Earlier this month, my two older daughters (9 and 7) reached an important cultural milestone. My wife and I determined they are finally ready to see Star Wars. They started with the original trilogy because I’m a traditionalist, and think the original movies make the prequels easier to understand.
Although they have known about Star Wars for years, I have managed to keep the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader a secret, so the reveal in “The Empire Strikes Back” was a great moment. As their eyes widened in shock, horror, and delight at the twist, I made a decision that once seemed impossible to imagine: I realized it was time to forgive George Lucas.
George Lucas Deserves Some Criticism
Like Simon Pegg’s character in “Spaced,” I was not a fan of the prequels. I thought Lucas made some odd story choices in where he started the tale, CGI made the movies look cartoonish at times, and, like Jonah Goldberg, I thought Lucas undermined the rules of the world he created to make a rather pedestrian political point in “Revenge of the Sith.”
For decades, the established premise of the Star Wars franchise was that the universe is divided into the Dark Side and the Light Side of the Force. Jedi Knights—champions of all that is noble and virtuous—were warned never to give in, even a little, to the Dark Side, lest they lose their souls. If all that is not about ‘absolutes,’ then what on earth (or in a galaxy far, far away) is? And Lucas threw it all away to get in a dig at George W. Bush.
His swipe at Bush’s famous iteration of the doctrine that would bear his name—’You are either with us or against us’—in a few seconds unraveled the entire moral superstructure of the Star Wars franchise.
To many Star Wars fans, the prequels were the insult piled on top of the still-fresh injury that was the special editions of the original movies. Some of the changes did improve the look of the movies, such as adding windows and background in the Cloud City scenes in “Empire.” Others, such as Greedo infamously shooting first or replacing the actor who played the older ghost Anakin Skywalker with Hayden Christiansen, still drive me a little nuts.
Recent statements by Lucas make it quite easy to justify actively nursing a grudge against him. He has defended his change to the Han Solo-Greedo scene in the first movie and claimed that if he could be any character in that universe, he would choose to be Jar Jar Binks. At times like that, it sometimes seems like Lucas is deliberately trolling the fans of the franchise he created.
We Couldn’t Complain If Star Wars Didn’t Exist
While this list of grievances could go on and on, watching my daughters enjoy his movies made me realize Lucas’s most significant accomplishment will always offset any wrong turns he has made in recent years. He created Star Wars.
Like many other fans, I am excited to see “The Force Awakens” and have been since the moment the first teaser trailer was shared with the world. The words “Chewie, we’re home” in the second trailer almost got me emotional. None of that would have been possible without the original trilogy that emerged from the mind of a young filmmaker who started jotting down notes and story ideas in 1973.
Since the special editions and the prequels, it’s become popular among Star Wars fans to say Lucas violated our childhoods. I’ve been guilty of sneering at Lucas and proclaiming with absolute conviction that I will never forgive him for what he did to Star Wars. However, those outrages seem small when compared with the joy this franchise has given me over the years.
The Nostalgia Is Based On Something Real
One of the most effective commercials I’ve ever seen is this one for the “Star Wars: Battlefront” video game. As The Verge put it, that commercial “uses nostalgia like emotional blackmail.” That commercial resonates because, for many of us, that was our childhood: laying on the floor “playing Star Wars” with friends, flashlight lightsaber battles (with sound effects), the joy of ripping open wrapping paper at Christmas to discover an AT-AT and a snow speeder and it had snowed that morning so Hoth was right outside the door. When I was younger, I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to Force-move objects, convinced that I could do so if I only tried harder.
Star Wars was a playground in which my younger self joyfully romped around and the movies and toys served as a launch pad for my imagination. Lucas’ creation has given me more hours of pure happiness than I could even hope to calculate, and his recent missteps are a blip when measured against that.
Fellow disgruntled Star Wars fans, it’s time to set aside any irritation we have for Lucas and remember how much joy his creation has brought all of us over the years. He gave us a universe we can now share with our children, who allow us to relive the wonder of seeing those movies for the first time. As we get ready to re-enter the worlds he created, now is a perfect opportunity to stop airing grievances and give Lucas the gratitude he has earned.
Although it is unlikely that Lucas will ever read this, I want to take a moment and thank him not only for creating Star Wars, but for having the generosity to hand the universe he created into the hands of people who will create new stories. I hope these stories ignite the same spark of imagination and joy in my children. My generation was the first to visit a galaxy far, far away. Now, we get to take our kids along for the ride.
Thank you, Mr. Lucas.