The night was, in many ways, unremarkable. I had just made my way in to Penn Station after a Giants loss (said it was unremarkable) and had to cross over to Herald Square for my preferred line of transportation, the F, to take me home. I turn the corner and head toward the subway's entrance and run into a family of five: a father, a mother, and three kids, aged about three to seven. We begin to make our descent down the steps as I start my routine: pull out wallet, remove MetroCard, adjust iPhone songs for the trip, when, out of the blue, I hear a scream.
"IT'S A DOOR THINGY!!!"
One of the boys, about three steps down towards the train, has come face-to-face with a gate. A gate. Can you believe it? He was walking around blindly in this city full of oddities and just happened to run smack dab into a device that's built to stop people from going down stairs, something I'm sure he's heard of only in legend, maybe from a Harry Potter movie or something. But now, sitting directly in front of him, was one of these magical instruments.
He grabbed at his friend -- or brother, or fellow door enthusiast -- who let out an equal shriek. "A DOOR THING?!" he exclaims, as if he was a 30-something art critic who just found a new, untouched Matisse laying against the grey, dull tiles. The youngest starts jumping around excitedly because everyone else seems to, probably; he seems a bit too young to truly understand the possibilities of forced exclusion. But for those boys, the older ones, a million possibilities rushed through their heads, a million stories with their own beginnings, middles, and ends. With a subtle suggestion, they've created an entire world in their heads at the drop of a hat.
The opening crawl on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is simultaneously the most and least remarkable aspect of the epic space opera. Upon first viewing as a young boy (as it's a parent's duty to introduce Star Wars to their child, much like you pass along baseball and proper bathroom hygiene), I was overwhelmed by these stanzas of words slowly pulling away from me. And they read exactly like this:
It is a period of civil war.
Rebel spaceships, striking
from a hidden base, have won
their first victory against
the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel
spies managed to steal secret
plans to the Empire's
ultimate weapon, the DEATH
STAR, an armored space
station with enough power
to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire's
sinister agents, Princess
Leia races home aboard her
starship, custodian of the
stolen plans that can save her
people and restore
freedom to the galaxy....
Let's stop to appreciate this specific visuall. George Lucas, a new director coming off his first "big" picture, the teen-driving romp American Graiffi, sits at a desk with a pad of yellow legal paper. He then decides to start writing his follow-up. And that is what sputters out of his brain, leaking down to his hand and inscribed indelibly on that paper. It's such a testament to one person's imagination. Also, everyone must have thought he was most certainly a loon.
But at this point in my life, having just learned how to properly pee in a urinal, my ability to suss out plot information and allusions to fascism was a bit lacking. And with so many big words, I just sort of tuned it out to "some crazy stuff happened HOLY MOLY THOSE SPACESHIPS ARE VERY BIG!" But upon watching it a second time (which one assumes comes on the heels of the first viewing), the opening crawl takes on a whole new scope.
One of the most remarkable elements of the film is its scope: giant spaceships, the fate of whole planets and more whole universes hanging in the balance, and a music score whose melody sounds like "importance." Everything about the pic is grand. You remember the first time Luke turns on that light saber, the dogfights with TIE fighters, or when the Millennium Falcon flashes into hyper space. And then you remember back to the opening, essentially just the description line from the screenplay, crawling away from you in bright yellow writing. The disparity in the visual department couldn't be more acute.
Specifically, upon the second viewing, you realized just how powerful that opening truly is. Knowing the scope of the story at play, we imagined our own versions of what got us to these very events depicted in the movie. To each child, there was a personal vision of what their story beginnings looked like: what Obi-Wan was like as a Jedi, the battle where evil Darth Vader fell Luke's presumably good-hearted father, what ever the hell the "clone wars" consisted of. The possibilities were as boundless as a child's imagination, which is to say inexhaustible.
If there was one constant going forward in the trilogy, the further you advanced, the more you needed to revisit and change your foundation. Each new addition to the past felt almost like a cheat; Obi-Wan didn't just misinform us when he said that Anakin died at the hands of Darth Vader, he lied to us, as he lied to Luke, causing both the audience and the character to completely review their histories. As we moved forward, we had to rejigger all of our universes to include a Luke born of evil with a twin sister whom he later passionately kissed, where Ewoks have always existed and Yoda was once taken as a legitimately powerful threat. The mind reels.
Until, of course, it's spelled out for you.
The prequels were doomed before a single word of dialogue was ever tapped into existence. The premise was inherently flawed: we're going to spend upwards of $350 million to explain to you those four paragraphs of text that appear before A New Hope in three films, giving everyone a definitive version of those once-imagined events. You know the fervor that some people get into when a popular comic book property or novel is made into a movie? How upset people become when their precious story is tampered with in any particular way, illustrating that what one person takes away as the "essence" of the book does not necessarily mean that's how everyone sees it?
With the prequel trilogy, George Lucas attempted to make an adaptation of all our personal stories and never asked us for assistance. Instead, we get plot details that forever hinder our choices: midichlorians, a dumb and trite political "thriller" element, a sweeping romantic story with all the warm and longing of a splinter, and, last but not least, Jar-Jar Binks. Darth Vader, a being fluent in intimidation, born of mystery and total blackness equal measure, is, in fact, simply Hayden Christensen in a suit. That's it. No longer an idea, the unattainable legend, he is merely a dude who we knew as an annoying kid, a bratty late-teen, and a delusional child murder now transformed into the most powerful being in the universe. Every frame of Chapters IV-VI is damaged irreparably by this certainty.
"They're kids movies," said with the ubiquitous sneer, is the most damaging critique leveled at the film from the fanboy contingent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If it was a kids movie, then they would have the good sense to never create the movies in the first place. Kids are imagination factories. Give them an empty shoebox and watch them not treat it as a dead end, but an empty space that can be filled by any number of ideas. They don't see what's lacking, they see everything else. Kids don't need to be didactically told what's going on. They need a frame to play in and stuff to play with. That's it.
The prequels are movies for tweens. They're slow, deliberate, and tell you exactly what is happening and why it is occurring so that you don't feel excluded. Everyone is on the same page. It also speaks to an over reliance on flashy CGI that doesn't feel organic in the least. Instead of giving us the tools to play in a fantasy world of our own construction, it's all been laid out for us, like when our parents would finish our crafts over our shoulders. Why give me these paints and this brush if you're going to just tell me "--but ducks are yellow, dear"? What's the point?
When, and if, the time comes when I have children and they reach the applicable age to watch and enjoy the series, I'm going to remember how much kids love gates. I will knowingly put one up, starting them at Episode IV and moving through Jedi without the affects of the prequels. When it's all over, I'll sit them down and, in what could only be a primer for The Talk, discuss with them the adult decisions they have to make and the long-reaching consequences of those decisions. While watching more Star Wars movies may sound like a good way to spend a Friday night, you might look back on it with regret, as it will taint all the memories you have of them from that point forward.
Because, in the end, the reality is never as good as the fantasy.