August 1999: Outgrowing Star Wars or, Confessions of a World-Weary Fan

Yeah, I know. I can hear the screams from here. "Oh, my god!" you cry. "You? Outgrow Star Wars? How could you? Whose inane ramblings will we read every month (well, sort of) now?"

Actually, you're more likely cheering, because many of those ramblings have, in fact, been quite inane. What the hell; Chris told me I could write whatever I want. And if this month's entry seems a bit cynical, well, it's just been that kind of month.

But I'm not going away (you should be so lucky). I just want to take a little time to discuss a phenomenon I've noticed among Star Wars fans around my own age: AKA, we 20-somethings. Slackers. Generation X. Yes.

This realization came to me while I was reading David Brin's recent rant on The Phantom Menace, over on Salon. Now, I happen to think that Brin's a little over the top-a good storyteller, but you won't catch me agreeing with everything he says anytime soon. But as I sat there reading his comments, I realized that I agreed with a lot of them.

I loved Star Wars when I was a kid. I still do, but it's more of a nostalgia thing now. Remember the first time you fell in love? And you thought it would be forever and always, and when it wasn't, it was the bitterest, most crushing thing on earth? And now you look back at it and remember the good stuff? Actually I'm not sure what Star Wars has to do with any of that, except that it too is something I no longer obsess over as I once did. I no longer wonder, "What would Yoda do?" (Come on. Even you have occasionally thought this. Admit it, and I'll admit that I'd still like a WWYD? necklace.) I no longer imagine myself as Princess Leia, or as a Jedi Knight, even though I commonly wear clothing that looks a lot like Luke Skywalker's in Return of the Jedi. I no longer imagine myself living in that galaxy far, far away.

But I remember thinking and imagining those things. I stopped looking for heroes the day that I realized that I was my own hero, and each of us has that potential. I stopped looking for That One Thing that could make me happy when I realized that happiness (as a guy who later dumped me on my ass, but we'll leave that aside for the moment, told me) really is a state of mind. I stopped looking for all-consuming love when I realized that love really is where you find it-and generally not where you were looking for it, at that.

Did I learn all of that from Star Wars? Well, kind of.

There's a notion that's been on my mind a lot recently, and I'd like to tell you about it. Lucas likes to say that he came up with Star Wars as a mythology for a generation that had none of its own. Now, you and I and probably even your grandmother know how Lucas likes to change his story with every press release, but at least he's been consistent in this one thing.

A few months back I wrote a little diatribe on the anticipation for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and how maybe we should all walk into that first viewing with our rose-colored glasses on. Go back and read it; I'll wait. Anyway, much as I still believe that-I know it made the movie more fun for me; the review I've posted here was written after a second viewing-I also find that I'm not as rabid a fan as I once was. And that seems to be happening among my friends who are Star Wars fans as well. We all bought into the myth when we were kids; now it seems we've outgrown it.

Don't get me wrong, I still like the movies. And, funny as it may seem for a story that's so anti-intellectual and touchy-feely-the-groovy-thingy, the original trilogy got me seriously thinking about a number of things. Anybody who's been following this semi-regular column for the past couple of years knows that I think about religion a lot, though I don't claim to be a theologian by any stretch of the imagination. And even if X-Wings can't fly, it's been sort of fun figuring out why not. (Don't ask me questions about the physics, though, okay? See the January 1998 column for that.)

Myths are funny things. In a sense, they teach us; I don't know anybody who seriously believes that Aphrodite helped cause that mess at Troy, but the story of Helen carries a serious message about actions and consequences. And although there are people out there who really do believe that we're all descended from Adam and Eve after they got thrown out of that lovely garden, most folks I've met take a more symbolic view of that business involving the serpent and the apple. (My take? God did it on purpose.)

But myths are also by necessity things to move beyond. If a myth is meant to teach a lesson, then once that lesson is learned, the myth is no longer needed, at least not until the rugrats are old enough to be taught a thing or two about morals, ethics, and what sharing has to do with both of them.

That's why when people start talking about a religion based on the Force (what, will you put a picture of Yoda on your altar where Buddhists often place a picture of their guru?), I kind of cringe. That might be a case of pot-kettle-black when you consider that my religion was founded less than a century ago and was based on practices formulated by people with too much time on their hands (not to mention lousy writing skills), but there it is.

I no longer quote Yoda in casual conversation. I wasn't one of those who lined up around the block to see The Phantom Menace on opening night-not because I didn't want to, but because I had other things to do (like seeing John Lee Hooker in concert before he croaks). I don't own a single action figure, talking Yoda puppet, or Queen Amidala doll (though I do have some comics and a postcard featuring Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan . . . mmm, Ewan McGregor). And, most importantly, I no longer believe in a Star Wars-reinforced view of the universe. That belief, or lack thereof, isn't limited to me, either. It's a pretty jaded bunch that's gonna get in line for Episode II.

But, hey. We all gotta grow up sometime.