Many things have been said about George Lucas over the years. Some complementary, but mostly derogatory. One thing I can say with absolute and unwavering certainty is that the man and his works have had a profound affect on how I view speculative fiction and media as entertainment. I can even go as far to say that he may have very well saved my life, or at the very least altered its course in a positive direction.
In 1977 my family was suffering through the throes of dysfunction and recent divorce. My mother moved her three sons west of the Rocky Mountains and supported us working as a secretary, while all of us were crammed into a single wide mobile home with barely two pennies to rub together. One sibling lost his way, spiraling out of control with drugs, alcohol and “friends” who claimed to care for him but who were really just enablers of his own self destruction. Another sibling, the only remaining father figure I really had, moved off the college. I was left predominantly alone and to my own devices to fend for myself before and after school as my mother struggled to provide for us as best she could. I was the proverbial “latchkey kid” who fended for himself every day except between the hours of 6-11 PM. I was stumbling and tripping on a razor’s edge, with little to no guidance, in a new town, surrounded by new experiences, new classmates, and new temptations. I could have fallen either way depending on the impetus involved. In 1977 that impetus arrived.
As a small boy I remember for the first time seeing the Star Wars trailer (before it was called A New Hope or Episode IV) playing across the screen of our small color television. It was a revelation, an epiphany, and an inspiration all rolled in to a tight fist that punched me square in the face. I’d found my “drug” and my “escape” from the tumultuous family and poverty situation in which I found myself, and over which I had absolutely no control.
This was, of course, many years before the internet. There was no Youtube waiting to satiate instant gratification by watching a movie trailer over and over again. These were the days of newspapers, patience, and if I was lucky the occasional issue of Starlog magazine (R.I.P.). I waited patiently for the movie trailer to play between episodes of Happy Days (which would not have existed without the success of Lucas’ American Graffiti), M*A*S*H, and CHiPs. Information was scarce, but I had to have more. I immediately went out and found the novelization of Star Wars penned by George Lucas and consumed it voraciously. I read the book seven times during that magical spring of ’77, and was accused by one of my teachers that I had not read it at all after submitting a book report, even though I could detail every plot element of the story in excruciating detail before the movie ever came out. Only years later did I discover that the book had been ghost written by Alan Dean Foster, the king of movie tie-in books.
I guess that means I had spoiled the movie . . . but it wouldn’t matter.
When May 1977 finally arrived I knew that Star Wars was going to be something special, an entirely new experience in film and storytelling. I’d chugged the sweet, sweet Kool-Aid months before the film even hit the theater, but no one else around me seemed to know anything about it. Even George Lucas was afraid that no one would notice his great adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
But the lines were a thing to behold!! This was before the invention of the 16+ screen cineplex, when kids still mowed lawns, walked to school in the snow (and liked it!), and waited in lines that stretched around the block for hours at a time. Star Wars did not disappoint. From that moment forward I was enamored with the world of speculative fiction, especially science fiction.
Stories are parables. It took me years to realize it but Star Wars, and all the fantastical worlds I would visit after, would become a surrogate guide through my childhood and teenage years. Dune taught me how to not let fear control my life, not to let it dull my ability to rationalize or struggle against the things that held me down. Star Trek taught me that logic is just as important of a component to self as emotion. And Star Wars taught me that there’s always hope … that the heroes, the good guys, through all their Campbell-ian journeys and trials, always prevail. Star Wars also ignited my love of reading, the most important mechanism to intellectual self improvement.
Stories are portals to other places, spaces, and times into which we can escape from the mundane stresses of everyday life, and even though I didn’t know it at the time Star Wars was my first Infinispace. It helped an introverted kid to cope. I truly believe that the works of George Lucas (and many others) were the impetus that guided me away from an invisible precipice that waited to swallow a naive kid who was lost in social darkness … if he were but to take the wrong steps.
So why am I writing this? Why am I pouring out a small portion of my personal journey on to this page? Because the internet is rife with haters who revel and feed off tearing down a man simply because he gave us Jar Jar Binks and Ewoks. I’m not going to defend Lucas for some of his questionable choices with regards to characters, or re-editing, or Howard the Duck, but I am going to defend him against people who have gone off the deep end with their twisted rhetoric and vitriol.
Most of these people weren’t even alive when Star Wars was released to theaters. Others were children such as myself who have grown up to raise a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. Others are just straight up trolls with no interest in any agenda whatsoever other than the act of tearing down other people to give themselves a feeling of self worth. These people make themselves feel good by attacking others. That in itself is sad and telling.
But the people who have legitimate complaints (in their minds) are people who forget all the great influence Lucas’ creations have had on the personal and professional level. They forget that Star Wars was made for adolescents, and for adults who are adolescents at heart. They forget that their sense of awe, wonder, and adventure have been dulled and jaded from years of the adult grind. They forget that many of them have grown up and their views are different than they were twenty or even forty years ago. They no longer see these fairy tales through the eyes of a child. They watch the new movies and get angry when that magical nostalgia is not recaptured. Who’s fault is that? Lucas’ or the person who hasn’t realized that their point of view has radically changed over the nearly 40 years since Star Wars was released? It’s not Lucas’ fault that your sense of nostalgia has been changed by time.
As a point of reference, take a look at your kids (or kids in general). They absolutely love (or loved) the new Star Wars offerings, just as you did when you were a kid. So are you going to begrudge them their enjoyment, and rail against the creator just because you can no longer relate? Do you yell at your neighbors to get off your lawn and regale youngsters with tales of how hard school was before the internet? Or are you going to accept that your inner child might have shriveled up into a desiccated husk?
Listen, Lucas didn’t steal or betray your childhood … time did. So unless you can travel back in time and become that child you used to be you’re never going to have the same feelings about Star Wars as you did.
Lucas reinvented the fairy tale for kids at heart like myself. For that … I am thankful.
Words © 2013-2020, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
Images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).