Riding Shotgun: How We Learned
to Love the Lightsaber

Is this really the end of Star Wars’ presence in our popular culture? Probably not.

Editors’ note: This column was published soon after the release of Star Wars: Episode III.

Is this really the end of Star Wars’ presence in our popular culture? Star Trek just wandered off the radar with the much-deserved cancellation of Enterprise. Is Star Wars ready for the history books as well?

I quickly decided that is the second stupidest question I’ve asked myself this week. The first being, “Should I watch the latest segment in the Revelations miniseries, or shove a fork in my eye?”

Let me tell you why it’s a stupid question. To write this article, I had to take time out from playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II on my X-box. It’s compelling, but not as well put together as KOTOR I, which I finished last week. In the second bedroom of the apartment I share with my fiancée (the only room in the house I was allowed free reign in decorating — a tactical feng shui error of massive proportions) there are entire shelves devoted to Star Wars toys — the new figures too, not the old ones, which were consumed when my parents’ garage went up in smoke. There’s also the thirty or so Star Wars novels that I’ve collected over the years since Timothy Zahn kicked off the series with Heir to the Empire.

I just picked up the first season of Star Wars: Clone Wars on DVD, and am looking forward to catching the second season when it comes out on disc.

And Lucas, in a move that takes massive balls or miniscule brains, has let word leak of a possible Star Wars television program.

So … burial? Not quite.

Of course there’s a contingent of Star Wars fans that wish it was. They wish they could finally put a period at the end of this six-segment run-on sentence of a space opera and be done with it. They worship the original trilogy, have seen each episode a thousand times, and hate the prequels with a passion.

I could easily be part of that crowd. The first movie I remember seeing is Star Wars. The second movie I remember seeing is Empire Strikes Back. I was three or so at the time. As a child, I loved the world that Lucas created. As an adult, I love it even more. There’s really little I can say about why I do that hasn’t already been tapped out on a hundred blogs. A future that’s as dark, gritty and prone to engine failure as our reality, where only the rich and evil have gleaming white ships, and if you’re willing to kill a few high-powered executives, you can wear capes with impunity. A world where magic and laser turrets can go hand in hand. And lightsabers. Come on, it’s freakin’ laser swords here. It’s like crack cocaine for toddlers. Introduce us to the concept of a lightsaber and we’re hooked for life.

For many, Star Wars has its own revered little niche in the collective subconscious of our childhoods. And for many, the idea of Lucas coming along 20 years later and making more movies … movies that we didn’t grow up with … movies that don’t have Han Solo saying “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” or Luke fighting a rancor or Leia in a gold filigree bikini … the idea of that is just anathema to some fans.

No matter what Lucas did, it would never be like watching those original films again. He could have replaced Jar-Jar Binks with an all-Carrie Fisher Swedish gold filigree bikini team and it still wouldn’t have been enough. They weren’t the same, and that had nothing to do with the quality of the movies. It had nothing to do with the dialogue or the acting.

Face it, Mark Hamil in A New Hope was about as emotionally compelling as a ham sandwich. And the dialogue … “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dustin’ crops, boy.” Christ. Even in Empire, the best lines were improvised: “I love you.” “I know.”

It was an opera in space: big themes, cheesy dialogue, characters in black and white. And lightsabers. We forgave its little blemishes in favor of the big picture. Because the big picture had a mile-long Super Star Destroyer plowing into the Death Star.

And for what it’s worth, I loved Revenge of the Sith. Not just liked … loved it. Exceeded my expectations on just about every front. Except, of course, the acting and the dialogue. But I’ve never needed either to enjoy Star Wars before, and I don’t need it now. Letting Ian McDiarmid out of his box as Palpatine is more than enough to make up for Hayden Christensen being a bitchy little whiner.

Now if there were only some way they could have gotten Natalie Portman in the bikini.

And if nobody’s trademarked an “Only Republicans Think In Absolutes” bumper sticker, I’m gonna make a fucking fortune.

Article © 2005 by Steve Spotswood