The trumpet-blast of the Star Wars theme when that logo hits the screen transports me instantly back to the age of 11. Everything onscreen after that gets absorbed with the absolute trust and lack of cynicism that you’d expect of a person who still maybe sort of believes in Santa Claus. It’s magic, pure and simple.
So don’t come to me for an adult response to these movies.
I loved The Force Awakens. It was pure Star Wars.
Rogue One is arguably a much better film, and I enjoyed it, but to me it didn’t deliver the heroin-injection of Star Wars magic that I was expecting until the very last moments when Darth Vader lit up his lightsaber. That’s when I really understood that the key, essential, thing that makes Star Wars Star Wars for me is the Jedi stuff. Lightsabers. Force chokes. Magic.
The Last Jedi delivered Jedi magic in spades, and I loved it. Best movie of the franchise, perhaps. They even snuck Yoda in there. So you can imagine my horror and disgust to learn about the self-styled ‘true fans’ getting up in arms about how rubbish it was, because it has women in non-sexualised roles, and even, gods forfend, not-white people in major roles. And even, horrors, not-white-women-in-not-sexualised-roles. Oh no! What is the world coming to! Next we’ll have to give them equal pay for equal work! (I actually tried to explain the wage gap to my daughters. They were initially baffled, as in ‘how is that possible’, and then furious. I think their future employers may find themselves on the sticky end of an arm-bar if they try to pull that shit.)
In other words, a bunch of entitled whiteboy wankers are furious that ‘their’ franchise has been taken over by nasty girls and nasty brown people. This is plainly disgusting, and the cultural tip of a gigantic iceberg of misogyny and racism. But it has also had the unintended consequence of making it seem like the movie is a shibboleth for arseholes. Decent folk who like equality like the movie: stinkers do not. But that is just not true. I have several friends whom I know to be as un-racist and pro-feminist as it’s possible to be with white skin and a penis who couldn’t stand the film. And I think I know why (because one such friend articulated it very clearly). They went hoping for the same experience that they had when they saw Empire Strikes Back in the cinema at the age of 11. And their grown-up movie sensibilities just can’t enjoy a film so completely filled with plot holes, red herrings, and ‘Doh!’ moments.
So let me say this loud and clear: you can be massively disappointed in the new Star Wars movies, and still be a decent person.
But I’m still 11 and still believe in the Force, so the critical faculties I bring to bear on things like the study of medieval manuscripts are completely switched off by the hum of a lightsaber. I can see all those flaws, but I just don’t care. It’s Star Wars. I mean, just look at this image:
There is simply no good reason ever to hold a blade like that, still less one that's made of goddam plasma. Her head is entirely unprotected: No! If her opponent taps her blade, it will cut her own left arm off: No! But during the movie itself, I barely notice that kind of thing.
So there was just no way I was going to miss the latest in-between-isode, Solo. I was going to go on my own because my kids professed to hate Star Wars, having never seen any of it. But the rank injustice of me getting to go to the movies without them made them object, and ask to come. I said they could, but only if they were likely to enjoy it, so first they had to watch a Star Wars movie at home with me. Then if they liked it, they could come, and if they didn’t, then they wouldn’t want to come. Seemed fair all round.
There are some critical parenting moments that you can see coming in advance. This was one. I had one shot to get my daughters, aged 9 and 11, into Star Wars, so I had to pick the right film.
Episodes I-III? No fucking way. Despite the ubiquity of Jedi in these films, they are so bad. And Jar-Jar? No. But also the new movie is all about Han Solo, so it would make sense if they saw a film with him in it. In fact, those episodes were in sore need of a Han-like character to leaven them. So, of the Han movies:
Episode IV, A New Hope? Probably a bit too long and serious.
Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back? Probably a bit too dark in places.
Episode VII, The Force Awakens has Han, but he dies. Not so good.
The clear, obvious choice was Episode VI, Return of the Jedi. We watched it, and my girls have been rabid fans ever since. During the lightsaber fight between Luke and Vader at the end, Katriina turned to me and said “they don’t really know how to swordfight, do they daddy?” but it didn’t spoil their enjoyment. It was the Ewoks that did it. Only kids like Ewoks, I think
But you know what? These are kids’ movies. When RTJ came out, all my friends saw it. We were 12. One of them had his mother make him a goddam Ewok suit.
So I took them to see Solo, and they enjoyed it, it was ok. Nice to see Chewbacca (kids love Chewie too, because he’s basically a giant Ewok). Nice to see that the main baddy-not-baddy was a girl too, and one of the goody-baddies (these are technical terms, do try to keep up). But it was too much of a boy’s movie. I liked it, but it wasn't really a Star Wars film- no Jedi.
My daughters have now seen all the movies, and thought the first three were too slow, but they really liked… wait for it… Jar Jar. Because he’s funny in a way children understand, and they just don’t know enough to catch the really unpleasant racist undertow.
Their favourite movie is The Last Jedi. It’s because of the women. Rey. Leia. Rose. Even the purple haired admiral whose name I forget, whom every single one of my friends who don’t like the film hate with a fiery passion. In almost every scene, there are women for my daughters to look up to, whose purpose has nothing to do with being attractive to the boys.
Some franchises start out aimed at one demographic, and try to grow up with that group. Harry Potter is a good example: the books start with him aged 11, and end at 18, and get more and more adult as you go (up to a point). For the first generation reading them as they were published, Harry, Ron and Hermione were always their age. Batman also changed over time. In the 60s, it was really clearly a kids show. Then as the graphic novels got darker (starting with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight in 1986), and the movies started to emerge (with Tim Burton directing the first, in 1989), kids who had enjoyed the tv show reruns at the age of 6 had something much more grown-up to sink their teeth into at 16, and 26.
But Star Wars never did that. Arguably the most adult of the movies are the first two, episodes IV and V; and the franchise was taken over by Disney, for goodness’ sake. They are not well known as a studio for producing gritty dark realism. They’re famous for movies like Bambi and Frozen. Why grown-ups would go to see a Disney Star Wars expecting a movie aimed at middle-aged nerds is beyond me.
So my advice with this franchise is this: if you can get into the mental state of an 11-year-old (something I find disturbingly easy to do, but it seems not all adults have the trick of it), then watch them. Otherwise, leave them to the kids. Because then they might grow up just like me.