By Erika Mejia
Everyone has a story that is an integral piece of who they are as a person. Films are stories, and they can help to shape, motivate, and cause us to question who we are in the grand scheme of things. For many, a common film to relate to is Star Wars. However, as a fourth-year senior film student, I have a huge confession to make: I have never seen Star Wars. Not a single film. I know, I know. “How could you be a film major and have never seen Star Wars??” is a question I’ve gotten many times before. But believe it or not, George Lucas did not define my childhood at all. Now as Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens will be released later this year, it’s better to get on the ship now than never, right?
Before I talk about my experience as a first-time viewer of Star Wars, I feel like I should give you some background on the kinds of things I did watch growing up. The films that I can recall from my childhood are those of Mary-Kate and Ashley (where they go to different locations around the world), Sleeping Beauty, and television shows like The Simpsons. My scripture was: Spinal Tap, The Big Lebowski, Ace Ventura, and National Lampoon’s Vacation, as well as old episodes of Saturday Night Live. While these are embarrassing and/or problematic, they have shaped me into the person that I am. They have defined the period of time when all I wanted to do was travel and get into crazy shenanigans along with Patty and Selma’s wit. Comedy for me was an escape–and still is–where I can express many things. I belong to the small group of comedy nerds. So I will be the first to acknowledge that I am going out of my element when I watch Star Wars IV: A New Hope for the first time.
My position with Star Wars before seeing the film was as someone who knew a bit about the fans’ devotion to Star Wars. I heard my friends argue about certain scenes and it was almost WWIII when the prequels were mentioned. This is what I knew about Star Wars going in: Harrison Ford is a babe, some people have an intense love/hate relationship with the film’s special edition and with Lucas, the big reveal of Darth Vader being Luke and Leia’s father. The kiss between Luke and Leia as they try to make their escape from storm troopers. While I know these scenes and the story of a boy becoming a Jedi– a coming of age story– I never watched the series because I was never interested in science fiction and/or action films. However, this has changed with taking a summer class on science fiction literature and marathoning action films at my best friend’s house. I have learned to expand my appreciation and take a chance by watching the first in the canon.
I am entering the screening with somewhat of a clean slate of what the film will be like, as well as having the knowledge that Lucas has changed some things in the films, which I learned from watching the documentary The People vs. George Lucas. I will be viewing these elements of the film in mind. As I sat in the corner of the media library, papers askew and biscotti crumbs littering the desk, I popped in the DVD. One small step towards being “in the know” with the cool kids.
Here is a summary of the film (what I have gotten from it).
There is a war going on between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire over control of the galaxy. Princess Leia places the Empire’s plans for the Death Star in R2-D2 along with a message for help. R2-D2 and C-3PO escape and land in Tatooine where they meet Luke Skywalker, our teenage self when being pouty was still in vogue. Luke finds a message from Leia that asks for Obi-Wan Kenobi’s help. When they find Obi-Wan, he informs Luke about when he was a Jedi and the Empire’s control as well as introducing the Force.
Obi-Wan is about to take the plans to Alderaan and invites Luke. Luke agrees when he finds his home destroyed and uncle and aunt dead. To pause for a moment, let’s think about those charred skeletal remains…sick right?! There was no mercy at all and some smoke still rose from their bodies. Their bodies were SMOKED out like BBQ ribs! They meet Hottie (Han) Solo and Chewbacca who they hire to take them to Alderaan on the Millenium Falcon. Alderaan has been destroyed and Vader captures the Falcon. Luke with Solo and Chewy rescue her. Vader and Obi-Wan fight one another; Obi-Wan is killed in the process, while giving a small grin…cool but weird. The group finds a weakness in the station and an attack is set. The alliance begins to lose members, I mean they drop like flies!!! It’s all on Luke’s shoulders and he barely makes the shot when Hottie (Han) Solo makes a surprise appearance causing Luke to hit and blow up the Death Star to bits. Leia, who by the way seems to be the only human female with prominence in the entire film besides Aunt Em, awards Luke and Han medals for their fight against the Empire. I’m just saying that there had to be more women who got stuff done in this universe, am I right?
My first reaction after seeing the film: “What the hell with the special effects?!”
Let me clarify, the special effects that I was disappointed in seeing were the ones that Lucas added years after the theatrical release of the film. The contrast of the original film with modern CGI effects took me out of the storyline. What drew me into the film and helped me stay was the structure of the story and the characters. Right off the bat, I was with Luke and how his world was turned upside down. The reason as to why the film has endured is because of the relation to Luke Skywalker. Everyone, even an eight-year-old glue-eating kid can relate to him. However, every time I was sucked into the story I would be taken out by small CGI figures in the foreground. It was made worse by the out of place appearance of Jabba the Hut, I mean really?! What was the point? It did not look seamless at all. Don’t even get me started on the Han Solo and Greedo thing. I could tell that Lucas’ concern on the special effects would have been how they would have impacted future audiences. However, the addition of these effects that don’t even blend into the film ruins the viewer’s experience.
What I especially enjoyed about doing this analysis on this particular film was the heavily involved fan culture, how people can get into passionate discussions not only about the films but also about the universe. That is a level that I can relate to, even if in my case, the love I have is for The Simpsons. How can I as a viewer accept that I will never be a part of the audience who originally saw the film in 1977? But then again, a lot of people haven’t and they still love Star Wars, in the end I am happy that I have finally watched Star Wars because now I am part of the club of those who can say with mild irony, “you never watched Star Wars before?!”. In a world where the film belongs to the viewers who grew up with it, I am to say that the first one is pretty rad. However, how do I reconcile with not growing up with Star Wars as I went through puberty? The truth is, that I don’t feel like I was missing too much. While the film touched millions of people, most likely when they were children they have grown up with Star Wars as an example of being true to oneself. I gained that education through my history with The Simpsons and reruns of Saturday Night Live. While I will never be the cool science fiction geek who can rant for hours about a particular episode of Star Wars, I will be the comedy nerd who can tell you the basic function of why Milhouse is Milhouse and I’m okay with that.
I understand how powerful and great the universe Lucas created it and feel ripped off when special effects pull me out of the story. I will continue on my saga by finishing The Empire Strikes Back (I started but did not finish, I can only do so much). If you need me and have a “legal” copy of A New Hope without all the effects that Lucas added, then you can find me in the media library, biscotti and pen in hand, ready for the next challenge.
The quest goes on.