Nostalgia for the Future: Star Wars Ages, The Force Abides

The force has been with me ever since I first saw Star Wars in 1977 at the age of five. George Lucas' space epic catapulted my imagination into light speed; initiated my love affair with science fiction; and made collecting all things Star Wars-related a matter of habit. Having watched the trilogy more times than I can recall, I'm practically a Jedi Knight by now. Yet I find myself uneasy about the current bout of Star Wars mania triggered by the re-release of the original movies in a souped-up "Special Edition." I wonder why we are so anxious to devour again this high-tech fable that is now twenty years old. What impels us to go back to the future?Despite being situated "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," the Star Wars universe functioned for my generation as a forecast of things to come. Innovations like the Space Shuttle were going to make space travel commonplace, and robotic technology would give us droids like C-3PO for our very own. What we got instead was only more simulation. Luke's starship combat with the forces of the empire foreshadowed not our own intergalactic destiny but merely every video game we were ever going to play. The limitless expanse of outer space would be replaced by the earth-bound confines of cyberspace. Technological advances would bring us better special effects--witness the Star Wars "Special Edition"--but no closer to those far, far galaxies we'd once dreamed of visiting ourselves. But the lure of Star Wars runs much deeper than the thirst for technological marvels. While it was creator George Lucas' stated intention to make a space-age reinvention of classical myths and archetypes, millions of young people received it as THE myth. Unschooled in the classical mythology on which Star Wars was based, our close encounters with concepts like good and evil, redemption and betrayal, had been limited. The primal drama of Star Wars was for us a profound revelation. Take my word for it when I say that the sage advice of Jedi Masters Obi-Wan Kenobi ("Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them.") and Yoda "(Do or do not; there is no try.") have influenced me as profoundly as the utterances of any teacher I've ever had. Naturally, we clamor for more Star Wars truths and Star Wars answers, but this need goes largely unfulfilled. The huge merchandising industry that has sprung up around our beloved legend--the countless video games, novelizations, trading cards and toys--only exploit our desire to continue the myth at any price. So we go to see the "Special Edition," craving the new footage and any new insight, however small, it can provide.At a preview screening of updated "Star Wars," I found the same old film with a few computer-generated embellishments. Seeing it on the big screen only brought out its flaws. I finally saw what non-fans were talking about when they derided Star Wars as a campy cross between the Wizard of Oz and the old Flash Gordon serials.So I'm right back where I was, still waiting for the batch of genuinely new Star Wars films that Lucas has been promising for years. I'm starting to wonder if the experience I'm looking for exists exclusively in the haze of nostalgia, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Yet scattered throughout the theater at the preview screening were a new generation of children straining in their seats, eyes wide, mouths agape at the marvels unfolding before them. A friend tells me that his children, ages four and six, possess the extraordinary ability to turn household objects into lightsabers; that they demand to watch the old Star Wars videos nearly every night.These too are Jedi Knights, every bit as much as I am. The Force will be with us, perhaps forever.

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