In the still-young history of movies, in the last half-century of popular culture, perhaps no work has triggered as much admiration and disdain, as much conversation and consternation, as Star Wars.
Ordinarily, that sentence would be marked “REVISE” in big red letters by an editor who might think it too hyperbolic, too overtly sweeping. And yet I’m keeping it, because I believe it. Whether you love the movies of this franchise, whether you hate them, or whether you’ve managed to avoid them thus far, it is unlikely they haven’t served as some source of noise, at some point in your life. Equally unlikely is the possibility you haven’t spent a single dollar on anything related to this franchise, be it a movie ticket, a video game, an doll, a Halloween costume, or a Pez Dispenser. You might not care about Star Wars, but you know somebody who does.
The first of these movies, an idea from USC graduate George Lucas, meant to work as a better-made, better-budgeted riff on the Flash Gordon serials as integral to the director’s youth as the speeding cars and sixties rock of his previous film, American Graffiti. Peppered in were countless other allusions to his creative idols: composers like Wagner, directors like Kurosawa, academics like Joseph Campbell. It was to be Lucas’ take on the postmodern fairytale.
I’m not exactly uncovering anything new here. The movie survived a troubled production, going on to become the highest grossing movie of its time. Of course, such success warranted a sequel. Then another sequel. Then some prequels. Then a $4 billion sale to Disney. As the first movie ushers in its fifth decade of existence, it has officially begotten a whole new trilogy, a caboodle of spinoffs and, it was recently reported, a spin-off trilogy. With plenty of books and merchandise bide time with between movies.
I grew up watching Star Wars. I still remember first watching it as a fifth grader, marveling at the experience of something that, if it’d been done elsewhere, I’d never seen it done so well. A few years later the prequel trilogy came out. And I grew up watching (and, to an extent, dreading) those movies. Now I am in my thirties, and I am continuing to watch Star Wars. Of the kinds of people I listed above, I’m decidedly of the “love them” variety. No art or culture—not The Simpsons, not The Beatles, not even the Bible—comes close.
And yet, I’ve hardly ever written about them.
I’ve done a few write-ups on this site (here, here, and here), and I’ve immortalized some throwaway sentiments on Letterboxd. Otherwise my personal relationship with Star Wars has gone mostly unexamined. Part of this is because actually wrapping my head around it all sounds daunting. Part of it is I doubt I have anything truly novel to say about these movies, given that the Internet is about 40% Star Wars content (the remaining 60%, of course, being porn). It sounds impossible.
As we count down the days before the theatrical release of The Last Jedi the ninth of the Star Wars movies (tenth if you’re counting Clone Wars, which I’m not), I plan to publish a single daily essay—one for each of the eight existing films—centering around a specific movie and specific topic pertinent to this series as a whole. The topic of each essay can and will be about anything; whatever it is about each movie that speaks to me personally, or says something about this series as a collection of movies or as a cultural actor. Some of it will be positive, some more ambivalent.
I confess, I don’t quite know what this will lead to. They might amount to a collection of critical essays. More likely they will be personal essays written with a critical flavor. I might write my way into some mind-blowing revelation. Or I’ll write myself in circles, but hopefully with a more refined understanding of my feelings about this unwieldy hunk of corporate product. And if I fail, I suppose I can always try this experiment again in forty years, as this series continues to churn out movies on a regular basis.
Here’s the schedule:
- It’s the Sound that Defines Star Wars (1977)
- Darth Vader is a Terrible Boss in The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Return of the Jedi (1983) and the Downside of Safe Choices
- How The Phantom Menace (1999) Compensates for a Lack of Mystery
- In Attack of the Clones (2002), John Williams is Smoother than Sand
- Essay on Revenge of the Sith (2005) — Monday, December 11
- Essay on The Force Awakens (2015) — Tuesday, December 12
- Essay on Rogue One (2016) — Wednesday, December 13
- Final Thoughts — Thursday, December 14
We’ll see how this goes. I have a bad feeling about this, but hopefully you don’t. If you follow the whole thing, I’ll be forever grateful!
Oh, and of course…