Read at your own risk.
I’m nearing forty, and even though I still feel (and sometimes act) like a teenager, I do realize I’m well into adulthood by now.
As much as I wish I were a kid again and could re-live my teens and twenties with the
wisdom experience acquired during the last couple of decades on this earth, I don’t envy kids today. Their senses are practically bombarded by myriads of stimuli, technology is an integral part of their daily lives, and the world is a much more dangerous place to grow up in these days.
I grew up as an only child in the 80’s. I used to play with my friends in the front yard and ride our bikes and spend our days (and nights) at the playground close by. There was no child-proofing the apartment or installing soft foam panels around the swingset. We’d bump into sharp corners and scrape our knees jumping off the swings and we’d hold back the tears to appear brave in front of our friends. Video games were around (albeit the primitive type) but none of us were too interested in spending time indoors when we could wreak havoc on the neighborhood. We had to entertain ourselves, and we did a fine job of it.
There were only two television channels and most of us still had black & white TV sets at home. We’d watch cartoons on weekend mornings and the occasional children’s show on weekday afternoons, but TV had very little to offer and didn’t really hold our interest much.
We did go to the movies. I still remember staring wide-eyed at the screen – and crying my eyes out – when my parents first took me to see E.T. at the theatre or when my friends and I rented Goonies. Drive-ins were never really a thing in this country but open-air movie theatres were (and still are) flourishing during the 4-5 months of beautiful summer weather. There was no actual rating of movies unless they were deemed too racy for anyone under 18, so we’d watch anything from Beetlejuice to Top Gun to Police Academy to Die Hard. If it was playing at a theatre nearby, it was fair game.
A lot of the movies and TV shows that are now considered classics in modern pop culture flew right over our heads back in the day. I never saw any John Hughes movies until I was in my twenties. I was more interested in thrillers and horror flicks than I was in romantic comedies and started reading Stephen King novels at age 10. If we wanted to watch anything other than the limited selection of (mostly old greek) films on TV or the theatre, we had to rent it at the video club. There was no IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes to browse when selecting a film. All we had to go by was a short (and often misleading) description on the back cover and the picture on the front. We’d sneak around and watch Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th – but oddly not Halloween, possibly because Halloween isn’t a thing in this country and I’m sure distributors were at a loss when it came to marketing the franchise (we do have carnival but it misses the scary element and it falls around February/March).
All this is by way of explaning why, for kids growing up in Greece in the 80’s, geography had as much to do with our different perception of pop culture as the calendar did.
The language barrier was a key factor in perpetuating the pop culture divide until the advent of the internet. Although taught English in school, few of us were fluent enough to understand movies without the help of subtitles, and anyone who’s tried to learn a foreign language knows how difficult it is to convey tone, colloquialisms and sometimes to just simply translate certain words and expressions, especially when it comes to two vastly different languages that don’t even share the same alphabet.
Movies back then weren’t nearly as self-referential as they’ve become these days, but there was still a lot that one could miss out on when one had to rely on two lines of text on the screen. I distinctly remember covering the bottom part of my TV with duct tape just so I wouldn’t be distracted by the (more often than not) lousy translation, when I was old enough to more-or-less understand what was being said without having to read the subtitles.
Aside from the actual translation though, non-english speakers also missed out on the actual immersion into pop culture that really took off in the 80’s and 90’s. It wasn’t just the actual jokes we sometimes didn’t get or the now-classic quotes that was just another line of dialogue for anyone who just read the subtitles. It was the fact that, in english-speaking countries, a lot of that also became part of the vernacular while it simply flew right over our heads. As we grew up and (more or less) mastered the language, we belatedly started quoting famous lines to each other, but it’s just not the same. Particularly not if quoting movies basically means speaking a couple of lines in a language other than your own, making you appear obnoxious and a show-off and generally not allowing for seamless incorporation into everyday speech.
(Still with me? Okay, you brave souls).
During the long teacher strike in the mid-80’s, and because I went to a private school where teachers couldn’t really go on strike if they wanted to keep their jobs, I’d still go to class every day while my public-school neighborhood friends were off playing at home. The school took pity on us and let us off the hook for a couple of hours a week. They set up a makeshift movie theatre in the school auditorium and showed us what they thought we’d enjoy. I only vividly remember two films: one was the Sound of Music, which, cheesy though it may be, I still adore to this day. The other one was Star Wars.
That was my first and, for a couple of decades thereafter, only acquaintance with the Star Wars saga. I sat in the dark auditorium as my male classmates looked on, mesmerized by the special effects, and I was bored. I had no idea that the Star Wars franchise had grown to be this huge pop culture phenomenon, nor that the first movie had come out the year before I was born. All I knew was that the story was completely uninteresting to me, and nothing about the funny costumes, robots and space ships made it exciting.
Anything remotely sci-fi-related still bores me to tears to this day. I don’t care if it’s a straight-up comedy, adventure, thriller or even horror movie. If it touches on the sci-fi genre, I’m immediately prejudiced. I’m sure The Martian and Gravity were great and Men In Black was hilarious and I guess I’m missing out on a horror classic by not having watched Sigourney Weaver kick the Alien‘s ass but nothing about the premise of aliens or space adventures motivates me to pick those movies up in the least. (By the way, this is also why I never got into the X Files – well, that and the fact that I find David Duchovny insufferable).
I used to feel the same way about the fantasy genre, and in most cases I still do. I changed my mind when I first saw the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I hadn’t read before the movies were released (again, Greek school, plenty of real mythology textbooks to keep us busy). Had it not been for Peter Jackson’s amazing work in bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to the screen, and of course the internet, I would still be loath to try anything remotely fantasy-related and probably wouldn’t have given Game of Thrones the time of day (and as much as I love GoT, it’s the characters and the storylines I’m into, not the dragons and magic). Speaking of magic, I was just as immune to the Harry Potter saga in my 20’s as I was to Star Wars in childhood. My only acquaintance with the franchise involved my best friend and myself trying to learn dutch by reading the subtitles in a movie theater in Amsterdam, after having visited several coffeeshops, and laughing our asses off; needless to say, I don’t remember much, if anything, of the movie itself).
I’ve given a lot of flack over the years to a close friend who still hasn’t seen LoTR. It’s been over a decade now and he still hasn’t given the movies a chance. But even if you aren’t excited by the plot, it’s a pop culture phenomenon! When that argument fails, I even resort to appealing to his affinity for trivia; how can you not want to at least see where the “You shall not pass” or “One doesn’t simply…” memes originated?
I realize I am being a hypocrite. I know what lightsabers are and I’ve heard the whole “I am your father” and “May the force be with you” quotes countless times, and even though by now the Darth Vader reveal wouldn’t be a surprise to me, I’m as guilty of stubborn denial to see the Star Wars franchise as my friend is to see LoTR.
So a few years ago I decided to give it a go. I made it as far as the scene where R2D2 and C3PO land on a desert… and just had to turn it off. Seriously, why is everyone so enamoured with this movie? It’s badly acted, the villain is a caricature, the Princess all the boys drooled over has a ridiculous hairdo and isn’t even that pretty to begin with. What’s the big deal with this movie? I get that the production value and special effects were way ahead of their time back in the late ’70s, but in the 00’s and 10’s we’ve seen so much amazing CGI that Star Wars just looks like child’s play.
I get why people my age love these movies. They saw them when they were young and impressionable and there was nothing quite like Star Wars out at the time. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. When I watch Goonies now, I’m immediately transported back to my childhood, and it doesn’t matter if the dialogue is corny or if the make up effects on Sloth leave much to be desired.
But why would anyone in their 30’s watch Star Wars for the first time now and actually be amazed by it? I know that I’m firmly in the minority here. So I decided to give it another (final) go. I had the perfect opportunity: a couple of weeks by myself at my summer house on the island, where I have no wifi-access and not much to do all night except binge-watch TV shows, which didn’t last more than a few days. I downloaded all 7 movies on my ipad and promised myself I’d get through them all, in chronological rather than actual order, before expressing a final opinion, my ultimate goal being to finally be able to review the latest installment.
And then I had to break that promise, because OH MY GOD I was bored to tears. I did make it through the entire first movie but the second one was where I drew the line.
So I might not have had the dubious pleasure of acquainting myself with the entire saga, but I watched enough to come up with a verdict that’s based on my actual viewing experience and not any bias, and I’m afraid I will forever belong in the minority of people who will constantly be berated by nerds of all ages for not adoring Star Wars.
So be it.
I’m not gonna lie, it did have its moments:
- The whole “I find your lack of faith disturbing” line was cool, but it was a tiny ray of light in what otherwise amounted to really cheesy dialogue.
- The light sabers are cool, and I can see why the kids were going nuts over it, but the Wookie is ridiculous and, frankly, annoying.
- The multitude of weird creatures was definitely inventive, but Jabba was even more ridiculous than the Wookie.
- The photography was great, but the sound production was shit.
- The fighter “jets” fight was cool (and I’m inclined to think that this is partly where Tony Scott got his inspiration for Top Gun) but dragged on far too long.
For a non-fan like me, the cons definitely outweighed the pros:
- Han Solo is a dick and I really wanted to punch the smirk off his face during the entire movie. Also, the scene where he’s running down the corridor screaming like a girl: hilarious!
- Darth & Obi Wan dueling with the light sabers: so underwhelming. Obi is an old man and Darth’s costume looks quite restricting but come on, make a freaking effort. They look BORED as they fight eachother. At one point Obi is trying to keep Darth at a distance and waving his saber around as if he’s swatting flies.
- Since I’m not a Star Wars nerd and quite hazy on the details, some major plot points are unclear to me. Who is the emperor? Why is there a princess in an empire? Where does Lord Vader rank in all of this? Why does he take his orders from whoever that godawful guy with the britsh accent is? And why do all the villains always have to have british accents?
- The color coordination feels all wrong. Vader is clad in all black and Leia’s dress is white, but the Storm Troopers are white, although there are also black uniforms that look like Storm Troopers on the bad guys’ side.
- The ending was corny and felt like a Return of the King ripoff. (And yes, I know RoTK was made in 2003, but the books predate Star Wars by a few decades.
- By the way, how did they get R2D2 repaired so fast?
I’ve gotta hand it to Lucas though: by placing the action not just in a galaxy far, far away but also a long, long time ago, he’s made it timeless. No one can bitch about how reality has surpassed a lot of the technology in the films, or whine because a lot of the digital readouts look like primitive videogames to anyone born in the last three decades.
Just like my previous failed attempts at watching A New Hope, I found myself stopping several times before I could get through the entire thing. As a general rule, I don’t enjoy watching movies in installments. I guess this says a lot about the overall appeal it had on me. Return of the Jedi was even worse: I stopped a few times, a couple of days went by, and then I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it to the end.
So I guess this just ended up being a very long post that looks like its sole purpose was to complain about something most people adore. It wasn’t my intention. I honestly wanted to give these movies a fair shot. I’m pretty sure that under the right circumstances, back in the day, I probably would have enjoyed it. But it’s 2016, I’m 38 years old, and I guess in the end my movie preferences are quite set. My cynical adult self got the better of me.