On Tuesday, I got to see the new Star Wars movie, Attack of the Clones.
There were some strict rules. No guests. No telling everyone about it. It was at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, so definitely no post-movie bar hopping. I'm not even sure if I'm allowed to be writing about it this so soon before the movie opens. (Next Thursday, in case you don't give a damn about the movie.) I'm wondering if at any moment, troops from Skywalker Ranch are going to bust in and flamethrow my computer.
I promise no spoilers. I'm not going to tell you what happens in the movie or ruin anything for you (I hope). I'm not even going to tell you that Billy Dee Williams has a cameo in the movie as his Empire Strikes Back character's father, Blasto Calrissian.
What I will tell you, though, is a little bit about the experience.
I wasn't a big fan of The Phantom Menace.
Like a lot of people my age, I grew up on Star Wars. I obsessively played with the toys, grew up on the video games, ate the various breakfast cereals.
Going to see The Phantom Menace, feeling the disappointment of it that only grew after leaving the theater and over time, I felt like a little part of my childhood died.
That's awful and overdramatic, but it's also a little bit true. It's not George Lucas' fault. He tried to make a movie people would like and, on a lot of levels, he failed. He didn't do that on purpose. He tried. And it didn't work out. And those of us who had made Star Wars part of our little personal mythologies were stung as adults by seeing this film that was, well, ordinary. And not even as good as other movies we'd greeted with much less fanfare more recently.
So when word came down that Attack of the Clones would be darker, better and more complex than Phantom, I was excited again. But that excitement was tempered with a kind of weary, guarded optimism, the mark of a cynic who was once a fantasy idealist.
So, I go to Attack of the Clones. I sit through the two hours and 20 minutes of film. I walk out, a little bleary eyed from all the sensory overload.
And honestly? I have no idea what I thought of it. I couldn't review it for you, spoilers and all, if I tried.
I found myself picking it apart as it went, judging this bit of dialogue, or gauging that special effect for authenticity. I found myself thinking about the actors in the film, and how they compared to the actors in the original trilogy, and how the story meshed with the mythology we grew up with. I thought about the pacing of the film. I wondered where I'd seen some of the new actors before. I kept wondering when Samuel L. Jackson was going to kick some ass.
In short, I found myself thinking about everything but the film itself. I found it impossible to lose myself to the film. It comes prepackaged with so much baggage, both pop cultural and emotional, and so much hype (even after the minimized expectations after Phantom), that it's nearly impossible to disengage from all that and just enjoy the film for the ride that it is.
Not that the film helps that much. Without saying whether I liked the film or not, I'll just say that it takes a long time to get to the meat of the film, the last 30-45 minutes where things really pick up and the action kicks in. Unwisely, the film gives you a lot of time to ponder whether this actor playing Anakin is any good; whether Ewan really sounds like Alec Guiness; whether you're enjoying this more or less than Spider-Man.
I found myself an adult at this movie, which seems to be contrary to how it's supposed to make you feel. When I finally did give myself over, enjoying the eye candy on the screen, it seemed like it had taken too long. And that there's only one movie left in the series to pick up where that fleeting feeling left off.
The really sad part is that I don't know if that's the fault of the film or of my growing up. Will hard-core fans who even loved Phantom Menace and kids who didn't grow up on The Empire Strikes Back even think about these things? Will they be able to suspend their disbelief much faster than me and jibe with George Lucas' intentions?
I wish I knew.
Parts of me, the ones who in ordinary circumstances, would have stood in line and paid $7 to see it, felt completely satisfied and very pleased. It was better than Phantom, definitely.
But the part of me, the one that grew up, is almost afraid to look back at the older Star Wars films now, fearing that they'll all have lost their magic together.
The Bridges of Madison County were much more fun when we used them to spit loogeys over.