Star Wars and the over-40s

Written by: Johnny Messias

Princess Leia’s gold bikini. Gredo shot first. Salacious Crumb. If those words mean anything to you, chances are the Star Wars thing took hold of your imagination at some point between 1977 and 1985.

Maybe your wife or husband thinks you’re a bit of a nerd but as a grown-ass person with a mortgage and recycling to put out, you still feel a major twinge of excitement when a new Star Wars episode comes around. So, what gives?

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars A New Hope

They say you always remember your first time, don’t they? Well, for a generation (or three actually) Star Wars represented the first time they were hit in the face by the full power of cinema on a massive widescreen, and they were transported away from daily life. Nerdish Californian George Lucas always intended his (then) weirdly different space opera to be mythic; tapping into universal stories that everyone could relate to. Good versus Evil. The master and the apprentice. Rescuing the princess. Not knowing your place in the world. English accents in space. Star Wars had it all.

There was something about Star Wars that was both grungy and absurdly shiny and futuristic. It shouldn’t have worked and indeed, everyone associated with the film thought it was going to be an epic failure – especially Sir Alec Guinness who played Obi Wan Kenobi and thought the whole affair was bunkum of the lowest order.

The rest, of course, is history. The film launched 100 million plastic figures, pyjamas, playing cards, lunchboxes, condoms, Lego sets, t-shirts and anything you can print a logo onto. And it gave people like me something actually priceless: a love of cinema. The ability to be spirited away by music, like the opera of John Williams, and the chance for a story to grip you so much it’s like a waking dream. To this day, the plots twists in Empire Strikes Back are as powerful as anything in literature and the dark nature of that film – with its downbeat ending – are unconsciously compared to any big franchise film that tries to stray off the cookie-cutter beaten track. Hi, Marvel.

But let’s not get Po (Dameron)-faced. It’s all about Princess Leia. Her space buns. Her sassy lines and the spirit that Carrie Fisher gave that role. We’re so sad she left us last year after wrapping on The Last Jedi and hopefully her final role will do justice to the character and the actress.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia

Actually, it’s not just the Princess. It’s about the Sarlacc pit. Boba Fett. The Cantina Band. The Stormtrooper hitting his head. “Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can ever imagine.” “Do or do not, there is no try!”

All of this trips off the tongue. Like tears in the rain. And yet some of us find ourselves in our 40s! How did this happen? How did our waists expand, our years sitting in darkened rooms, with unlimited me-cinema-time come to an end?

Also, how is it that Luke goddamn Skywalker now has a grey beard and an apparently angry uncle persona?

And in the intervening years, Star Wars went off our minds. We went and found new distractions. Music. Girls (well, a little bit). And a whole panoply of cinema. French films. Mexican films. Films about serious things. Films with Dame Judy Dench and that bloke from Love Actually. Some of us even saw Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and lived to tell the tale (ok, maybe not the whole film). And Jar Jar Binks came along. Yes, he did and I have nothing further to add on that one.

The prequels? Well, backstory is backstory. It is less interesting than the main story and that’s because it is BACKSTORY, George. Never mind, we were cool because we also had The Matrix in 1999. And the whole sweep of the prequels were only there for the one line and that sequence involving Master Yoda and his antagonist Count Dooku (my son loves Count Dooku): “We can only solve this with our lightsabers!” Cue: massive cheer in the audience.

Which brings us to 2015, with The Force Awakens and this year, The Last Jedi. What’s more exciting than being back in the 1980s, with not a care in the world and watching Return of the Jedi for the first time? How can it be cool to care about Star Wars and play with lightsabers again? The answer is children.

The joy I derived from Star Wars is magnified beautifully when shared with my own sons. It is an amazing feeling. And in that spirit, and after some years writing about films, in part because of Star Wars, I have to leave the final word to Mark Hamill – our Luke Skywalker  – who I spoke to on the eve of The Last Jedi.

For me, a last hurrah as a film writer. Take it away, Mark.

Me: You’ve said recently that Star Wars is about family, so as the Godfather of Star Wars, how protective were you about the new generation of actors moving the story forward?

Mark Hamill: Well first of all the cast is spectacular, each of them is so talented in their own way. Like you say, I felt a strong sense of nostalgia. I used to be the orphan discovering hidden powers, now we have this one [points to Daisy Ridley]. I used to be the hotshot, impulsive X-Wing fighter; now we’ve got Oscar. I used to be the one sneaking around enemy territory disguised, and now we’ve got Rose and Finn. So, I had to fight the irrational urge that this is a bunch of strangers rummaging through my old toy-box, playing with my toys! Basically, at this stage, I’m happy to let the kids do the heavy lifting!

Johnny Messias, May the Force Be With You. Ta ra.

Author: Johnny Messias

Film critic, Johnny will urge you to watch Big Night, Boogie Nights and much in between. He's been a straight man for Miss Piggy, has interrupted Leonardo DiCaprio and walked out of Sucker Punch - find out what he's been up to @JDMessias.

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