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Obi-Wan Kenobi himself warned against ‘Star Wars’ obsession

Alec Guinness (who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy), recalling a fan encounter:

A sweet-faced boy of twelve told me proudly that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times… Looking into the boy’s eyes, I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form; I guessed that one day, they would explode… I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy-world of second-hand childish banalities.

In this excerpt from his memoir, Guinness instructs the young Star Wars enthusiast never to watch the films again. The actor feared that the boy would “mature” into a man-child, still obsessed with a shallow children’s movie.

Of course, millions of similar “lads” (and lasses), now in their “thirties” (and forties), will eagerly revisit this “fantasy-world of second-hand childish banalities” when The Force Awakens premieres tomorrow. Sir Alec would likely disapprove. Even before production wrapped on “A New Hope,” Guinness was deriding its “rubbish dialogue.” In the decades that followed, the late actor eventually grew to despise the franchise altogether.

And he had a point. Some extreme Star Wars fans do lose track of reality in their love for that “galaxy far, far away.” Check out this fake commercial from last week’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ episode; it ridicules grown men who collect kids’ action figures. Or recall another SNL sketch, in which William Shatner (Captain Kirk himself) tells obsessive Trekkies to “Get a life!” These parodies make us chuckle, but they also reflect the pathological fixations of some hardcore sci-fi devotees.

Of course, I probably shouldn’t cast stones here. I’ve written more blog posts on Star Wars and Star Trek than any other topics. “Second-hand childish banalities” are apparently my cup of tea.

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Vicarious wonder

Late last week, there was a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in joy. Why? Disney unveiled a beautifully-edited, emotional, spoiler-light trailer for the upcoming Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens. Unlike the first promo (which starred only unknown newcomers), this latest promo features several fan favorites, including Luke Skywalker and R2-D2. The trailer also boasts arresting visuals: a decayed, shipwrecked Star Destroyer. Darth Vader’s iconic mask, warped and scarred by his cremation. And, of course, a fleeting glimpse of Han Solo and Chewbacca (pictured above).

The franchise’s diehard fans lost their collective shit when the trailer hit the web. After all, they have a lot riding on The Force Awakens. The disastrous prequels broke nerds’ hearts; they’re relying on Episode VII to set things right. “Help us, J.J. Abrams,” geek fandom pleads. “You’re our only hope.” The trailer gives them reason to believe that Star Wars might be good again.

To understand the fans’ fervor, watch a few of the many live reactions published to YouTube since the trailer’s release. In each video, someone watches the teaser for the first time. Geeks’ eyes widen with wonder when Luke’s voiceover begins. Enthralled forty-year-olds pump their fists as the Millenium Falcon soars by. Enraptured fans weep when Han appears.

Fan Reactions
Fan reactions to Han Solo’s return, via ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer 2 Reaction Mashup’ on YouTube.

I love these reaction videos. Each offers an opportunity to relive the experience of watching the trailer for the very first time. The only way to recover that “trailer virgin” wonder is vicariously—through someone else’s eyes. Each viewer’s enthusiasm affirms and justifies my own, and the fanbase’s deep feelings remind me just how seminal this franchise is for geek culture.

These videos also make me excited to share my pop culture addictions with my daughter. She’s six weeks old right now, so it’ll be a while. But someday she’ll watch Star Wars for the very first time. When she does, I’ll be watching her. Will she gasp in horror when she learns Darth Vader’s true identity—like these adorable kids?[1] Will she cry when Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise? Will reading The Hobbit inspire sketches of Bag End and Rivendell? I can’t wait to find out. I’ll never visit Middle-Earth or Hogwarts or Tatooine again for the first time. But she will, and I get to escort her.

We love watching others—family, friends, or strangers—learn to love what we love.[2]


Finally, here’s a parody of these fan reaction videos, featuring cut-in footage of Matthew McConaughey from Interstellar:


  1. For more kids’ reaction to the climactic Empire reveal, see this compilation.  ↩
  2. Maybe, just maybe, this will keep home theaters from killing the multiplex. The shared experience is what makes the cinema magical—not screen size or comfy chairs or artery-clogging butter. We relish being surrounded by others encountering the same intoxicating story. Hearing them gasp and laugh and cry enhances and augments our own wonder.  ↩