The five stages of Star Wars fandom grief.

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May 16 2011 6:47 AM

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away … I Was a Star Wars Fan

I'm still recovering.

Still from “Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace” of Jar Jar Binks.
Jar Jar Binks

I am a Star Wars fan. And when I use the present tense there, it's in the same way that people refer to themselves as recovering alcoholics even when they haven't had a drink in 10 years. To call myself a superfan might be a bit extreme, as I've seen cases of Star Wars addiction much worse than my own, but I was in pretty deep. In high school, I read more Star Wars novels than I did regular books—somewhere around 15—and I own three copies of each of the films' soundtracks. I even won an award from almighty Lucasfilm itself for the hours I spent making a Star Wars fan movie. It's been a rough dozen years for us Star Wars fans. The release of The Phantom Menace split the community in half, the gushers (people who loved it) and the bashers (people who didn't). If you can't tell from my equating fandom with alcoholism, I am a basher. Each of the next two movies, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, was worse than the last, and it became increasingly hard to identify as a fan. After all, the whole franchise was based on six feature films, and I hated half of them (and only sort of liked Return of the Jedi). Then I had my chance to express my angst to the nation. About two years ago, a team of documentary filmmakers asked me to be in an upcoming project, The People vs. George Lucas. They were chronicling the disillusionment of hard-core Star Wars fans, and wanted me to talk about my reaction to the crappy prequels and special editions. I considered doing the interview, but never got around to it. The whole thing seemed like a lot of trouble, and besides, I just didn't care anymore. It occurred to me that, as a Star Wars fan, I'd gone through the famous five stages of grief. The sci-fi universe that was at least partially responsible for my not kissing a girl until college was gone, and I accepted it.

The author's award-winning Star Wars fan film.

The documentary premiered at South by Southwest last year, and I watched it last week during a limited theatrical run in New York City. The fellow fans who did end up in the film reminded me what it was like to go through the five stages of Star Wars grief. The first one, denial, came after I watched ThePhantom Menace for the first time in 1999. I simply couldn't accept that it was bad. I saw it in the theater probably five times. I even took a date once. Pretty much everyone I knew thought it sucked, and with good reason. Qui-Gon was an old coot, Anakin was a little brat, and to describe Jar Jar Binks as the least funny thing in the history of anything ever would be an understatement. Somehow, the movie even made light-saber fights boring. "But Lucas is just setting stuff in motion," I told people in the film's defense. "It's a different type of movie from the originals." "You all need to rediscover your inner child." "It's smart and political." I don't really remember my argument—whatever it was, it was wrong.

Then came anger. I remember the day it happened. I woke up one morning next to my girlfriend at the time and had a profound realization. I didn't like any of the characters. The plot didn't make that much sense. There wasn't a single memorable line or scene in the whole thing. I hated that movie. My girlfriend wasn't happy that the first thing I thought of waking up next to her was how much I hated a little boy in a movie, but I didn't care. I was mad. Why had I wasted all those hours obsessing over Star Wars minutia? How dare George Lucas ruin my hard work! Even so, I foolishly held out hope for Episode 2. They said it was going to be the Empire Strikes Back of the prequel trilogy—darker, smarter, grander in scale. There would be fewer children and senate hearings. Again, I was disappointed. By the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around, I just saw it so I could tell the one friend who liked the prequels what an idiot he was. At that point, even the original trilogy had been tainted. (When C-3PO said "How rude" in Episode 5, was he just quoting Jar Jar?)

The third stage is bargaining, and many of the people interviewed for The People vs. George Lucas seemed to be stuck negotiating questions such as Who owns art? and Does Lucas have the moral right to change his own films? I've had those debates, too, and they quickly degenerate into arguments over whether Han Solo really fired the first shot in the Cantina sequence. Over the past few years I've tried to bargain in my own way, by looking for a new sci-fi franchise on which I could waste my life. I started with the obvious choice, Star Trek, and while I enjoyed watching all of the episodes of the original series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space 9, it wasn't quite the same. A bunch of guys firing tachyon beams at space anomalies while enacting thinly veiled allegories of modern-day issues is fun, but it's no Star Wars.

Then I gave the old Doctor Who series from the '70s as good as try as I could muster. I love Tom Baker's manic energy and toothy grin, but those old episodes haven't aged well. At all. I'm sure it was fine at the time—I'd rather watch Doctor Who than an episode of Kojak—but the glacial pacing and hokey effects start to wear on you after a while. I had a good run on Lost, too, until the last few seasons ruined the whole thing. At one point, I even tried the Pokémon cartoon show, which is barely even sci-fi. None of these shows filled the void. Star Wars, in its heyday, seemed like more than just a bunch of movies. As Mike Leigh would have said, the characters really did go around corners: When a bit-player like Admiral Ackbar left the screen, you could believe that he was going off to have his own adventure. Only the original series could do that for me.

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The fourth stage, depression, is pretty easy to picture when you think of a 30-year-old man watching 150 episodes of Pokémon.

And finally, acceptance. Closer to indifference, really. An animated movie, The Clone Wars, was added to the Star Wars franchise in 2008. There was a time, not so many years earlier, when I would have been first in line for the midnight opening. I didn't even go see it. Later I happened to catch the film on cable, although I don't remember what happens—the TV just happened to be on in the background while I was cleaning. There's probably more Star Wars media to consume now than there ever was, but it doesn't interest me in the slightest.

Well, there's one exception. I bought the Star Wars: Cantina game for my iPod Touch a few months ago. It was really just Tapper or Diner Dash with a Star Wars skin, but I quite enjoyed it. Serving drinks in a galaxy far, far away, was the most enjoyment I'd gotten out of Star Wars for a decade. Seeing those Uncle Owens and Greedos wander in and out of my bar reminded me of what I used to like about Star Wars, this vast universe where there were interesting characters to meet and adventures to be had.

After I beat the game, I deleted it from my iPod. I'm still recovering, after all.

Will Carlough complains about bad movies and other things at diogenesclub.net.