Today is the annual “Star Wars Day” celebration at Comic-Con – and a poignant one at that. It was 20 years ago (make that 30 years ago) that The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters – check out our look at the first draft of the film’s script, which originally included a Chewie-Wampa brawl! – arguably better than its predecessor, proving to the world that George Lucas’s swashbuckling 1977 epic wasn’t going to be a fluke. Yes, the inmates were now running the asylum, and yes, kids would line up to see these sorts of movie multiple times a day.
In those three years, the blockbuster was born.
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And still today it’s clear: During those three years, what Lucas created was so brilliant, so astonishing and new, that it has endured the remaining 30 years of slip-ups and mistakes. Just think about it: Despite the slightly-watered-down Return of the Jedi, the butchery of the prequels, the unspeakable Attack of the Clones and the endless array of exploitive merchandising opportunities which have milked this franchise for all that it’s worth, I think any of us would still sit down at a moment’s notice to watch Obi Wan instruct, to see Luke fly his fighter down that Death Star trench, or to gasp as Han is ripped away from Leia and frozen in carbonite.
That’s how good the first two movies were. Despite all Lucas has done to ruin the franchise since, those movies still register as some of the all-time best.
Still, as a devout Star Wars fan who has been more than a little mystified by some of the needless sci-fi in the special editions, and a little shocked as the story has been dumbed down so that instead of Jedi vs. Sith, it’s become Jedi vs. Robots, I must admit that there’s now a sad irony to championing the franchise. As Lucas retained the merchandising rights back in 1977, he gave flight to a whole entertainment-industry machine that has come to define events like Comic-Con.
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The more Lucas milked from Star Wars, the more Hollywood realized how us fanboys could be manipulated and exploited. So in a sense, Star Wars has become the reason we celebrate, the reason we now have a place at the pop culture head table, and yet why we must always be skeptical of the posers in our midst, hoping to exploit our interests in all things superhero and outer space.
Circa 2010, it’s a conflicting sensibility: We love Star Wars, but hate the Star Wars machine. And that’s what makes events like today that much more rare and special. For 24 short hours, we can try to look beyond the marketers and, for a moment, just return to the purity of those original three films, and celebrate the Big Bang that sparked our geek-loving universe, in a galaxy far, far away.
Happy Star Wars day! Cynicism is back in the office at 8 a.m.
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