Note: the first part of this was written and posted on June 29, 2018. That part has since been revised and the entry has been updated with a new section entitled, “Life After Luke: How ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Helped Me Come to Terms with Growing Up and Letting Go.”
On Saturday, June 30, 2018, I sat down to watch Solo: A Star Wars Story on its opening weekend in Japan. It was a Late Show screening at my local Toho Cinemas. By Monday morning, I would be a married man.
And with that, my young padawans, comes the announcement that this post will be the last Star-Wars-related post that I do for the foreseeable future. With freelancing and other things keeping me busy, I’ve had less and less time to update this website. While I still plan on maintaining the site as a portfolio with links to freelance work I’ve done (check the sidebar), and while I still plan on updating the site with its own new blog entries and photo galleries as time permits, this entry effectively closes the book on the project that I started back in 2016 looking at Star Wars through the lens of Japanese culture.
Writing in that niche is what allowed me to break into the freelance market in the first place. Though it was my second published post, the very first pitch I had accepted for a paid article on /Film was Exploring the Japanese Roots of ‘Star Wars.’
In lieu of an ebook, I’ll be condensing down the blog’s Star Wars in Japan sidebar section to a single Table of Contents post and then filing that under Film-Lover’s Guide to Japan. The Last Jedi felt like a definitive end to the first 40-year chapter of Star Wars history so maybe it’s appropriate to wrap up this whole long project I’ve been working on as the next chapter in the space saga starts.
Life After Luke: How ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Helped Me Come to Terms with Growing Up and Letting Go
Solo: A Star Wars Story is the movie equivalent of an amicable breakup. That’s a metaphor my mind keeps returning to as the dust settles from Solo and The Last Jedi and we enter the comparatively long, limbo-like stretch from Solo until Star Wars: Episode IX. Like so many other fans, I’ve had a passionate, on-again, off-again love affair with the Star Wars franchise throughout my life. However, I’m 37 now and in terms of emotion, the return of Star Wars from the ashes of the prequels peaked for me last year with the 40th anniversary and the death of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi.
Much of the "high" I experienced was chronicled in two long /Film features I wrote:
Feelings are subject to change — who knows, maybe the best Star Wars movies are still ahead of us — but the way I feel right now as both a fan and consumer (let’s face it, Star Wars fans are spenders) is that The Last Jedi was my intense last waltz with the galaxy far, far away. I know we’ll meet again but I don’t know if it will ever be the same between us.
The original Star Wars trilogy was a fairy tale and owing to that, perhaps, there’s a whole generation of fans that has had almost a fairy tale romance with those movies in their heads. We refer back to that constantly when envisioning what an ideal Star Wars movie should be, but it may well have created an impossible standard for any new able-bodied filmmakers to meet. We’re now four films into the Disney era and personally, I’ve liked or loved every one of the new films to varying degrees. Yet with each of them, I’ve also had my little issues — nitpicks, gripes, grievances — that I have to overlook in order to enjoy the movies.
Now that I’m old enough to see their flaws, that’s not so different from how I treat A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. But if nothing else, the music and design aspects of those movies still affirm them as unparalleled feats of imagination to me. If you think about all those old John Williams cues and the vehicles and the armor and the aliens and the environments and how they all came together in a highly concentrated dose of world-building, there’s been nothing on quite the same level of uniqueness and originality ever since. It’s led me to realize that maybe nothing’s ever going to be able to fully recapture the same special spark of magic as the original trilogy, simply because it was lightning in a bottle, a natural phenomenon that was briefly contained in the field but is now being replicated in a post-modern lab.
Solo was the first Star Wars movie where I didn’t feel the need to rush out and see it on opening night. It was the first Star Wars movie where I sat back in the theater and thought, “It’s just a movie,” and was able to enjoy it that way, free from excessive baggage. The biggest concern I had — that Alden Ehrenreich wouldn’t be able to fill the shoes of Harrison Ford — was laid mostly to rest as soon as Han met Chewie and I relaxed into young Solo the way I did with River Phoenix’s young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
At times, the film’s star-studded cast did interfere with my willing suspension of disbelief. Suddenly Woody Harrelson was in the gunner’s turret of the Millennium Falcon and Jon Favreau was voicing a bubbly alien and Thandie Newton had wandered out of Westworld into Star Wars World. Emilia Clarke brought enough emotional believability to the character of Qi’ra that I wasn’t thinking about Game of Thrones too much, and Paul Bettany imported a decidedly un-Vision like menace to the role of the scarred-up crime lord, Dryden Vos. But with his “This Is America” music video still fresh in mind, Donald Glover’s presence initially proved distracting. Critics heaped praises on his portrayal of Lando Calrissian and by the end, I was fully on board with it, but at first it seemed like he had walked straight out of a Saturday Night Live sketch with the Billy Dee Williams impersonation he was doing.
All in all, the theatrical experience of Solo was akin to watching the Ant-Man of the Star Wars franchise. The movie’s obligatory alien music lounge scene actually made me feel like Star Wars was headed in the direction of the James Bond series with its formulaic plots and requisite tag lines like “Shaken, not stirred.” At what point does chasing the Cantina become perfunctory (if it hasn’t already)? I had the Darth Maul cameo spoiled for me, so maybe that was why it seemed ham-fisted and I rolled my eyes as the newly reconstituted Maul showed off his double-sided red lightsaber in the middle of a holographic Skype call.
For a child of the eighties who amassed a collection of Kenner Star Wars action figures through clearance shelves at toy stores and neighborhood garage sales, it feels a bit odd but also liberating to finally have the same level of healthy detachment toward Star Wars as “the normals” (the kind of moviegoers who don’t sink money into 6-inch Black Series figures even as an adult). I’m still invested in mainline characters like Rey and Finn, but my mind is a blank slate now regarding Episode IX and I have no expectations of it like I would if Star Wars and I were still in the middle of the relationship drama that we suffered for years.
Taking the breakup metaphor and running further with it, I’m content to let my relationship with Star Wars settle into a new platonic status quo. We’ll still remain good friends — I know that — because Star Wars was my first love and I have the kind of deep-seated bond with it that could only grow up out of youth. But from now on, I’ll have to accept that Star Wars is with someone else: namely, a new corporate owner and a new generation of fans. It’s my ex but I’m happy for the times we had together and who knows, maybe we’ll make some nice new memories in the future as we see each other at casual get-togethers in the vein of Solo.
It’s the letting-go aspect of this that I thought might resonate, given the current state of Star Wars fandom. The empire of dreams seems more divided than ever and in some ways, I feel like making a Star Wars movie has almost gotten to be a thankless task, because there’s always going to be one contingent of fans who aren’t happy. There’s a vocal contingent out there of disaffected haters (whether they’re a minority or majority is beyond my powers to judge) and of course there are many true believers still carrying a torch for Star Wars all around the world. But I think there’s also a good-sized contingent of people who are sort of on the rebound, in a vulnerable state right now. Those people are in the mode where they’re turning up the song “I Will Survive.” They tell themselves they’re over it, but of course, none of us are ever really over it with Star Wars. It’s the old flame who will always stir up feelings in us.
If whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then maybe the best way to toughen yourself up sometimes is to repeatedly expose yourself to the thing that hurts you or lets you down. Star Wars belongs to the world now and even before Disney took the reins, the prequels had already started waging a war of attrition on my own personal expectations and desires as a fan. It’s been almost twenty years now since the first trailer for The Phantom Menace debuted in theaters. With Solo: A Star Wars Story, we’ve now come full circle to another prequel. The last two decades worth of movies have frustrated me and delighted me in equal measure, rekindling the romance of Star Wars but ultimately wearing me down to the point where I’ve grown numb and am no longer capable of harboring any ill will even toward Jar Jar Binks.
Loving Star Wars means wanting the best for it but also relinquishing ownership of it. That’s what I’m doing with the franchise after Solo: A Star Wars Story. Let’s see what the next forty years of movies bring.