The most beloved film franchise of a generation? Try the most annoying and overrated instead.
I make no efforts to mask my adulation for bad cinema. Hell, there are some “bad” movies that I legitimately enjoy watching more than good ones; if given the option of watching “International Guerillas” or “Nukie” over “Persona” or “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” I’d probably vouch for the movies about dancing jihadists and turd-faced aliens hanging out in the African dirt fields.
The thing is, I don’t vaunt my adulation for such properties to the point where I consider them components of my everyday life. Nor do I view these relics as anything other than fixed media that serves as non-stimulating, anti-intellectual entertainment. And I certainly don’t fool myself into thinking such films have any sort of intrinsic value outside of popcorn voyeurism and cheaper than the cheapest of cheap titillations.
The biggest problem I have with the whole “Star Wars” pop culture wehrmacht -- outside of my personal opinion that the entire mythos is juvenile, clichéd and boring -- is that it hasn’t just inspired a fervid fan base, it literally has become a proxy religion for Generation M. In today’s pan-cultural, mega-inclusive Millennial social system, entertainment has become the only true generational unifier, and perhaps no other text has as much weight for today’s twenty-somethings as George Lucas’s infantile space opera.
If you find yourself among any large throng of Millennials, it’s literally impossible to go a day without someone referencing “Star Wars.” It’s such an omnipresent aspect of the generational experience that it’s kind of become an unofficial tongue, a vernacular unto itself. The biblical heroes of the Old Testament and the frontiersmen of the 1800s were once our culture’s mythological archetypes, but for my cohorts, it’s Han Solo and a space Bigfoot wearing a bandoleer. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a problem if the series, taken as a whole, had any sort of profound artistic, political or philosophical value; alas, the entire franchise is about as flat and empty as a stomped cardboard box, the kind of dumbed-down kids stuff that’s barely more nuanced and intellectually demanding than a Mother Goose yarn.
And I’m not just talking about the much maligned prequels. Despite their widespread acclaim, I still think the “original” trilogy flat out sucks and is unarguably the most overrated trio of movies in the annals of cinema.
Really, what is contained in the first three films that hasn’t been done a million times earlier and million times better? The entire mythos of “Star Wars” is nothing but a slight tweaking of the “Flash Gordon” and “Buck Rodgers” formula, albeit with a profound John Ford and Akira Kurosawa inspiration. And by “inspiration,” I mean “utter and unrepentant theft,” as the first movie was more or less a blatant fusion of “The Hidden Fortress” and “The Searchers” with laser sound effects dubbed in. Hell, there are even entire websites out there dedicated to pointing out all of the original material that George Lucas “borrowed” to formulate the series mythology.
Anybody that considers “Star Wars” to be legitimately great filmmaking is probably a moron, man-child or developmentally arrested. My all time favorite description of the series comes from this Vincent Canby review of “The Empire Strikes Back,” in particular his line about the film being about as “personal as a Christmas Card from a bank.” The characters are less dimensional than card stock, the dialogue is hammier than a lifetime supply of bologna and the overlying Manichean subtext is about as cerebral and involving as a one man game of “Uno.” Outside of the special effects and the orchestral score, I’m hard pressed to think of anything at all remarkable about the films as a whole -- yet another indication that ours is a generation that values the aesthetic and the stimulating above all while eschewing the intricate and the nuanced completely. I guess it’s not surprising that Generation ADD forsakes Apu and The Human Condition for a completely different kind of trilogy -- one involving guerrilla warrior teddy bears and a central character whose only spoken dialogue in six feature films is the sound of a FAX machine being turned on.
And that’s not even factoring in the series’ gravest impact on American cinema (and by default, perhaps even the American intellect) which was ushering in the era of the “Merchandise Movie.” Simply put, the twin-headed terror of Lucas and Spielberg is doubly-responsible for the end of the “New Hollywood” movement, which saw intellectual, artistically driven films like “Taxi Driver” and “The Deer Hunter” replaced by kid-friendly, heavily advertised, mega-capitalistic megaliths like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Ghostbusters.” Before “Star Wars,” movies were art, and after, they become commodities. That alone is reason enough to hate the franchise with a fiery passion, but wait! There’s also the psychological impact the films have made on our generation.
The films, perhaps, are so popular with Generation M because they require such little intellectual effort on behalf of the viewer. With black and white characters and a storyline so by-the-numbers you can almost see the unpainted integers onscreen, the “Star Wars” experience requires about as much introspection and questioning as reading the back of a cereal box. The “Star Wars” machinery is a shameless celebration of the simplistic, and the mass manufactured and the unchallenging; and as such, it lends itself perfectly to a materialist young adult culture whose only “moral battle” is whether they should pick up the grande cappuccino at Starbucks with one shot of espresso or two.
“Star Wars” fans used to be a niche subculture in America, but with America’s recent transvaluation into a nerd-dominated culture, it’s almost as if the series is a required text for contemporary interaction. Logging onto Facebook, one is sure to encounter dozens of photos of their acquaintances dressed like Storm Troopers or Jedis at comic book conventions, an endless array of memes, derived from the Star Wars mythos -- the most insipid perhaps being the atrocious “May the Fourth Be With You” movement -- and men that are closer to middle age than adolescence spending lavish sums of their personal income to purchase “Star Wars” toys and spin-off media. The “Star Wars” fandom has more or less reached the point of orthodoxy; if a twenty-year-old kid tells his peers he’s gay, atheistic or even a devil-worshiping communist S&M freak, no one around him bats an eyelash. If the same kid says he hates “Star Wars,” however, he immediately becomes an outcast, a social system inhabitant “guilty” of breaking the herd consensus. When CNN is doing news stories about people that haven’t watched the movies, you KNOW we have some serious hive-mind thinking going on across the cultural spectrum.
So what’s so bad about having “Star Wars” as a transcultural text, you might be thinking? Well, for one, it’s not real -- sorry, but when our only generational unifier is a mass media complex about intergalactic cowboys, I'd consider that a rather morose notion to dwell upon. In a generational system that’s placing more emphasis on entertainment (in particular, media of the fantasy variety) than sports and politics, we find ourselves turning away from real life examples of heroism, and conflict, and treachery. Instead of using real world templates to build our communal notions of honor, and integrity and personal sacrifice, our martyrs and inspirations now come from the pages of a comic book, a CGI wireframe or a cable television script. We’ve abandoned actual humanity for the fantastical, reality for the absurd, the meaningful for the amusing. Our faith isn’t vested in a religion, or even a political dogma; instead, our lives are wrapped around the products we like to buy -- another season of our favorite television program, another comic book omnibus, another cosplaying session. All consumerist fantasies, escapes into the trivial in the face of so many social and cultural problems. With that in mind, “Star Wars” might as well be the key text for today’s juvenile consumerists -- our “Communist Manifesto,” our “Koran,” our “Holy Bible.” Luke Skywalker is our mutual minister, and the gospel he praises is the virtue of vapidity and shopping.
Case in point? Try typing “Star Wars” into Google some time. On my first go around, I got 58 million return results. Now try typing in “World War 2.” On my test run, I only got 3.7 million results. That means that on the Internet -- the truly populist thing that it is -- there’s nearly FIFTEEN times as much content dedicated to the fictitious sci-fi industry than there is the most monumental REAL conflict in the history of humanity.
With that in mind, I’m not really sure how to feel about an entire culture whose archetypical evil is James Earl Jones in a black space helmet instead of Hirohito or Mussolini. Nor do I know what to make of a generation whose common philosophers are a green Muppet and a Shakespearean character actor in a brown bathrobe instead of Winston Churchill or Charles de Gaulle. I really don’t know what to say about a whole generation who can tell you the wing dimensions of a TIE fighter and what the indigenous creatures of Hoth are, but have no idea what the significance of Holodomor or the Battle of Kursk was.
I really can’t give a solid response as to what this culture’s infantile infatuation with “Star Wars” means explicitly, but whatever that comes to signify, this much, I know: until we start investing in things with actual social import, our generation is headed towards a true dark side, and probably in less than 12 parsecs, to boot.