.

But, beware: should you refuse to repent, no fire will hold fires hot enough to burn your loyalistic soul. Because, you see, everybody who's anybody these days knows that StarWars is crap.

Well, surprise, surprise. Actually, they're right, you know: StarWars is, in a certain sense of the word, crap. Anyone with any sense knew it from the word go. It's got simplistic characters, unbelievable plots, half-baked pseudo-science and a lot of unnecessarily mystical mumbo-jumbo. These last two can be explained by the fact that the universe in which they are set could not bear the use of the word magic. That detail aside, however, here's another surprise coming: in a certain sense of the word, most world literature is crap, too. Because the majority of the cultural heritage on which we construct our vision of literature is spoken: fairytales, legends and myths. I'm not saying that Lucas deliberately re-traced those paths in his saga; after all, whether he took the patterns directly from the source — which is considered the source only by virtue of age, by the way — or whether he merely transferred them from another layer of our collective literary strata such as late (XII dynasty) pulp, is irrelevant. What matters is the fact that all of the right ingredients — bad evil vilains, reluctant young heroes, wise old men — are there.

Oh, yes, facts. Highly inconvenient when it comes to myths and legends, but sometimes inevitable. Fact: StarWars does have the stuff our dreams are made of. Fact: the presentation of that stuff was spectacular enough to attract the audiences, and veneered with just enough apparently non-fantastic matter to make it acceptable to the times. (If Lucas had made StarWars a fantasy saga, it would have been a flop; as it was, early punkers and middle-aged Hell's Angels and late feminists could still watch it and not lose any of their de rigeur machismo.) Of course the characters were flat, the dialogues wooden, the story predictable. Most fairy-tale characters aren't characters anyway, they're just there to get the story moving. Aside from Disney versions and mystical snippets of wisdom, fairy-tales generally don't have dialogue at all. And all of their stories are predictable: the point of fairy-tales isn't to tell you something you don't know. If you've got kids, you must know that. (Ever told Cinderella every night for a week?) Like all spoken genres, they're supposed to give the audience a comofortable place to visit, a story they already know. The joy is in the telling.

And boy, what telling that was. What spoke to the audiences of the original StarWars back in 1977 weren't just the fairy-tale characters and situations. It was the sheer energy, the rampant imagination that somehow managed to get on screen intact, past disputable direction and less than perfect acting. That was a first. No, they weren't perfect — and neither were the SFX — but it didn't matter. Those people were doing their best, and that best vibrated through the screen and to the audience, bringing back to life the flicker of ancient fires and uncertain voices of storytellers who, despite the popular image, weren't always highly trained professionals. And, come to think of it, neither was your grandmother, was she?

So what is, in the end, this rather long-winded apologia trying to say? Mostly this: yes, Lucas brought a lot of this public hatred onto himself, by trying to use other peacock's feathers in a totally unnecessary manner. But other than that, the rage against the machine is misdirected. Almost 30 years have passed since the original StarWars first hit the cinemas and the heads of the audience. We have all grown older in the meantime — wiser or not, but certainly more cynical. We don't enjoy movies in the same way as we did in those younger, more innocent times. (And the times really were more innocent, not just because we were all younger or unborn then.) But it is futile to blame the change on StarWars: it is merely the ticking of the clock that we hear. Some people maybe did become actors or animators thanks to StarWars. For the majority, however, it was just what it was: a wonderful, magic moment of joy. A movie.

The first (which is really the fourth) StarWars movie was crappy, and made megabucks, and made us all very happy. The fourth (which is really the first) StarWars movie was also crappy, also made megabucks, but failed to make us all very happy because, although we have grown in the meantime, it did not. Whether the fifth (second) movie of the series manages to do so or not, remains to be seen. It is even uncertain whether it is a good idea for StarWars to grow up at all. But sometimes it may be good to remember that beauty isn't the only thing that's in the eye of the beholder.