“George Lucas raped my childhood!!!!”
Such inflammatory and somewhat self-indulgent claims circulated the relatively nascent Internet circa 1999, when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released, and that particular phrase above neatly encapsulates the phenomenon I want to discuss here. When we were children, we thought like children, reasoned like children, watched Star Wars like children. But when we became adults we put away childish things. Or did we? Children are innately less particular about their viewing choices. My own children will happily watch Charlie Chaplin, Indiana Jones, Japanese animation, or, well, The Smurfs (2011). The critical faculties are not yet fully formed. When I ask my children which parts of the films they didn’t like, they list the moments that made them sad, or scared. But one day, one of them will turn round and say, “actually dad, the way that Scott edited that last scene was considerably below the level one expects from the director of Blade Runner (1982)”. (Still to show them that, to be fair, but time enough.)
So children come away from cinema with a far more embracing attitude. Easily entertained, they don’t question things to the extent we do as adults and it’s sort of sad that we’ll never reclaim that innocence. Films are films and while there are childhood films that maintain their appeal into adulthood because they are actually amazing (Back To The Future ; The Princess Bride ; any of the Indy films) there are also ones that were very, very silly but, through the associative power of childhood memory, retain an entertainment that is far in excess of anything justifiably gleaned from its actual content. To whit, Masters of the Universe (1987), the first cinematic trip I can recall. I can never hate this film, but it has a power (of Grayskull, perhaps) because it reminds me indelibly of childhood. Revisiting these films can be a gamble: what if they don’t hold up? My children loved The Smurfs, despite it being a less-appealing version of Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) – even casting a sitcom-star-who-had-also-appeared-in-films-before-the-sitcom-made-his-name-really-big as the lovable oaf who befriends the tiny little critters. And yes, I did say it is less appealing. Although it has a predictable “I kissed a Smurf and I liked it” joke from voice-actor Katy Perry, and a rather superb joke involving the way Smurfs are named after their character traits, leading to mention of Passive Aggressive Smurf. Which is genius. But, in 20 years’ time, if my children are perusing the bargain bucket at Blockbusters and spot The Smurfs and think, hey, I remember loving that, will those rose-tinted spectacles be enough for them to enjoy it again? And, more importantly, will watching it again let them know the pain I felt taking them!?
Interestingly, Star Wars was never a massive part of my childhood. I had (indeed, still have) older brothers, almost perfectly aged for those films, but they passed me by. I recall one of them owned an ewok figure, but there were no Millennium Falcon’s, nor Stormtroopers lying around the house. Our household was always more Star Trek than Star Wars and one cannot worship two gods. I missed the 1997 cinematic re-release special editions so The Phantom Menace was the first time I caught any iteration of the film on the big screen. I distinctly remember loving it, and going and buying the OST and the sheet music as soon as I came out of the cinema. To this day, I still find the music the single best thing about the prequels. But whatever magic there may have been with Star Wars in my childhood I soon realised was a sleight of hand with the new film. Once the hype had died down I wondered what this strange film was, talking about trade disputes and midichlorians. It seemed to mix the playfulness of childhood – the “funny” characters (I mean you, Jar Jar), the simple script (I mean you, Lucas) – but mixed with a curiously adult story that has little interest for children. It’s like it tried to aim for two goals and missed them both. One cannot worship two gods.
Since all six Star Wars films have been an equal part of my children’s childhood (since you ask, they prefer the original trilogy, without any bribery or cajoling from me) I wonder where their love will lay in 20 years’ time. Will it be as cohesive an entity as Lucas so desperately wants the films to be? Will the magic unquestioning love of films in childhood, combined with the genuine quality of the original trilogy of films, create a force (sorry) that will forever give my children a skewed view of the quality of the prequels? I know that Masters of the Universe is a pretty bad film, but I can’t help loving it.
There are films that you love because you saw them as a child. And the actual objective quality of those films is irrelevant. And isn’t that a rather nice way for things to be?