A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Yeah, you guessed it, this geekboy is going to start talking about Star Wars again. I can’t help it, you know? I grew up (in the chronological sense, anyway) on the original Star Wars trilogy, just as most guys my age did, and no number of shitty prequel films is ever going to change that. So you might as well get used to it because I’m not likely to start waxing nostalgic about snippets of pop culture I find less interesting any time soon. That Murder, She Wrote article I’m sure my mom is dying to see will just have to wait.
What got me interested in writing about Star Wars again so soon is the fact that I recently read an autobiography called Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid by one Simon Pegg, a British actor, writer, and comedian who starred in another of my all time favorite films, Shaun of the Dead, a “romzomcom” (a romantic comedy or “romcom” with zombies – Pegg calls it that, not me. I just call it a damn good movie). Reading Pegg’s book was very enjoyable to me because I enjoy his work, appreciate his humor, and apparently share a number of the same interests with him. In many ways I felt I was reading tales that could have been about my life as I was actually reading about his. I had the same simpatico feeling when I read Patton Oswalt’s Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland for a number of the same reasons. We geeky, nerdy types are inextricably linked by our common interests in ways that the uninitiated just don’t understand. With Patton I felt that bond as he described his time playing Dungeons and Dragons. I felt just a hint of it once when I read in The Duelist (a magazine that used to be published by Seattle game company Wizards of the Coast or WotC) that Jason Alexander (you know, George on Seinfeld) played Magic: The Gathering (Interestingly, WotC now also publishes Dungeons and Dragons and has for some time, though I don’t know if they’d bought the title from original publisher TSR back when Patton was playing. Maybe he still is. I still play Magic although I can’t claim it as a holdover enjoyment from my youth like I can video games and Star Wars, as I was in my 20’s when the game was first published). My link with Simon, besides his appreciation for the films of George A. Romero, is Star Wars.
Wow… am I really gushing about zombies and Star Wars in the same post? I’m more of a geek than I thought. Sometimes I even amaze myself.
Anyhoo, in Nerd Do Well, Pegg writes about Star Wars a lot. He talks about how it shaped his childhood and goes on to brilliantly disect the trilogy in ways I’d never seen before, explaining his take on why it was so successful and relating it to, of all things, US involvement in the Vietnam War (in a way that makes sense, I promise). Pegg gushes about Star Wars every chance he gets… and then he talks about the Star Wars prequels.
I’m like most StarWars fans in that I didn’t much care for the prequels and was terribly disappointed in The Phantom Menace when I first saw it. Like Pegg, though, I thought perhaps the first time was a fluke and went back for more when Attack of the Clones was released three years later. I kept my kids out of school for that one and took them to see it opening day, knowing how much I’d have appreciated that when The Empire Strikes Back was released (it never happened, thanks a bunch, Mom). In retrospect, the kids may have preferred to go to school that day. If The Phantom Menace was ass, then Attack of the Clones was a greasy ass sandwich served on a dirty ashtray. Naturally, though, I still hadn’t learned my lesson and gleefully lined up to see Revenge of the Sith with all the other nerds. It was better than either of the prior two prequel films in the same way that a dental visit for a few fillings is better than one for a root canal. Pegg went to the London premiere and, despite getting to hobnob with various celebrity types and Star Wars alums Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Kenny Baker (R2-D2) as well as George Lucas himself, enjoyed it even less than I did. The prequel experience seems to have soured Pegg on Star Wars as a whole. He even wrote “Star Wars sucks” or words to that effect within the pages of Nerd Do Well.
As bad as the prequels are (and they are bad, trust me), I can’t bring myself to actually hate them or Star Wars altogether on their account. I will still watch them (the prequels, that is) when they show up on cable (like they did last Christmas when Spike TV ran all six films back to back in a Star Wars marathon. I was in the hospital at the time as this was when I suffered the stroke I wrote about in a previous post, so it was the perfect chance for me to watch the films again, switching over to TBS for the requisite repeat showings of A Christmas Story during the commercial breaks), but I don’t go out of my way to see them. The Christmas before (Christmas 2009 this would be), one of my sons gifted me with the entire collection of Star Wars films on DVD. While I’d watched all three originals before New Year’s Day, the box containing the prequels remained sealed until well into April or May of 2010 and then it was Revenge of the Sith that I watched.
Much of Pegg’s disillusionment with the Star Wars films actually began well before the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999 and actually stretches back about three years prior to when Lucasfilm released the original trilogy films with updated effects and missing scenes, a release entitled Star Wars: The Special Edition. All three original movies were given visual makeovers, digitally adding bits that were never there before and enhancing some of the more dated special effects. Many fans cried foul when these versions hit the big screen in 1996, however, ad Lucas’ doctoring went too far in many minds. The most notable offense? The scene in which a bounty hunter called Greedo corners Han Solo in the Mos Isley cantina was altered to make it appear that Greedo took a shot at Han before the rogue hero blasted him away. Whereas the original 1977 release clearly has Han firing his weapon not in response to Greedo firing his, but as a means of escaping the bounty hunter altogether. Whay make such a change? The common belief is that Lucas altered the scene as to make his protagonists more honorable. Han would never kill someone in cold blood, he was defending himself as any red-blooded and God-fearing American would.
Hooey. Han shot first, dammit. And I bet he’d do it again, firing as soon as he heard that alien tongue say, “Ootah bootah, Solo?”
Pegg is also a member of the Han shot first club, and makes that clear in his book. Being a famous film star, however, has it’s perks, and Simon got the chance to tell George Lucas exactly what he thinks and has thought about Star Wars, not that he necessarily did. No, what Pegg writes about getting to meet the man who created that galaxy far, far away is actually far more interesting than a story about being another fan gushing about Lucas’ work or complaining about the latter half of it. Pegg writes:
Lucas was deep in conversation with director Ron Howard who, in his days as an actor, had taken the lead in Lucas’ American Graffiti before going on to Happy Days. Our friend drew Lucas’ attention and informed him of our presence, at which point he turned and looked at me with the weary acceptance of a man about to be gushed over by another thirty-something fan whose life he had changed. He seemed tired and slightly exasperated and in that second I regretted accepting the offer to meet him, but then luckily something cool happened. Ron Howard grinned at me, shook my hand and said, “Oh man, my kids just love your movie!” I spluttered a thank you, slightly taken aback, and as I chatted to Ron, I noticed George’s expression change from bored to slightly more attentive. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like just another fan; thanks to Ron, I had been elevated to the status of fellow film-maker and as such found myself welcomed into the conversation. George asked about Shaun of the Dead and we chatted about film-making, then he said the most interesting thing, something that shed a surprising light on the artist behind the billionaire businessman. He asked if I minded him giving me apiece of advice. He leaned in towards me and said, “Just don’t suddenly find yourself making the same film you made thirty years ago.” In that instance everything made some kind of sense to me. Here was a man whose only significant failing was the inability to trust anyone else. He has always been a maverick, since he was a young avant-garde film-maker and sought to operate beyond the grip of any conventional means of production. However, a victim of his own colossal success, he had become the very thing he used to rail against and yet, still possessed of a furious self-reliance, had continued to doggedly guard his own creative output even at the expense of the thing itself.
Of course I have never met George Lucas and probably never will, so I still say Han shot first, dammit. If I ever do meet George Lucas, I will ask him why he bothered making it look like Greedo fired his weapon at all. Surely it wasn’t something he forgot to put in to the original version of Star Wars. And if I ever meet Simon Pegg, I’ll thank him for writing such an interesting book and making such wonderful films (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are great fun in my opinion while Paul, intended to be a love letter to geeks just like Simon and me the world over, felt kind of forced to me) and I will ask him if Liz does indeed know that Shaun is keeping Ed out back in the shed or not.