Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thanks George Lucas, Because 10 Years Ago You Killed My Childhood Forever

Marc Bernardin reminds me why today is a sad day for Gen X.

When I was really young, I used to spend the night at my grandparents house every Saturday night. It was a magical time. Like most kids who visit their grandparents, my time with Oma and Opa was spent reading, picnicking, washing cars, getting to sleep in to ridiculous hours on Sunday, and experiencing the love of one's elders -- which included a very different set of social norms from life with my parents. My Opa was a retired career Sergeant Major in the Army who had served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. And when my Opa returned home to the United States after his tour with the US Occupation forces in Europe, he brought my Oma from Germany to our fair shores.

For the most part, my Oma and Opa were serious people. After dinner, we always watched the news and Oma and Opa were always interested in my opinions on the issues of the day. This was true when I was 14 and it was true when I was 7.

But the times with Oma and Opa weren't always so serious. Some of my favorite times were when my very serious Opa would, almost at random, tease my Oma with some sarcastic remark or jibe. His giggle was infectious and watching Oma go from red with anger at being criticized to laughing out loud and poking Opa when she realized it was only a jibe, is one of my fondest sets of memories from childhood.

The other time things weren't too serious at Oma and Opa's was late Saturday evenings. My Opa would stay up with me and watch the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials on some UHF bandwidth local station. I hadn't seen anything like them, and I was immediately addicted. Opa also introduced me to the glorious films of Ray Harryhausen. So in the summer of 1977 when STAR WARS was released in the theater, I had the perfect background of experience having spent a good part of 1976 and early 1977 watching the old serials with Opa. The movie captured the feel of those classic tales perfectly, and even borrowed some scenes. I dare anyone to watch the Flash Gordon serials without experiencing moments of "déjà cinema". I was 6 years old and STAR WARS was a joy to see in the theater. I watched it over 20 times in the theaters -- I am certain that is a conservative estimate. The serials fostered my love of narrative storytelling, but STAR WARS cemented my love for movies.

This is a love that continues to this day, but a part of the childhood wonder I brought to every movie I watched died ten years ago today. You see...on that day ten years ago, George Lucas released STAR WARS EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE. The movie was the single largest pop culture disappointment I have ever experienced. It was worse that when DC killed Superman and broke Batman's back. It was a worse disappointment than the Joel Schumacher Batman movies (though not a worse movie than those movies).

THE PHANTOM MENACE wasn't that bad of a movie, all things considered, but it did lack one thing that the original had in spades. The new movie lacked "heart." It didn't contain the same sense of wonder that inspired the first films, it seemed more workmanlike than inspired. The original series of films has a number of flaws, narratively and cinematically. For example, ust how long does it take for the Sarlacc to digest you? But the original films had an aura of enchantment that the franchise has failed to recapture as it has become more about continuing STAR WARS and less about sharing the wonder of a tradition of Space Opera tales.

Since THE PHANTOM MENACE, my movie viewing has become a little more cynical and I don't go in expecting to feel enchanted anymore. Sometimes a film can make me feel slightly enchanged, STAR TREK and QUANTUM OF SOLACE come close, but I no longer watch previews expecting that they even come close to representing the wonder (or lack thereof) that a particular film will offer.

Don't even get me going on how much I think WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE will suck.

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