There are very few things that I have known about myself for as long as I can remember. My name is Dayton. I live in California and I love to read. I love my family and pizza. And boy do I ever love Star Wars.
I do not remember my first rendezvous with the original trilogy, but it sure must have been something. I spent my whole childhood dueling my brother with lightsabers, watching the movies (and cartoons), playing the video games, listening to the soundtracks, even reading the expanded universe books. In 2005, when Episode III: Revenge of the Sith came out, I had a Star Wars-themed birthday party, and it was the coolest. But the moment was bittersweet: I had spent years waiting for this movie, and now that the saga was over I had nothing to look forward to. All my future held in store was, like, romance, intellectual stimulation, meeting exciting new people, quality time with family or whatever, and then I would die. No more Star Wars!
So you can imagine my excitement when Disney announced that they had bought Lucasfilm and would be bringing an Episode VII to theaters in summer 2015, with two further sequels planned for 2017 and 2019. You’d assume I already set up a countdown clock to the midnight premiere, that I can hardly wait to return to this cinematic world I love so much. You’d expect that I put on my old Darth Maul Halloween costume from 1st grade and wandered the streets proclaiming the good news. But that’s not what happened, because there’s another side to the story.
I saw Episode I: The Phantom Menace twice in theaters as an excited six-year-old and was obsessed. It quickly became my seventh most-watched VHS (behind the first five Land Before Time movies and the Land Before Time Sing-Along—I guess I just like movie titles with Roman numerals). But something curious was happening even then: I almost never started at the beginning. I would start with the podrace, then fast-forward to the climax, where four battles go on at once. Even as a young’un, something in me recognized that the movie had no soul. The whiz-flash-bang effects were spectacular, and I owe the movie for countless hours of entertainment throughout my life. But the plot really wasn’t that interesting.
Attack of the Clones was even worse. Something in me knew that Yoda shouldn’t be flipping around with a lightsaber; that wasn’t his style. I still loved it, but it felt (and still feels) strangely artificial. Revenge of the Sith, I believed, was a return to form. In an 8th grade PowerPoint presentation I declared it the third best movie ever. But its spot on my list was about to plummet. Sometime that summer a few of my friends decided it was a good idea to marathon all six movies in one day, starting with The Phantom Menace. Almost immediately we found ourselves incapable of paying attention. It wasn’t until the original trilogy came up, after several unfocused hours of prequels, that we began to gravitate toward the screen. Ah, these were the true masterpieces. Each Star Wars entry beyond the originals was nothing but a half-baked, creatively uninspired piece of cinematic drivel.
So you can imagine the rage I felt when Disney announced Episode VII. “The originals are perfect, why keep ruining a once-beautiful legacy!” I cried to anyone who would listen. “This present-day business transaction is retroactively making my childhood memories less fond! Greedo didn’t shoot first!!” But this also is not how I reacted.
If not the bitter fury of a disillusioned former diehard, if not the sweet ecstasy of a passionate fanboy, what was it that I did feel? Strangely, very little. I think it’s a smart decision for all involved parties. I think there’s a chance the movie could be good, especially considering they got Academy-Award-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt on board. Arndt also wrote Toy Story 3, so he has experience with franchises that are all about the toys (zing!). But still I find myself weirdly apathetic.
Where did the flame go? I once loved Star Wars unabashedly, unequivocally, and even when it was far from perfect (Attack of the Clones, I’m looking at you) I still cared for it. It was a big part of my life and I’ll always have a place in my heart for it, but why is that place now so small?
I found the answer in Annie Hall, a film released a mere 35 days before the original Star Wars. While history remembers both movies as classics (they are ranked 35th and 13th in the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the top 100 American movies, respectively), it is the former romantic comedy that won the 1977 Best Picture Oscar. The Academy is often wrong, and when I first saw Annie Hall a few years back I decided this was one of those times. Not that Woody Allen’s movie wasn’t very good, it just sure as hell was no Star Wars.
I recently re-watched Annie Hall for my American Cinema class and I had to admit a few things. I had liked to think I was very mature in high school, so I assumed I hadn’t changed too much from then to now. I no longer fully believe that. My newfound connection to Woody Allen convinced me that I am in a very different place today. And more than that, I had to admit that I now like Annie Hall more than Star Wars.
George Lucas’ space fantasy is pure and genuine, but also exciting and bold. In a way I identify it with my younger years—in those days I went to church and performed well in school, but I also practiced martial arts and was a bit of a daredevil (literally none of that is true of me today). I saw myself in Luke Skywalker: honest, ambitious, impatient, good-hearted, a little naïve. Interestingly, it is easy to find many of these traits in Annie Hall herself. It is slightly harder to find them in myself now.
The buoyant optimism of my youth is now tempered with a healthy cynicism. Where Luke and Annie are impulsive and direct, I am wracked by chronic indecision. I spend even more time wrapped up in my own mind now than I did before, which is impressive because I was already a pretty spacey kid. These changes aren’t total and I don’t mean to suggest I am some jaded curmudgeon. I simply have noticed a fundamental difference between the two movies (namely, that the conflict of Star Wars is physical, whereas the conflict of Annie Hall is mental) and, as a creature of thought more than action, I have realized Annie Hall is more my type of movie than Star Wars.
Annie Hall, as Allen’s protagonist, Alvy, tells us in the opening scene, does not end with a happily ever after. But in a way that’s for the best. Toward the finale, there is a montage of various scenes of the couple together taken from earlier in the movie; some were scenes of stress but most were happy memories. I felt like I should be sad, looking back at a good thing that had died. Instead, I felt a detached fondness. Things had changed, but that was okay. Watching Allen’s masterpiece helped me come to terms with a number of things, but most generally with growing up.
In another scene near the end, Annie and Alvy get coffee and catch up—they still enjoy each other’s company, but have begun to move on. Annie was wonderful. Being a child was wonderful. Star Wars is wonderful, and I can still appreciate and enjoy it immensely. But the flame is gone, because I am not who I was.
Where exactly does this leave me? I do not look down upon those who would put Star Wars above Annie Hall, or at least I feel strongly that I shouldn’t. But I no longer personally connect to interplanetary space wizards as much I apparently do to over-analytical neurotics. I will still watch the hell out of Star Wars: Episode VII when it comes out, but I don’t expect anything life-changing.
You know what, though? I’m proud of myself for maturing. I judge things now based on their own merit, not just based on their name brand. It would be silly of me to care about Episode VII for the sole reason that it takes place in the same world as a movie I used to love.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go knit my Hobbit costume.