We’ve all neglected a classic film or two in our lives, usually to our own embarrassment. If I were to ask you what classic you haven’t seen yet (and you’re welcome to respond below), I’m sure you would be able to list three or four well-known, highly-lauded films that just haven’t entered your field of vision yet. In Better Late Than Never, a new series of articles, Nerdist authors are going to openly admit which film classics they have missed or neglected for years, and take the opportunity to watch them for the first time, giving their initial impressions on a film you already know everything about.
My own neglectful story will actually be a recollection.
The Film: Star Wars (dir. George Lucas, 1977)
Age at Which Author Finally Saw It: 18
How Could You Have Missed It?: My youth was spent with comedy films, and, thanks to many years of being primed on “Weird Al” Yankovic, Mad Magazine, and Monty Python, I was more fond of parody than original. As such, I had seen Spaceballs many, many times without having seen Star Wars once.
Impressions: I liked Star Wars a lot. It’s a solidly entertaining adventure film, and has some of the best special effects of any motion picture in history (and, yes, I watched the original version with the analog effects, and not the updated digital “Special Edition”). I liked the characters, however simple or archetypal they may have been; Harrison Ford was really the soul of Star Wars, adding humor and flipness to an otherwise staid affair. I can understand why the world has lost its head over Star Wars. Indeed, the obsession over Star Wars – which seems to have grown steadily since the mid-1980s – has come to represent that playfully ubiquitous obsession with popular culture that we refer to when we use the word “geek.” Or even just “pop culture,” as they’re now kind of the same thing.
But, as with anything that is constantly referred to hundreds of times in parodies and references and tributes, I felt like I had already seen most of Star Wars without having seen it. I knew the characters, the story, the situations, and even the choice lines of dialogue through mere cultural osmosis. I even had some of the many Star Wars toys growing up. I just sort of knew the movie.
So seeing it seemed like a formality to me. When I revealed to peers that I hadn’t seen Star Wars (at age 17), I actually (and stubbornly) held out against seeing it for that very reason. Why see it when I already know it? But eventually my friends wore me down, and the summer after graduating high school, a friend lent me her VHS tapes of the first three feature films in the Star Wars franchise, and I went about my homework.
Star Wars was – and still is – my favorite in the series. I like the old-fashioned B-movie corniness that it achieves. The Empire Strikes Back is objectively the better film, and dramatically the more moving, but part of me strongly feels that taking the lightweight corny fun of the original and forcing it into a more “serious” mold is a dramatic misstep. Return of the Jedi looks the best of the three, having the best monsters, the most exotic locales, and that really awesome flying motorcycle chase through the woods.
I can finally appreciate, though, the actual texture of this one ultra-popular film that changed the way we make big-budget blockbusters for all time; we’re still living in a post-Star Wars age, my friends. Although Star Wars could perhaps be seen as a mere imitation of Jaws, so perhaps Star Wars was just the kid-friendly version of Jaws.
Are You a Convert?: Not really. I liked the movies just fine, and I appreciate them to be sure, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to join the Star Wars cult the same way so many of my peers have. Star Wars will, I think, only be able to snag you as a lifelong fan if you manage to see it as a child. When you’re young, your pop culture obsessions leave a deeper impression, and create longer-lasting memories. As such, the people who were exposed to Star Wars at an early age were marked. Star Wars became a central part of their world. Since I waited so long, I feel like I lost my ability to be marked by it. I will never have the experience of growing up with Star Wars. And by age 18, I was already becoming obsessed with David Lynch and Akira Kurosawa, so I had kind of outgrown it.
I’ll always like Star Wars. I’m a fan. But I’ll never be a FAN.