Op-ed: Chill out, everybody—Star Wars has always been for kids
This Star Wars-related op-ed does not contain any spoilers for The Last Jedi, other than a mention or two about porgs. It does, however, have some spoilers for the rest of the mainline series and possibly Rogue One.
A few years ago, when Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, one of the first things the House of Mouse did was to throw the almost-wholly-execrable Expanded Universe into the garbage chute. With the stroke of a pen, tens of thousands of pages of what was effectively fan fiction (and written like it) became dianoga chow—and good riddance. The tiny portions of the EU worth saving—mostly culled from the work of Timothy Zahn, maybe with a bit of Stackpole tossed in for flavor—were given new life in the redefined canon, but jettisoning the rest of it was a necessary step. It removed a giant calcified tumor from the Star Wars universe’s colon, and doing so gave Disney the latitude it needed in order to tell its own stories without having to fact check everything on Wookiepedia first.
But for older folks who grew up with Star Wars—particularly us GenX-ers and proto-Millennials born in the late ’70s and early ’80s who experienced the movies for the first time as very young kids—it signaled something more ominous. When Obi-Wan decided to train Anakin, it was with the expectation that he would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness (though maybe Obi-Wan should have thought through all the possible implications of what “balance” could mean in that context). Similarly, when Disney bought the franchise, the dumping of the EU was the first sign that Disney might not be out to “save” Star Wars—at least, not how we’d prefer it to be saved. In fact, by jettisoning the EU, Disney looked like it might have been about to ruin Star Wars for us. And how dare they? Star Wars was ours!
But it isn’t—not anymore, at least, because we kids who grew up as Star Wars fans have forgotten who Star Wars is really for. When we were little, it used to be for us. It’s not anymore. We grew up and, though our tastes in entertainment naturally evolve as we get older, Star Wars doesn’t. We grew up and left it behind, but Star Wars is a constant and unchanging companion. It’s just as true to its fans as it always was—we’re just not the right fans.
Don’t believe me? Let’s run the numbers.
1. Star Wars has always been for families and kids
I can point to the exact thing that made me realized that Star Wars wasn’t meant for me anymore. On an afternoon in early November 2012, I watched this short Youtube video:
If you can’t see it or don’t want to click on a video at work, I’ll summarize: it’s a video of two 10-year olds losing their effing minds after reading the Episode 7 release announcement.
It was perplexing—at least at first. I found myself thinking, “What the hell? These kids are way too young to get what Star Wars means. How can they really appreciate the series without the backstory, the grandeur, all the scaffolding of trivia and inside knowledge and backstage tales I’ve built over the decades in my head to prop up this great story? They’re just stupid kids! They probably watch that lame-ass Clone Wars CGI cartoon and think THAT’S what Star Wars really is!”
But that’s the thing. That is what Star Wars really is. It’s entertainment for your kids to enjoy or for you to enjoy with them. The fact that at least two generations of people fetishize the movies and want them to be something deeply meaningful and adult-serious—and the current round of whinging about the kid-friendly elements in the prequel trilogy—doesn’t change the fact that if you’re looking for a grown-up, logically consistent, fully adult Star Wars film… you’re going to be looking for a long time, because it doesn’t exist.
This isn’t Ridley Scott or Stanley Kubrick. This is George Lucas and those who follow in his footsteps. Star Wars started out basically as retro-movie fanfic written by a film-school student who grew up loving cinema in all its aspects both glorious and dumb, and that origin is baked into the series’ structure.
2. Corny is an inherent part of Star Wars
This is an outgrowth of the first point—Star Wars has a massive element of camp to it. Recall tat Return of the Jedi contains an actual dance number (which got updated and shoved into our faces even harder in the special edition). Episode 1 has fart and poop jokes, along with the Gungans, which I’m just not even going to try to get into. All of the films contain at least a few brief slapstick or physical comedy moments; several have a lot more than that.
The corn and cheese pervades all aspects of the movies. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing—but it is a thing. In Star Wars, getting an extremity sliced off in combat is a (usually) bloodless affair that qualifies as little more than a minor flesh wound. (And, yes, I’m fully aware that the in-universe explanation for the typical lack of blood from a lightsaber or blaster wound is cauterization due to the heat from the blade or bolt—but the real reason is that PG rating.) A modern heavy mechanized infantry with fast cavalry support gets shellacked by a stone-age tribe of sentient rat-monkeys. At least four of the movies end with some variation on “one person flies a fighter into the Giant Bad Guy Thing and blows it up.” Rogue One has a blind priest who beats up heavily armed blaster-wielding opponents with a stick.
And, of course, the corniest thing of all: the fat X-Wing pilot is named “Porkins.” I mean… come on.
3. Fun (almost) always beats boring dumb reality
The Phantom Menace’s opening crawl talked about trade disputes and blockades, like a recap of a particularly boring CSPAN broadcast. However, as evidenced by the entire rest of the movie, none of that trade crap mattered—there were weird bad guys to kill and it was time to race some pods. The Clone Wars are never really given more than a passing explanation (some rando Jedi named Sifo-Dyas ordered some clones, and then Obi-Wan found them and was like “Cool, I guess we have a clone army now”). Meanwhile, Count Dookoo (really? that was the best name we could think of for Sir Christopher Lee?) has some politics or something that don’t matter, and so on and so on.
Though, even as I’m writing this up, I find I’m slipping into the same frame of mind as the people I’m accusing of making too big a deal of Star Wars. “Dookoo” is a fun name! It’s certainly fun to say. It sounds like “dookey.”
How does hyperspace work? There’s an EU explanation, I’m sure, but who really cares? It works however the plot needs it to work. How can Yoda sense the dark side, but not sense Palpatine’s intentions? Because plot. How can no one tell Anakin is turning bad? Because plot. Why does Padme die? Because plot.
I mean, if we’re looking for the best possible example of why we should repeat to ourselves that it’s just a movie and relax, look no farther than the papering over of the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the galaxy: the Endor Holocaust. Because hypermatter can’t melt steel trees. Or something.