www.tidewaterreview.com/entertainment/movies/ct-ent-0613-star-wars-folo-20130612,0,7835562.column

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The Force not always with Star Wars

Steve Johnson

Tribune reporter

11:41 AM EDT, June 13, 2013

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Since I expressed displeasure last month with Star Wars and the cultural expectation that we know and care all about it, I've received a steady stream of letters offering critiques of my viewpoint, although "critique" may be too delicate a word for some of the sentiments expressed therein.

But the surprise is that more letters of support than denigration have come in. It would be too much to say I tapped a vein of Star Wars discontent, but I at least drew some blood.

I also heard from my 14-year-old son, who tells me I neglected to mention the impact the Lego-Star Wars partnership has had. He is correct. Indeed, he recognized vast swaths of "The Phantom Menace," a movie he hadn't seen before, from one of the Lego Star Wars video games. It almost goes without saying that the Lego versions of the characters seem every bit as human as Lucas'.

Oh, and I'm not sure, but I think the dude I keep seeing in the Imperial Stormtrooper get-up might be following me. And proving my point.

Some of what readers had to say and my responses:

"I am sick of Star Wars. I'm sick of its clunky dialogue, its two-dimensional characters, its hackneyed plot. And I'm sick of it being drummed into my kid. From Greek mythology to Maurice Sendak to the Brothers Grimm, we have 2,500 years of beautiful, profound and perverse culture to draw upon. So why do we keep getting this crap shoved down our throats?"
— James Barnett, Villa Park

Johnson: The Brothers Grimm lacked a marketing department. There was no one to help them nail down that crucial Burger King merchandise tie-in.

"Since you're going to hear from a lot of haters about this column (which I read in the Detroit News), I thought I'd write. Even though we don't begrudge Star Wars a thing — our grown son was a big fan and his kids have seen the original movies — we used to hate it. Because we thought it ruined science fiction. See, we came up at a time when much of SF was allegorical — it was message stuff, from Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke to "Silent Running" and "Star Trek." Then "Star Wars," essentially a Western in space, came along and all that was blown away in the blink of an eye. We didn't find out till a bit later that all it did was take the genre back to its roots. The stuff from before we started to pay attention was more "Star Wars" (Flash Gordon, etc.) than "Star Trek.""
— Sandy Voss, Holland, Mich.

Well, there has been a steady stream of interesting, big-idea sci-fi films outside of the big serials, "The Matrix," "Gattaca," and "Looper" among them. Most recently, TV drama has been trying to get into the act. Too bad that recent high-profile efforts "Revolution" and "Falling Skies" have been big disappointments. And even "The Walking Dead," while strong moment to moment last season, sacrificed the great resonance of its story by ignoring the science fiction — the overriding question of what caused the zombie plague — in favor of a simple tale of tribal conflict.

"Yo. Wookiee is spelled with two e's."
— Thomas Neuman, Glenview

Wow. So it is. Even after 36 years of living with the big fictional furries, I had no idea, and neither, it seems, do most people. A quick check of Tribune archives finds 24 articles over the decades spelling it director George Lucas' obstinate, English-as-a-second-language way and 65 spelling it "Wookie," the graceful, logical and, alas, incorrect way. When I am eventually won over to the Star Wars way of life and start writing my fan fiction, I'll be sure to get the title right: "50 Shades of Wookiee."

"I couldn't agree with you more on your article in the Tribune about Star Wars. Enough already. It's not even that original. The first movie was essentially a remake of Akira Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress," which is a much better movie."
— Roberta Wegner, Chicago

And, to stretch the point, the series of films plays sort of like "Rashomon," similar scenarios endured six different times.

"You probably didn't like the Harry Potter movies either."
— Bob Rago, Tinley Park

They got better as they went along. And they, at least, had as a starting point plot and characters developed by J.K. Rowling.

"Thanks for Sunday's Star Wars article, which brought many laughs and head shakes. A keyboard coffee-splatter line for me was the librarian's "bad feeling" comment. Great article. May the … nevermind.""
— Dave Gudewicz, Third Lake

When the librarian quoted Han Solo to me, I got a very good feeling about writing the piece.

"Are you for real? Or do you poke fun and minimize all forms of vision and values that people find meaning and enjoyment in? I feel sorry for you Steve. Don't you have any imagination?"
— Anonymous by request

I can imagine a world in which Star Wars fans enjoyed their movies in relative silence, without forcing the rest of us to play along. Granted, the media is more than a little complicit in the films' ubiquity, including me, even, for writing an article decrying it (and this follow-up).

"I wanted to let you know that I totally agree with your article. I watched the movies as a kid. Then I had kids, which meant buying more Star Wars crap, especially when the DVDs came out. I draw the line at Blu-rays because it means that I will have bought the same movie three times."
— Douglas Gilmore, Athens, Ill.

Purists would say that you are merely resisting Lucas' continual tinkering with what was first put before the public.

"I finally got a chance to read your Star Wars article. It had a big splashy cover photo. Two big pages dedicated to Star Wars! I thought I was going to get some clues to the Disney plans for more movies. But noooooooooooo. You gave a long, rambling, boring, whiny story about how you don't like any of the Star Wars movies. I had to reread some of it to figure out the point you were trying to make. I determined there is none. You were asked to write something about pop culture, you don't like it, so we got this. Wow. I did like the stats at the bottom of the second page. I might save that."
— Larry Himmelblau, Lisle

Long, rambling, boring and whiny? I really think three adjectives would have sufficed. Here, to make amends, is some news about the Disney/Pixar continuation. Furthering my belief that there's no escaping Star Wars, ever, J.J. Abrams, who will be directing the next, and, in all probability, best Star Wars movie, revealed this week that it will likely shoot in England in early 2014.

"Cute story, maybe even mostly true. However, in the words of another "franchise" writer, "Methinks (thou) doth protest too much." You were 13 when the Stars Wars phenomenon broke onto public consciousness and transformed how a movie could affect the culture; I was older, and it was a game-changer despite all the pretzel-bending the critics then, and since, have gone through to explain otherwise. Why, I don't know exactly. The really great model work and motion camera work had mostly been done in "2001: A Space Odyssey" and others, but it was integral in "Star Wars."

"The studios and critics were all protesting that it was just a standard cowboy Western saga in space, but there was more than that as well. Lucas' merchandising deals have kept Star Wars-inspired toys in front of every group of kids born since 1976. The animated spinoffs were mostly junk, but the series of novels and computer games have legions of followers.

"It had only been a year since "Jaws" had been a huge hit in a different way, one that didn't last and couldn't grow as Star Wars did. So why did Star Wars spawn a legacy while other movie "universes" have failed to ride the same wave? I don't know the precise detailed answer to that, but George Lucas seems to."
— John Barker, Gurnee

In other words, alchemy. I don't disagree, but that doesn't mean I have to believe that iron has been converted into gold.

"One hundred percent in your corner. The original film was good (just good). Lucas is maybe the worst screenwriter of all time, but on the original he had input from myth expert Joseph Campbell. So that script at least had some touchstones to latch onto. Everything else was crap. Oh, and do I know about Joseph Campbell's input because I have any Star Wars geekery in me? Nope. PBS and Bill Moyers had a beautiful multipart thing with Campbell that caught my attention in the late '80s; from that and subsequent reading I picked up the film info."
— Scott Thompson, LaGrange Park

Fine point, and a further explanation for the alchemy. And a reminder that, when it comes down to it, I think I prefer the PBS form of geekery. At least that gets you a tote bag.

sajohnson@tribune.com | Twitter @StevenKJohnson