On Christmas Eve, rather than leave town and see family, I stayed put. A minor but wearying illness, one that put me on a liquid diet -- except for the alcoholic kind necessary to survive holidays -- had worn me out. Also, my mother passed last winter and even if I could make it, I wasn't up to going home without her there, not as lousy as I physically felt. Stuck in the city alone I decided to take solace at the movies just as I've always done when life sort of sucks. My no brainer choice was Star Wars. Now, I am not too much of a sci-fi geek. I don't speak Klingon, never watched Battlestar Galactica in any of its iterations, and by the third Alien movie I started rooting for the slobbery beast with too sets of teeth: anything to get Sigourney Weaver to stop scowling. Star Wars is different.
I count myself among those that felt betrayed by George Lucas long before the most hated character of all time, Jar Jar Binks, bounded into our consciousness like a Rastafarian reptilian donkey man. Even writing his name makes me shudder in a Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons sort of way. Imagine it with me, Kelsey Grammar saying "Jar Jar," in lieu of "Bart," and following it up with his staccato groan. No, my ire came much earlier, via the Ewoks, or as I thought of them: Care Bears in space. In retrospect perhaps I've been too harsh on the little guys that seemed to have been inspired by the gopher in Caddyshack. I mean, him I liked.
Maybe it was just the boy of 10 that sat beside his mom and little sister in 1977 in the 1.0 version of a multiplex at the equally new at the time concept of an indoor mall, had by 1983 been replaced by an angry young man. When the Jedi returned, I was in my junior year of high school, my dad had died, and I resented everything, including that my iconic space escape had become just another avenue to sell toys and the Ewoks a way to market to kids too young to really appreciate the spectacular awesomeness of light sabers or R2-D2's dry wit as expressed via his iconoclastic whistles and hoots. I know my fellow member of generation X, Brett Ellis, on his podcasts enjoys verbally bitch-slapping millennials too coddled to grasp sarcasm. "When you said everyone gets a trophy you meant that as a bad thing?" I can hear one cluelessly reply to his snarky jabs that I thoroughly relish. I, on the other hand, envy their clinging to an idealism that seemed to elude those of us born after the baby boom and before HBO.
When the wildly popular and acclaimed revival of South Pacific opened at Lincoln Center in 2008, they chattered on NPR and in the highbrow press about the strange spectacle of seeing New York's elite shakers being moved to tears in their pricy front orchestra seats as the global economy circled the drain and two wars still raged. Graying heads wept when confronted with what, in their innocent youth with greatest generation parents, American optimism and certainty of purpose had looked -- and in this case sounded -- like as expressed via Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Most of the plebian former dope smoking, binge drinking, underachieving, slacking children of disgruntled hippies or the buttoned up squares that hated them of my generation never saw that show. Just like no one cried when we returned to that galaxy far far away on what began for me as a very gloomy Christmas Eve. As the iconic scroll of exposition began I felt an odd but not at all unpleasant sensation over my left shoulder. One that made me smile and my neck knots loosen. I am not a believer in the supernatural per se but for the first time since her passing I felt my mom's presence. Rather than reignite my melancholy it had the opposite effect. As if she'd been gone for so many months and had, like the Obi-Wan in The Empire Strikes Back, at last returned. While I heard those around me clap and cheer, men and women my age who probably never publicly displayed affection for a flick before, I realized Star Wars is the gen-X South Pacific, our link to a simpler time. One where we weren't constantly connected, the work day had an end, everyone watched the Battle of the Network Stars or the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special -- yes it does exist -- and we prayed for an old graffiti covered wall to someday be torn down not a new one to be built.
To the director, J.J. Abrams, also a fellow gen-Xer, I say a heartfelt thank you for giving those of us with a frayed denim jacket in the back of our closets and a mix tape we no longer have any way to play back that moment. One when we sat in the dark with our moms and imagined that a boy with an electric sword really could save a world.