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The Day the Jedi Died

For many Star Wars geeks, the world ended 25 years ago with Return of the Jedi — and realizing that George Lucas cares more about merchandising than the purity of his own grand vision.

by
Michele Catalano

Bio

May 29, 2008 - 12:30 am

It was 25 years ago this week, with the release of Return of the Jedi, that my love affair with George Lucas ended.

I had been a Star Wars fan from the first moment I saw that destroyer inch its way onto the screen after the opening crawl in Star Wars. My jaw dropped. I was hooked. Three years later, Empire Strikes Back hit me just as hard, maybe even harder. I loved the dark undertones of the film, and the bleak ending.

I waited patiently for the next installment, wondering where Lucas would take us next, what wondrous characters and places he would create, how the story would play out.

Return of the Jedi opened on May 25, 1983 and nothing was ever the same between Lucas and I again.

As Ewoks danced merrily on the screen before me and the whole space world seemed to celebrate in unison, I cringed at what I was seeing. Ewoks? Cute, furry little animals? I watched in horror as it dawned on me that George Lucas had completed his saga with the intent of making a killing in merchandising. To think that this movie was nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell the Star Wars name to kids was to admit to myself that Lucas was no more than another Hollywood shill out to make a buck, and not the storytelling, brilliant hero I had made him out to be in my mind. I had been so enamored with Lucas and his vision and now I just felt betrayed and hurt.

My hatred of Ewoks and Lucas grew as the years went on. I thought it unfair of him to end the trilogy in such a crass manner so as to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I decided to ignore Jedi as if it never existed and vowed to only watch Star Wars and Empire when they appeared on tv (and later, on laser disc and VHS and DVD). When the trilogy was re-released in the movie theaters in 1997, I took my four year old son -whom I was raising as a Star Wars geek – to see the first two, but refused to take him to see Jedi, as I was afraid his young age would leave him vulnerable to the cuteness of the Ewoks.

Years later, Lucas had the chance to redeem himself. He was filming a new trilogy, one that would tie up story lines and complete the saga for us. Here was a chance to wash the bad taste of Jedi out of my mouth and renew my faith in Lucas. Surely, he would use this opportunity to make amends and redeem himself in the eyes of all the Star Wars geeks who felt cheated by Return of the Jedi.

Well, we all know what happened with that. Need I say more than Jar Jar Binks? Whatever disdain I felt for Lucas that had faded over the years came back tenfold and I ranted and railed against the film, the man, the absolute disrespect he had for fans of the saga to foist such a piece of garbage on us and expect us to eat it up. Yes, we went to the movie theater in droves, but we had been expecting so much more. In a way, this letdown was worse than Jedi. Jar Jar was a far greater crime against my sensibilities than Ewoks.

A few years later, Lucas did somewhat redeem himself with Revenge of the Sith. I loved that movie for the closure it gave me. It wasn’t a great piece of cinema (don’t get me started on the love scenes between Anakin and Padme), but there was that one wondrous moment when Anakin was being fitted with the Vader parts and helmet; he takes a breath and then you hear the voice of James Earl Jones for the first time. There was almost a clanking sound in my head, like two train cars hooking together and suddenly everything made sense and the films flowed one into the other. It was over. It was all complete. And it was both satisfying and sad.

But it didn’t quite erase the bad feelings toward Lucas. Not just for Jedi, but for all the changes; for Han shot first, for his greedy manipulation of the films, for everything he did to just suck more and more money out of the loyal fans, without caring about continuity or even the sanctity of the original films. Apparently, he’s not just guilty of this when it comes to Star Wars, as emphasized in this review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: “Like a petulant high school senior ripping down an old boy band poster that reminds her of the kid stuff she is sure she has way outgrown, director Spielberg and producer George Lucas, who gets a story credit, seem to think they’re too good to revisit the original trilogy so they mock it instead.” And that is where the crux of my disdain for Lucas lies; in the fact that he mocks his fans, by virtue of the mockery he makes of his own beloved works.

My father has this saying: One “ah, crap” wipes out 20 “attaboys.” Lucas is far too behind on the count to catch up.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Jedi, I think instead of watching the movie, I’ll play some Star Wars Battlefront and go on an Ewok killing spree.

Michele Catalano lives, writes, and takes photographs on Long Island.
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