The character, the one I liked most – and no, not one from Rogue One – but instead from the Peanuts Colorform Star Snoopy set, had slid down, too far, far too far, into the abyss of the baseboard heating unit. Swallowed and unable to be retrieved, it was – simply – gone.
There in the hall crouching on the runner rug, I can still see myself, and yet, I cannot recall who the character was. If my child fingers were pointless and dull in their rescue attempts, the character’s identity has also slipped through time and my memory’s grasp.
I certainly could not have understood the legal circumstances surrounding Star Snoopy, a product that drew on the popularity of the 1977 release of George Lucas’s Star Wars, but was not affiliated with the franchise. Snoopy & Co. had never quite managed to get around to licensing the rights to use the Star Wars name from Lucasfilm, Ltd. Even if they had, to my 2- or 3-year old mind, it was of little consequence. Star Snoopy’s starships, characters dressed like they might be at home in a galaxy far far away, and Snoopy himself brandishing a lightsaber-like sword existed in the same cosmos as any toy that was officially licensed, such as my Jawa sandcrwaler playset made by Kenner, which back in the late ‘70s, was not unlike Colorforms; it was also largely made of cardboard.
Distinctions like these would become clearer by the time I had outgrown my Boba Fett Underoos. For instance, I would graduate from the star-camp of the Cantina theme to Meco’s LP of galactic funk and their disco-spin on John Williams Star Wars score. I had read all the Timothy Zahn books and even the Brian Daley ones. By my late teens I was, in short, more than a passing fan.
Late high school became early college, and with it came a gradual shift in my thinking about Star Wars. While the franchise wasn’t quite the endless juggernaut of merchandise, memes, and synergized media it is today, it had reached a tipping point. Two forces, so to speak, signified the shift: the first was Weezer, the second was Kevin Smith.
Guitarist Brian Bell did wear a t-shirt with a Stormtrooper helmet on it in the “Say It Ain’t So” video, but Weezer didn’t exactly wave a banner for Ewoks and Millennium Falcons. It was something deeper that posited an affinity with their music and Star Wars. A dust covered Tauntaun or Rancor never gets name-checked with Kitty Pryde, D&D, and Kiss, but it is hard to imagine the nostalgia-cavern that Rivers Cuomo paints in “In the Garage” without one of these hidden in its recess. If Cuomo never drew a blatant connection, the pop that the Nerf Herders of the world would mimeograph from Weezer’s song-book would. It was an outlook that Cuomo and Lucas shared in their sky-gazing flair for heart-on-sleeve melodrama.
Then there was Smith’s Clerks, which shook Linklater’s Slacker free of its art-house, proceeded to push its vibe through the most modicum of weed-hazed plots, and made Star Wars into a cultural touchstone. If Weezer dealt in an economy of nerd-sheik that became a rally cry for Star Wars fans, Clerks’s economy was an indie-snapshot for every post-high school conversation that skirted pop culture and philosophy in gas station snack shops and in a world of endless retail jobs. Suddenly talking about Wedge Antilles wasn’t something that happened in a bubble but a currency with real monetary value. Harvey Weinstein may or may not have been aware of this when he backed Smith, but Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, and Edgar Wright definitely were with Spaced.
Prequels, reboots, were all but inevitable. And… for the last 20 years or so, adrift in their ebb and flow, Star Wars, for me, has felt a bit ‘blah.’ At its deafening pinnacle, I managed to miss even seeing The Force Awakens in the theaters. When I finally saw it on Blu-ray, it was as I anticipated, a suspect movie of platitudes and back-slapping fan-service nodding away to origin and canon. It is either telling or entirely forgettable that J.J. Abrams, an ersatz Spielberg, was its director.
Rogue One, however, was very different. The characters were new and unknown, the action was gripping, the film was dark, Darth Vadar was a badass, the retro-future was dirty and broken, and if everyone donned ‘70s hairstyles and clothes like they were in a science-fiction period piece, it was because they were. Unlike too many of the other Star Wars outings since the original trilogy, Rogue One maintained a certain distance from its source material. The CG actors aside, who will most likely go down as an inevitable misstep, Rogue One is like Episode IV’s Cantina, an intergalactic watering hole whose mystique is born more from the characters who remain cloaked and hidden rather than those who are seen. Even in ’77 Greedo looked like talent in a borrowed rubber suit from a Corman set.
The Cantina’s allure never lay with the Greedo the audience saw, but in all the imagined denizens that Greedo’s presence suggested. It is suggestion and the ability to suggest that has been lost in the post Star Wars era, which has been fixated on filling out, coloring in, and shining a light into every nook and cranny of every frame of the original trilogy’s respective Cantinas. Does Boba Fett really need a past? If the reason why Anakin fell to the Dark Side was confusing enough to Lucas himself that he partly invented the answer in post, did it ever need to be told in the first place? A planet full of Wookies – going once, twice? If we have a winner, let’s bring on the planet full of Greedos so Star Wars can officially be a piece of shit.
In a time when the only horizon is that of the endless franchise, the Star Wars story bible might as well be in a limited edition blister pack, because the story, which was never the reason why anyone ever responded to Episode IV in the first place, has come to have the aftertaste of calculated packaging. This is most apparent in The Force Awakens, whose message that we are doomed to repeat the plot-lines of our originals feels like Joseph Campbell’s last laugh.
To date, Rogue One is the rare entry into the canon that posits alternative mythic possibilities. It is a film that allows its own mystery and mystique to breathe and remain fluid, while also serving as a meditation on the limits of nostalgia – which is less an arena than it is a hall of mirrors – and is disjointed, ominous, and half-remembered. The greatest Star Wars moments were always the lost ones. They were, and are, the characters who did not get developed, the ones who got forgotten, buried, and became misplaced memories spiraling down into the baseboards and heating units of time.