Why watching the original 'Star Wars' again was a bad idea

Commentary: CNET's Michael Franco settles in to watch "Star Wars: A New Hope" again 38 years after its debut. But the reality of the film doesn't quite match his memory.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
4 min read
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I was 9 when the first "Star Wars" film came out in 1977. Like so many kids around that age, I left the theater vibrating with the sheer epic force (I know, I know) of what I had just seen.

From that film I learned that you could be both a spiritual Jedi and a lightsaber-wielding badass; that it's always worth saving the girl; that alien-populated bars looked really fun, if a little dangerous; that you always say yes when an epic quest falls in your lap; that droids rock; and that the opening notes of a film score could be as powerful as a drug.

Since that first viewing, Luke, Vader and company have loomed large in my imagination, and clearly in the imaginations of many other adults introduced to the sci-fi franchise as kids. So have the rest of the characters, as well as the sounds of a lightsaber, a Wookiee and a TIE fighter and the idea that someday I would learn to control people through the power of suggestion and a wave of my hand.

But it now seems that maybe all that got a little gilded in my memory.

A few days ago, in preparation for the release of "The Force Awakens" this week, I fired up my Apple TV, rented "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" and settled in. While the opening credits were everything I remembered, things went downhill from there. It seems the "Star Wars" I've been holding in my mind over the years is actually a hell of a lot better than the real thing -- and I kind of wish I had just left it that way.

Here are five ways my recent viewing challenged the perfect, magical film I'd hung onto all these years.

C-3P-Oh man will you just shut up!
C-3PO is a LOT more annoying than I remembered. OK, I get that he's a worrywart and all, but boy, I kind of just wanted him to shut the frack up after the first few minutes. Way too much fretting and insulting R2, who is still, by far, the coolest character in the film. Also, I never realized this till now, but 3PO is a lot like Dr. Smith from the 1960's TV show "Lost In Space." And no one liked him.

Loser Luke
Somehow, the years had shaped the young Luke Skywalker into a humble, noble, brave -- and very lucky -- guy in my memory. The fact is, he was pretty darn whiny. After the other night's viewing, I'm convinced he didn't really deserve to be singled out by Obi-Wan to save the galaxy. The 9-year-old me, obviously, would have been a much better choice. I am sure I whined less than Luke.

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This scene lasted about 15 minutes in the original film and wasn't at all campy, right?


Obi-Wan, a not-so wise guy
Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn't actually dispatch all that much wisdom. In my memory, Obi-Wan played a much larger role in the film and dropped nuggets of knowledge like a Zen master on a little too much tequila. In reality, except for a quick explanation of the Force and telling Luke to "let go," there really isn't much more that comes from the old guy.

Costume party
The costumes are kind of meh; they really haven't held up over time. So much looked a bit tacky -- even Vader's getup at times. And that Mos Eisley Cantina scene! What I remembered as a stunning assemblage of alien life this time around looked more like a costume party where people had gotten their masks at a not-very-good discount shop. There were definitely some standouts where the makeup guys knew what they were doing. But way too many plastic masks. I know I've been spoiled by movies with bigger and bigger budgets over the years, but it seems like Lucas could have leveled up those costumes.

Lightspeed indeed
Everything sped by faster than I remembered. I was truly surprised at how fast the major scenes in the film went: Vader and Obi-Wan's battle; the time in cantina; Luke's training aboard the Millennium Falcon; the trash compactor scene. In my memory they all lasted for about 15 minutes each (which I know is impossible). In reality, they whizzed by like stars seen through a ship making the jump to lightspeed.

For that gripe, of course, I can't blame the filmmakers. A movie with so-so dialogue and mediocre costumes took root in my 9-year-old brain and grew into something much bigger than what was actually on the screen. The battles lasted longer, the characters were more noble and the aliens really came from other planets -- not the makeup department.

So maybe what I'm really mourning here is the loss of my 9-year-old imagination, my willingness to just go with the illusion that "Star Wars" created and not get so nitpicky over cheap-looking masks and dopey dialogue. My childhood brain certainly made the film more magical and epic than it was during the viewing I had a few nights ago.

In the coming weeks, I'll be watching the rest of the original trilogy, and it will be interesting to see how those films hold up in relation to my longtime perception of them. By the time "Return of the Jedi" came out, I was in high school, so I have a feeling my memory of that film might be a little closer to reality than when my age could still be counted in single digits.

I know one thing. Yoda had better be as cool as I remember him, or I'm going to just have to find a Jedi to mind-trick me into remembering things just as they seemed back in the '70s and '80s.

Super-cool Star Wars art to awaken your senses (pictures)

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