Thirty years ago I would have laughed at this question. Silly rabbit, of course you have to see the movies to enjoy them. How else would you know what to do with all those awesome Kenner action figures you wanted so desperately? Recently my world view has been shaken a bit by my twelve year old neighbor. He is an avid Star Wars fan and we talk regularly about the virtues of the Star Wars saga in all its brilliance. He shows me his Star Wars Lego catalogs, his latest purchases, gives me an intensely detailed walk-through of his Lego Star Wars video game escapades. So, you will understand that i was a little bit shocked when I learned that he had never seen one of the movies. Not one!!!
Well if you aren’t shocked, it’s all right because I’m shocked enough for both of us. I mean I felt betrayed! How can he know so much about the series and never have seen one of the movies, not even episodes I, II, and III (even though they suck!). Well, I guess I am showing my own essentialism here, for it just seemed impossible to appreciate Star Wars without first experiencing the “real thing,” i.e., the films. And while my neighbor may be a particular case, I am beginning to wonder whether twelve year old around the world are growing up with a different Star Wars. A series of narratives they learn through video games like Battle Front and the insanely popular Lego Star Wars video games.
Not to mention the equally popular Lego Star Wars sets.
I remember back in 2005 when my nephews first got the Lego Star Wars video game thinking why in the name of everything that is holy would these kids want to play a “fake” Star Wars game when they can play the “real” games like Battle Front, etc.? Well, I understand this is the marriage of two insanely successful brands that have subsequently fostered a veritable consumer feeding frenzy — but was the frenzy any less when the original Star wars figures arrived on the shelf? According to Wikipedia’s article on the Kenner toy company:
Kenner Products obtained the rights to produce action figures and playsets for the Star Wars trilogy from 1977-1984. After Kenner acquired the license to produce Star Wars toys when the Mego Corporation rejected it in 1976, Kenner popularized the 3.75 inch action figure that became an industry standard and continues to dominate the action figure toy market.
And my follow up question is –was there was a Lego Star Wars movie that I missed? Why would kids want Legos when they can have 3.75″ action figures? It makes no sense to me! What I failed to realize is that for many of these kids the video game is the movie.
I guess my control over the notion of what the real Star Wars is doesn’t translate that well. I have my own, very historically specific memories of when I was my two nephews age, having seen Star Wars for the first time in a huge, single screen movie house (which allowed smoking!) and being utterly blown away. I also vividly remember coming home and dreaming of Sand People for months. I also remember when I was my neighbors age having seen The Empire Strikes Back for the first time and realizing just what it means to get hit in the head with a 2×4. “Did I just see Luke get his hand cut off by his ‘father’?” or “Are you telling me Han Solo is cryogenically frozen?” I had no idea what the hell was going on in my world, I waited six years for utter despair? It was my first real movie pill. I had to swallow it, but my sense of everything just wanted to throw it back up again. The force had truly been disturbed.
So, once again I have another pill to swallow: Can you actually appreciate the genius of the Star Wars saga without watching the films? Am I an essentialist if I answer resoundingly YES! –probably–but ya gotta draw the line somewhere and, damn it, if I am gonna get old and die that is the one I’m gonna fight for ’til the grave.