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Boomer nostalgia: Star Wars Almost 40 Years Later–1977 and 2016

January 27, 2016

When my husband and I left the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently, I sent a text to my oldest daughter who writes movie reviews for ThirdWay.com.

“Great fun and sad,” I wrote.

She texted back: “Good succinct review.”

Maybe that’s enough said, but if you want to know the back story, I have one.

I’m sure many other baby boomers like my husband and I were touched, stunned and ultimately heartened by this movie showing again the characters we came to love back in the 70s.

I had to dig out a review I wrote which was actually published in a magazine of the day, WITH, a Mennonite denominational publication for youth. It has sadly gone the way of so many print publications, but the force still lives! (Frankly I was surprised that then editor Richard Kauffman paid MONEY for my review—but I think he was just anxious for hot topics for his teen readers. Kauffman went on to serve as an editor at Christian Century for many years, and just retired in January. WITH, and editors like Kauffman, nourished my writing career.)StarWarsReview

The article in WITH was titled “Star Wars—It Won’t Go Away Overnight.” I wasn’t being prophetic—just reading articles in a magazine I kept up with at the time, Advertising Age. They pointed out the long list of spin offs envisioned by original director George Lucas for “toys, games, crafts, T-shirts, posters, Halloween costumes, bedspreads, sleeping bags …” almost as if franchising a movie was something relatively new then. The spacecraft and characters were designed in part with toys in mind, according to published interviews with Lucas at the time. Now that’s a duh.

Star Wars gained popularity on the basis of a good story and memorable characters and the special effects that now look so ho hum. According to my review then, it had brought in one hundred million ($100,000,000) at the box office four months after its release (at the time I wrote that review). In contrast, Star Wars The Force Awakens made one quarter of that in just its first opening weekend, 247 million. We paid $2.50 then, and $8.50 now with discount tickets.)

In my earlier review I noted my husband and I saw it before it was a household word or on any T-shirts, and thus had a crack at “unprejudiced viewing,” to form my own opinion. In fact, we selected it as the lesser of several evils on the marquee in a small town while visiting my parents in 1977; my husband always loved science fiction and especially Star Trek so he wanted to see what Star Wars was like; I went with low expectations and feared the movie would offer “… blood and gore at worst, boredom at best.”

I reported that I was pleasantly entertained, and “surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I expected.” I called it clean: no four letter words, no sex, no real blood. Those three elements still mark the 2015 release! Oh I found the 1977 Darth Vader a “gruesome representation of evil and maybe even a science-fictionized Satan; … his wheezing and omen-like presence made me shudder every time he came on the scene.”

DarthVaderHumidifer

Darth Vader Humidifer

Speaking of shudders, after we saw The Force Awakens, we stopped by Lowes and the first thing that I saw in the store was a Darth Vader humidifier for a children’s room. One two-year-old grandson has a “Choo Choo” humidifier that he adores but I don’t think Darth Vader would sooth him to sleep.

WeddingReception1976Edited

Newlyweds: 1976

Which gets me to this: my husband and I were practically newlyweds (married just over a year) when we saw the original Star Wars in 1977. Now I’m a grandmother. As a 60+ something who followed the Star Wars franchise through the years, you can’t watch this movie without being thrown back to your much younger self—in my 20’s!—with all the hopes and dreams and aspirations of those early years. You can’t help but ponder how you look compared to the actors and realize that if THEY look old, you do too. As I sat in the theater with my smart phone on vibrate just in case our oldest daughter went into labor—I thought how in 1977 I wouldn’t have dreamed of cell phones, let alone mini computers (smart phones) that we would carry with us keeping us in touch not only by phone, but by text, instant message, and email. I wouldn’t have known what any of those words even meant, except “phone.”

Stunning, when you dwell on it.

And its fun to see the movie getting mostly high marks.

  • The Force Awakens, directed by Gen-Xer J.J. Abrams, has opened to universally strong notices, and, in the summary of Rotten Tomatoes, “successfully recalls the series’ former glory while injecting it with renewed energy.” http://reason.com/blog/2015/12/19/how-star-wars-unmasks-baby-boomers-as-am
  • In The New Yorker we read movie critic Anthony Lane’s suggestion of weakness: “Is Abrams a chronic nostalgist, bowing so low to the fan base that his nose is rubbing against the floor? Or has he wisely concluded that, if it ain’t broke, he should not be fool enough to fix it?”
  • After critiquing how The Force Awakens is a better film, overall, than the original, Lane writes, “The new movie, as an act of pure storytelling, streams by with fluency and zip. To sum up: “Star Wars” was broke, and it did need fixing. And here is the answer.” http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/star-wars-the-force-awakens-reviewed
  • I looked for reviewers talking about the theme of aging in this movie. Here’s one hitting the reality head on: “There aren’t many boomer monoculture events like Star Wars left. After The Force Awakens, and boomers start to hit that age when people start to die for no reason, those events [throw back movies] will mostly be eulogies for boomer icons.” http://www.vice.com/read/the-force-awakens-is-the-last-great-monument-of-the-baby-boomers
  • However, regarding Lucas bowing out of producer role for a new generation of Star Wars films, one snarky reviewer at Reason.com noted: “As aging boomers such as Hillary Clinton (aged 68), Donald Trump (69), and Jeb Bush (62) desperately try to become the next president, Lucas has abdicated his throne and graciously allowed younger generations to take control of his prized possession, the most beloved and valuable property in the history of popular culture.”

I noted some deep clefts or wrinkles in Harrison Ford, not unlike one I’ve been noticing on my own face. (How terribly young he looks here!)

StarWarsHarrisonFord

I noticed how he ran like an older man—like my husband or me. I admired Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia’s (now General Leia) still classic good looks in a face with noticeable wrinkles setting in.

StarWarsPrincessLeia

The normal response to such stark reminders of the passing of time which no one escapes (and other movies have shown us we don’t WANT to escape getting older) is either embrace it (even the stars age and people still love them) or denial (shall I do plastic surgery and Botox to avoid looking older as long as I can?).

GrandmaEdited

Newest grandson, 2016.

I hope I don’t have to tell you which choice I’ll take. I’m so glad for a husband who loves even the way I look now.

Not a bad take away on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

***

Does seeing aging movie, TV, politicians, or music stars still rocking it–doing their thing–depress or impress you? 

Have you followed the Star Wars movies? What did you think of The Force Awakens? 

***

If you enjoy movies and movie reviews written from the perspective of various Mennonite/Anabaptist Christian critics, head over to ThirdWay.com and sign up for timely weekly reviews.  

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18 Comments
  1. Melodie, I’ve held out against seeing this movie. Mary Ann Brusset (Spirituality and Practice website/reviewer) nailed one of the reasons why: it’s dualistic. I know that there will be good guys and bad guys. And I know who will win.

    Despite that fact, and my unease about the damage that narrative does in our global culture, I probably will see this film. It’s too important to ignore.

    I appreciate the babyboomer lens you offer here, since aging is the new subject I am tackling in my own writing. However, if I saw the original film, it made little impression on me. I know all the characters from just living in the US and being a mom in the 70s and 80s.

    So, I’m going to the theater. Thanks for this nudge. I might even go to Youtube to find the best scenes in the original so that I can compare.

    And for the reminder at the end that when we embrace our own aging, we can find deeper joy than we imagined possible in our youth.

    • I did think of the topics you’re exploring regarding aging as I wrote this; now in re-reading my own post, I realized that I touched on your blog topic today: youthful dreams. I feel like I have lost some of the tendency to dream and daydream–or even play–so much work to get done! That movie was the first we’d gone to in over a year. The movie certainly set me to reflecting on my life in the interim from 1977 to now. So for me, it was more about that then the good guys and the bad guys. Thanks for stirring my thoughts further, Shirley!

  2. First of all, congratulations on that new grand-baby who had the good sense to arrive before the blizzard.

    You have so much here; it’s hard to know where to start. My memory from the 1977 Star Wars was Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia with two neat coils of braids behind her ears and the horror of Darth Vader. I’m with you in movie taste, steering clear of “blood and gore” and boredom. Our grandson Ian, the most theatrically inclined, likes to dress up as Darth Vader. He’d be enamored with a Darth Vader humidifier!

    Thank you for introducing me to WITH, a publication I know nothing about having left Mennonite land earlier. Your daughter writes stellar movie reviews too, some of which I trace from your Facebook page. By the way, I usually like Anthony Lane’s The New Yorker reviews.

    You asked about the trend to cast aging actors in movie roles. I approve. Diane Keaton, who claims to have had no work done (?) never seems to age, but Maggie Smith’s and Judi Dench’s wrinkles and sags are quite noticeable, yet they continue to deliver the goods. Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford are still huge box office draws. And I admire Julian Fellowes for staging a late-in-life marriage with Mrs. Hughes and Carson tying the (rather chaste) not in a recent episode. Great post, Melodie!

    • I thought they should have named the grandbaby Jonas. 🙂 There will probably be some born in the storm who are named that.

      Yes, I’m glad Carrie Fisher lost the two braids–and I’m sure older kids would think a Darth Vader humidifier would be cool. (About a year ago, my oldest daughter finally took her Star Wars light saber with her to her new home after storing it at Mom’s and Dad’s forever. So she was definitely a fan of all that!)

      Did they tie a not or a knot? 🙂 But thanks for all these wonderful additions and examples of aging actors still active.

      • I discovered the naughty error too late. That’s the thing about commenting – can’t change mistakes unless they are on one’s own blog. I do occasionally correct errors on others’ comments behind the scenes – ha!

  3. This post is beyond the movie itself. The message here is that we all tend to become nostalgic about the past, sometimes painting it in bright colors it does not deserve and mostly keeping pleasant memories and discarding others that might not have been pleasant. I like this theme mostly because my two oldest daughters are aging baby boomers and I have been writing for this audience.

    • You are correct the thoughts the movie brought to mind go way behind good and evil and adventures. Your two daughters are aging baby boomers. Wow!–Sounds like you are doing well at whatever age you are. I just listened to the little podcast interview on your blog or website or what remains of it, about your caregiving. Another fact of life for us as we age. Thanks for connecting here, Ann.

  4. Athanasia permalink

    I don’t plan on seeing this movie as it does not interest me. I’ve never seen any of the others, either. I am familiar with them through references in media, clips on TV but I don’t care for the violence and killing and the crazy fast action. Some of my children may have seen them, but if so I have heard nothing from them, good or bad. When I was in college the Star Wars 2 was in the theater (Empire Strikes Back…I looked it up in my movie guide to make sure of the correct one). I remember long lines, hearing other students saying they had gone to it over and over again.

    I don’t know anything about Carrie Fisher, though I have seen a few movies with Harrison Ford. I did enjoy the movie SABRINA though it was not as good as the Audrey Hepburn/Humphrey Bogart original. We also saw the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in which he played a very humorous character too.

    I don’t see why an actor or actress can’t act as long as they want too. If they have talent, that will not disappear with age. I don’t see why any one would want to be in politics as they seem to age faster than the general population. We don’t follow popular music though I do like folk. I am particularly fond of Peter, Paul and Mary. I can watch their specials on PBS repeatedly. Pete Seeger, too.

  5. Athanasia, I like your honesty and not “buttering the blogger up” with glowing comments. 🙂 (Which happens on some blogs.) If you have not seen any of the other Star Wars movies (other than Empire Strikes Back) you probably wouldn’t enjoy this either. I don’t understand how people love to watch movies repeatedly–certainly a repeat of a favorite now and then is fun, but I always feel like I have other things I’d like to do!

    I agree about politics aging you–wow, look at Pres. Obama. He certainly has gotten grey hair! Aww… yes, the Peter Paul and Mary specials are fun! Thanks for commenting!

    • Athanasia permalink

      No, I didn’t see Empire Strikes Back, I just remember the phenomenon of it.

  6. Caro-Claire Wiles permalink

    I have never been a fan of Star Wars or Star Trek but I did find your writing on the original and the new one to be interesting and I have shared it on my FB because I know I have many friends who do love it all and will likely read it too;
    PS
    I am a big fan of the Peter, Paul and Mary specials as I had all their records from that era.
    I especailly liked their 50th anniversary one on PBS with the memories of Mary.

    • Athanasia permalink

      I saw Mary Travers in 1981 or 1982 in Milwaukee. She was wonderful.

      • Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

        I followed them practically from the beginning of their trio but never saw them live

      • Athanasia permalink

        Oh, CaroClaire, we were in the front row, probably 10 feet from her. Everything about her was just beautiful, her personality, music, and of course her hair. Did you see the special with her funeral?? That could have been the 50th. I always look forward to the PBS fundraiser season as I know they will show PPM specials.

        ps I wanted to reply to your reply but there was no reply button so I replied to my reply, does that make sense? I hope you see this.

      • Caro-Claire Wiles permalink

        Hello again Athanasia I am seeing your response and here is my return
        We do not get to a lot of concerts but when we do, we always try for the front row or as close as possable.
        We live in Canada and I do not remmber if Peter ,Paul and Mary ever came there.
        Probably if they did, it would have been in their early days and concert prices were likely too expensive for us in those days.
        I have seen their 50th anniversary PBS special about a half a dozen times though!

        Another favorite group of ours is Celtic Woman . I have follwedthem since thioer very 1st pBS concert They have beem to Canada a few times and we have seen them 3 or 4 times . They are coming again in June and I am hoping we can get good seats for that one.

  7. Love the little back and forth of Mary Travers love here! I assume you two (Athanasia and Caro-Claire) do not know each other either except through blogging comments. Happiness. 🙂

  8. Caro-Claire Wiles permalink

    Have just chatted again with Athanasia re our earlier conversaion and you are right .
    We have only met here through your comments ! Hugs

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