In 2015, I watched a Star Wars film for the first time. I was 23. I know what you're wondering -- what was I doing for the first 22 years of my life?
Being a video game nerd who loves getting absorbed in intricately detailed fantasy universes, Star Wars was a perennial fixture on my "to watch" list. But the pressure of it all got to me. Given the franchise's reputation, you're practically obligated to love it, but what if I didn't? I didn't want to be the "hey, you know, Star Wars isn't actually that good" guy. No one likes that guy.
I finally caved when I started working at CNET as a news editor. The day my colleagues discovered my shameful secret was reminiscent of Steve Carell trying to describe boobs in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." I made a reference to "Hans Solo," which led to some tough questions. My co-workers quickly discovered I'd never seen an Ewok or a Jawa on screen.
Then the judgments began, and I buckled. After procuring a Blu-ray package available at fine retailers everywhere, I binged on the space opera over the course of two weeks, starting with "A New Hope."
So what's it like watching Star Wars as an adult when the extent of your knowledge is (spoilers) "Luke I am your father"? Not as good as wooing a galactic princess, but not as bad as making out with someone you didn't know was your sister.
My first impression of the franchise was that parts have been embellished in the imagination of fans. Going into the first film, I knew Darth Vader was the coolest character in the galaxy. But that's actually not what I got after watching "A New Hope." He was bossed around by generic admiral dudes, and his duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi was lame.
Of course, 1977 technology could never be spectacular enough to do justice to today's idea of Darth Vader, given the fearsome icon he's become. And that generic admiral dude is actually Grand Moff Tarkin, who, I inferred through gasps from the audience I saw "Rogue One" with a year later, is himself a big deal. But it still feels like Vader the character became Vader the icon in the minds of fans, not on the screen.
Speaking of the imagination, Slave Leia was a bit intense for me in "Return of the Jedi." Her outfit in itself isn't too much, but knowing how sexualized that outfit has become in pop culture made seeing it in its original form strangely off-putting.
But after watching the original trilogy, I saw why people are super into Star Wars. So much so, in fact, that I thought to myself, "How bad can the prequels be?"
The name Jar Jar Binks was familiar to me before watching "The Phantom Menace" -- I soon realized it was because those words were usually followed or preceeded with some combination of "why" and "God."
The one thing from "Phantom Menace" that didn't result in fans cursing the sky? Darth Maul. It's my theory that the awe surrounding him is born of fans' desperation to like something about the movie. Watching "Phantom Menace," I couldn't (and still can't) understand fans' reverence for the character, given his brief screen time. Then again, I had also seen the double-sided lightsaber, which seems to be the foundation of people's reverence for him.
But despite how dreadful the first part of the new trilogy was, I do think its sequels got some undue hate.
Flawed though they are, they have their share of memorable moments. Seeing Yoda fight for the first time in "Attack of the Clones" was my favorite scene in the franchise. Don't worry -- how wrong this is, many fans have told me. (Seriously, though. Yoda is such a baller.)
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan's battle with Anakin at the end of "Revenge of the Sith" gave a better-realized version of what their original duel could have been.
I wonder what the reaction to the prequels would be had Star Wars fans not had years -- 16 in some cases -- to fantasize about Vader's origins and postulate on what the Universe should be. They could have been better, but the infinity of Star Wars fan fiction, written on the internet or just fantasized aloud among friends, seems to be a big element of the vociferous hatred for the prequels. It's like a reverse-Vader effect.
Thankfully, I didn't become the "Star Wars isn't actually that good" man I feared I would become. I like Star Wars, though calling myself a fan carries certain responsibilities I don't feel ready to take on right now (I have no Star Wars clothing, tattoos or shrines).
Ironically, though, watching the quintessential nerd flicks made me feel more in touch with mainstream culture than ever. It feels good to be able to make jokes about bringing balance to the Force, and to yell "You were the chosen one!" at friends who let me down (a frequent occurrence).
But this came at an emotional cost: "The Force Awakens" came out a day after I finished watching the six main films, which was a bummer. After all, I had just gotten to know Hans Solo.
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