**Contains NO spoilers for The Force Awakens, but does contain a few for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi**
So I thought I might try a straight-up movie review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But that’s not what happened. My attempt morphed into this, a comparison of my experience seeing Return of the Jedi thirty-two years ago and seeing The Force Awakens last week. And I possibly have the threads for two more blog posts, tentatively titled “The Great Ewok Divide” and “Star Trek Origins.”
Late May 1983 was a heady time for me. I had conquered my own personal Death Star—my nine long years at St. Angela Merici were finally over. In that blissful pause after completing grade school, I had no knowledge that high school would be like a second, deadlier Death Star. Maybe the Bothans had tired of sacrifice, because I had no heads-up for what lay ahead.
In any event, I had graduated eighth grade, and could barely contain myself over Return of the Jedi. Quick recap – I didn’t see Star Wars (A New Hope) when it was released, because I was seven and my parents thought the cantina scene would scare me. I was ten when The Empire Strikes Back came out, and I did get to see it in the theater. I thought it was the best movie I had ever seen in my life. My appreciation for the screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan began then, too. I still think Empire Strikes Back is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and it is, by far, my favorite of all the Star Wars movies. So by the time I was thirteen, I was a seasoned Star Wars fan, and was fired up for Return of the Jedi.
I would see the movie with an assortment of college-aged siblings and their friends. I volunteered to wait in line for tickets outside the Lakeside Cinemas, alone, several hours ahead of show time. I remember talking to someone next to me in line. He was maybe five years older than myself. He was a sci-fi geek, and we talked about all the Star Wars movies that were supposed to happen, and I remember him saying something like “maybe we’ll see each other again twenty years from now, at a marathon screening of all the movies, or the premiere of Episode whatever. . .”
When my family showed up, they closed ranks around me, their little Yoda-like sister, and I didn’t talk to the guy anymore.
Fast forward thirty-two and a half years later. I purchased our tickets for the 7:30 p.m., December 17th show of The Force Awakens about two months ahead of time. Around three hours before show time at the AMC Elmwood, I grabbed a seat in the low-tech theater (no 3D or IMAX for us), holding spots for Husband Tim, an assortment of middle-aged siblings, and a twenty-something nephew.
I had a brief conversation with one of the two other people in the auditorium, a man holding a spot near the front. Then I walked up the steps, chose a row higher than the middle, and started typing away on my MacBook Air. Comparing both movies’ pre-show experiences, The Force Awakens was orders of magnitude better than standing on the sidewalk along Severn Avenue in the early summer New Orleans heat.
I don’t remember what the guy from The Return of the Jedi line looked like, and I really don’t believe the stranger I talked to last Thursday was the same stranger I talked to in 1983. But if I were writing this as fiction, I’d totally make it the same guy.
After seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time, I remember enjoying the movie immensely, but being disappointed by the Ewoks. Maybe they were too cute and I was too old, or maybe the early scenes with the Ewoks reminded me too much of Gulliver’s Travels and the Lilliputians. Bottom line—I didn’t connect with that part of the movie.
In the “Field Trip” episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson refers to this as “The Ewok Line.” He shows a graph indicating that anyone older than ten when Return of the Jedi premiered has a low appreciation of Ewoks. While I was, indeed, three years over the Ewok Line, I don’t think age is the only reason for me. I think there was just something I didn’t like about an entire community of primitive sentient beings treated as comic relief.
Hold on, because I’m about to go Full Geek. While I think it’s pointless to compare Star Trek and Star Wars, my root Star Trek fandom might be one reason why the Ewoks bothered me. A contingent from the United Federation of Planets wouldn’t have interacted with the Ewoks the way the Rebel Alliance did, due to the Prime Directive. (Basically, a core principle of non-interference with other cultures and civilizations).
With the Ewoks worshipping C-3PO as a god, the whole non-interference thing was out the window. And yes, I realize it was wartime, and a completely different universe altogether, but it still bothered me.
I hope I never have to choose one space saga over the other. I am a fan of both, and each has their strengths and weaknesses. Star Trek deals in ethos, and cerebral conflicts. And it’s not always easy to extrapolate to your day-to-day life. It took an entire blog post to explain why I feel like Captain Picard in one particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Star Wars has utterly relatable characters and drama, great big drama, reflecting and amplifying every day life. How easy is it to relate to falling for a scoundrel, or being stuck serving drinks on a gangster’s sail barge, or being handed over to Darth Vader by someone you thought was your friend?
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the most popular Star Trek movies, and one of my favorites. (I’m also quite fond of First Contact.) Maybe it’s because the story is more accessible, like Star Wars. The big conflict, and Spock’s sacrifice make it more visceral, less cerebral.
But for sheer movie entertainment, it still doesn’t hold a candle to Empire Strikes Back. I remember how I felt when Han was about to be frozen in carbonite, and he responds “I know” to Leia’s proclamation of love. My reaction was the ten-year-old equivalent of “Holy shit.” I had a similar reaction when Vader told Luke about his father.
So I just contradicted myself. I wrote that it’s pointless to compare Trek to Wars, and there I went, comparing the two.
Why don’t I conclude with my original intent—movie reviews. My favorite parts of Return of the Jedi were Jabba’s sail barge, Leia telling Han “I know,” and Luke succeeding in turning his father back to the light side of the Force.
The Force Awakens? I was not disappointed. I’m all in with the new batch of characters, the actors and their performances. Rey and Finn are great, but I’m quite taken with Poe Dameron. (A quick aside, I recently read a 4-part comic, “Shattered Empire,” set right after the events of Return of the Jedi. It features a starfighter pilot named Shara Bey who is Poe Dameron’s mom. I recommend it—it might be one reason I was so fond of the Poe character.) And I love Maz Kanata.
I have a few issues with the choices made with the story arc, especially the ending. But as I said, I’m all in. Because maybe the second entry in this new series will rival The Empire Strikes Back. . .