As I sit down in Harpa’s Eldborg hall to listen to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra play the music from Star Wars, all sorts of childhood memories, both pleasant and unpleasant, come flowing back. Having committed most of the dialogue of the first three films to memory, I spent much of my childhood dreaming of the day when those first strains would herald a new Star Wars film.
Unlike most childhood fantasies, this one did in fact come true. I was 23 when Lucas finally saw fit to release a new Star Wars film, and I spent many subsequent weeks in denial. “No,” I reasoned with myself, “‘The Phantom Menace’ cannot be the worst film ever made, making a mockery of all those vivid memories of my formative years.” I lost the argument. It was. It did.
A childhood re-imagined by Star Wars
Growing up in Great Britain in the ‘80s, I was saturated with Action Force figures (or dolls, if you must), Airfix models and miniature soldiers. I was also a regular subscriber to Battle Magazine, wherein campaigns from the North Atlantic to North Africa were fought and refought week after week in glorious black and white.
The only country with comparative nostalgia was Russia, where kids would dutifully learn to say “Hände hoch” (“hands down”) when pretending to surround battalions of Germans. In China, children would repeat “Yes, yes,” when simulating the bad guys, those imperialist pig dogs hell bent on removing North Korea from their sphere of influence. Meanwhile, in the United States, neither World War II nor The Cold War needed to be won; it was the Wild West that needed to be settled.
It may disappoint you to learn that Icelandic kids did not play Vikings vs. Unarmed Irish Monks (although hardly more preposterous than Cowboys vs. Indians). Apart from the obvious brevity of such games, it was all too long ago and we were thoroughly in the Anglo-American sphere of influence anyway. Instead, we would adopt easily pronounced names such as Jim or John and take on imaginary German troops.
I can still more or less remember when these fun filled playtimes based on the worst atrocities in human history (which at least had some educational value) came to an end. It was the early ‘80s and the reason was Star Wars. Before long, re-enactments of the D-Day landings and battles of El-Alamein were replaced by skirmishes between Wookies and Ewoks.
My generation may have been the first to be so afflicted, but not the last. Today, George Lucas follows you from birth to puberty (or far longer, if puberty for you does not involve meeting girls), from your first Star Wars Lego play set to the action figures (or dolls, if you must), cartoons, computer games and other miscellaneous products.
The world belongs to George Lucas
There is something obscene, or perhaps apt, about listening to a conductor of a respected symphony orchestra speaking about that time thousands of years ago when the Old Republic ruled the galaxy. And it is even more so when you realise that this probably strikes more common chords amongst the audience than anything that really happened. This, then, is the fabric on which our civilization is currently based.
And when Boba Fett and Darth Vader appear to drag said conductor off stage, one cannot but wonder if this is the ultimate expression of post-modernism, of high art being high-jacked by pop culture to create some terrible bastard hybrid. And as always when confronted with a possible case of po-mo, one must ask: Is this art, or are we all being made fools of?
Perhaps the best answer is: Who cares? For this music really is great. Played in chronological order (of storyline rather than movies), we get “Duel of the Fates” (by far the best thing about ‘The Phantom Menace’), the Wagnerian grandeur of “The Imperial March” and the jazz stylings of the Cantina song. The music is actually more varied than you realise when watching the films themselves, and there is no new CGI to detract from the original brilliance. Thankfully, there is also no “Ode to Jar-Jar,” and even a song about the Ewoks manages not to be irritating.
In the end, as so often with Lucas, all is forgiven. We may all be getting dumber, but at least we’re having fun. I can’t help but look forward to seeing the opening text crawl across the screen to that glorious score in the next Star Wars film, due in 2015. And if I ever have a son, no doubt I will buy him his first Lego X-Wing. The world belongs to George Lucas now. We just live in it.