A Galaxy Not So Far Away - Various
If you needed any more evidence: George Lucas is everywhere.
What American Graffiti was to the collective Boomer memory, the new book A Galaxy Not So Far Away is to those of us commonly referred to as Generation X. In fact, after reading this collection of remembrances and ruminations on that most indelible of GenX cultural events, one wonders if the generation was not misnamed. I think we could definitely all agree on The Star Wars Generation, whereas folk like me are still smarting over being associated with Billy Idol's first band.
So The Star Wars Generation it is. As The Onion's head writer, Todd Hanson, puts it in his brilliant essay A Big Dumb Movie About Space Wizards: "There weren't any Star Wars geeks back then because in 1977, the words 'Star Wars geek' and 'little kid' meant the exact same thing."
Even more succinct is director Kevin Smith's observation: "I was married to Star Wars when I was a kid." (from his essay Married To the Force)
A great many prepubescent Star Wars marriages are brought back before the judge in this extremely entertaining volume. And don't think this is purely a lovefest, either. Most of these authors find within their memories and examinations much that creator George Lucas has to answer for: Ewoks, whitebread casting, and a few startling Jedi/Nazi parallels just for starters.
But principal among these sins, surprisingly, is not Antichrist-of-the-Moment Jar Jar Binks, but 1978's too-awful-to-be-remembered Star Wars Christmas Special. Contributor Webster Younce devotes his entire essay, It's a Wonderful Life Day, to his horrific memories of the Special, and comes to the conclusion that "Viewer response to the Special on that notorious evening in 1978 is impossible to reconstruct, but I suspect Obi-Wan Kenobi neatly summarized the effect the Special had on the viewing public: 'I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if one million souls cried out in torment and were suddenly silenced.'" (though a bit of a misquote - ed.)
In fact, editor Glenn Kenny opens the proceedings by analyzing the claim among the film literati that "Star Wars killed the movies." Kenny points out an indictment of the original film made by no less than Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, actor Alec Guinness, who upon meeting a child who claimed over a hundred Star Wars viewings, politely requested that the child never see the movie again. Kenny quotes Guinness: "I just hope that the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities." Ouchie.
And of course, the prequels get their share of the flogging. But as Hanson points out, film criticism doesn't really apply to the Star Wars phenomenon: "Fuck you and your smartass ironic distance! What about that little kid in his room, so long ago, waiting for his chance to see the Clone Wars someday! What about him, huh? Don't his feelings matter at all, you cynical bastards?...Picture me wearing it (a Jedi Knight costume) now, why don't you, grabbing my nutsack and flipping you the bird."
Aside from nostalgia, though, a few essays pit the Star Wars universe against larger issues. In Pale Starship, Pale Rider: The Ambiguous Appeal of Boba Fett, reporter Tom Bissell examines the human fascination with mercenaries, from Hessians to Contras to Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, which was who Jeremy Bulloch--the face behind Boba Fett's mask--modeled the character after.
Bissell asks, "But what is one to make of a culture that loves pop movies and pop novels and pop music and pop art devoted to the exploits of the loose cannon, the mercenary, the murderer-poet, the bounty hunter, the Batcave vigilante? Such art actually asks quite a lot of its audience, I think: What kind of a hero do we really want?"
And perhaps the most daring gauntlet to be thrown down is Joe Queenan's pro-Darth Vader screed, Anakin, Get Your Gun. Queenan contends that the public has overlooked the real message of the Star Wars epic. "That message is this:" writes Queenan, "It is the Empire, not the Rebel Alliance, that offers the best hope for the future of the race." (though which specific race that is...ah, never mind...)
He goes on, "The set-to between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance is a textbook example of what happens when a feudal society crosses swords with a modern one...On the one hand, people living in the twenty-first century typically exhibit a knee-jerk sympathy for colorful aboriginals with their primitive weapons, garish attire, and unsophisticated economic system. On the other hand, these same modernites secretly admire efficient, ruthless, well-dressed leaders with cutting-edge technology and terrific organizational skills."
After all is said and done, though, my favorite among these essays is Neal Pollack's Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of Catcher In the Red-Eye, which is one of the most ass-to-the-floor hilarious things I've ever read. It probably helps that I recently read Catcher in the Rye, but this shit's funny regardless: "If you really want to hear this story, the first thing you should know is that it takes place during a period of civil war, for Chrissake. Rebel spaceships, striking from a crappy hidden base on some phony planet, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire, but the whole thing bores me, if you want to know the truth."
That someone can fill a two hundred and twenty-two page book with so many angles on one piece of media history just goes to prove how monumental and pervasive Mr. George Lucas and his works are.
As Kenny concludes, "Is the Force still with Lucas? Well, as stilted and teeth-grindingly lame as parts of (Attack of the) Clones are, let's all ask ourselves, aren't we in the least bit curious to see how these meshugina Clone Wars turn out? And there's your answer."