Star Wars is dead, Gen-Xers. Get over it

Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. No truer words about Disney's multi-billion dollar franchise have ever been spoken. [Spoiler ahead.]

(Image: ZDNet)

[Editor's Note: Spoiler ahead.]

Something had been eating at me the last few days and I couldn't put my finger on it.

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Was it work-related stress? The usual holiday malaise? The never-ending horribleness of the daily news cycle?

And then it dawned on me: Star Wars was bothering me. Yes, The Last Jedi had gotten under my skin. I walked out of that film with a sense of anger and disappointment I'd never quite felt before.

Indeed, I also had that feeling with the previous movie The Force Awakens, but I didn't quite exit the theatre as completely and utterly pissed off about the film itself as I was with this one.

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I felt a disturbance in the Force, as if millions of fans cried out in anger.

The first truly great franchised sci-fi/fantasy property

Now that I have had time to digest my feelings and think about it analytically, I understand why I am angry. And I suspect I know why many people in my social circle are angry about it as well.

Star Wars occupies a lofty position in our popular culture. It's a uniquely American phenomenon, and its influence is all over the entertainment industry, particularly sci-fi and fantasy.

It is the first truly great franchised sci-fi/fantasy property and the first to spawn a multi-billion dollar industry in terms of merchandising and licensed products.

True, Star Trek came first with a television debut in 1966, but it wasn't until after the first Star Wars came out in 1977 that Star Trek -- and the other large franchises that emerged afterward, such as the various superhero films from Marvel and DC, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and juvenile series such as The Hunger Games (and its various dystopian copycats targeted toward young adults) -- really came into their own.

Change in Star Trek is accepted as the norm.

Star Wars is also unique because it has endured without reboots. It is a continuous, contiguous storyline with a vast canon of material, mostly crafted by a single creator, George Lucas, who liberally borrowed themes from the swashbuckling films of the 1930s, westerns, and even samurai movies he saw as a child and young adult to create his cultural masterpiece.

Star Trek also has canon, but it is scattered. It's not as tightly connected, it is inconsistent, and it has been influenced by many more writers with a lot of retconning to compensate for so many people getting involved in the mix. It doesn't have a well-formed "mythos," per se.

While the characters are important, the overall vision and mission statement of that show is what has held the franchise together. Change in Star Trek is accepted as the norm.

We may grumble about it, but it's easy for us to move on from one iteration to another, especially if the storylines are good and the characters engage us. And it's television, so there is much more expository material to reflect on.

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When you mess with our family dynamic, it hurts

For those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy of films, that is our canon. That is our franchise. The actors in those original films are our heroes. In some respects, we think of these people and characters as extensions of family.

Are you getting uncomfortable yet, my Gen-Xers?

The actors are old enough to be parental figures for many of us original fans.

So, when you mess with our family dynamic, it hurts.

We were children when we saw the original films. I was eight years old when I saw the first film in its opening run in the theatre. Star Wars was very much a product of the 1970s, just as Generation X is -- and our memories of the movie are also mixed with our memories of childhood, as rose-colored as it may be.

Over the last 20 years, Gen X has felt like it has received the short end of the stick. That society stopped giving a crap about us -- even though we ended up doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

Now, many of us are approaching or just hit age 50. We are in our prime earning years, and a number of us are becoming grandparents.

Our adult children now have their own kids to bring to see Star Wars and to buy them Star Wars toys.

Are you getting uncomfortable yet, my Gen-Xers? I've only just begun.

The second wave of Star Wars films that emerged in the late 90s -- the prequels -- were an opportunity for us to share our enthusiasm of the original films with our children, who were finally old enough to appreciate them.

We endlessly debated the order in which to see them: The prequels first, or the originals first? It was a fun exercise.

The origin stories of the original characters built up the mythos and answered a number of questions we had in the back of our minds for decades.

Perhaps we didn't agree entirely about the casting, character choices, and storyline George Lucas created for those films (Jar Jar!), but for the most part, we enjoyed them. It filled in a backstory we were always interested in, and yet, it still felt familiar.

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We can't be so naive

I think many of us Gen-Xers would have been fine with the series ending with the prequels. At the end of Return of the Jedi, the Empire was vanquished. The Skywalker saga was done. With the prequels, we now understood Vader's origins, the fall from grace, the final redemption.

That was as much closure as we all really needed, and we could imagine privately how the characters would live out their lives in peace afterward. It didn't need further exposition.

But we can't be so naive. Star Wars was bought by Disney for $4 billion in 2012. You don't spend that kind of money on a franchise without expecting a huge return on investment.

Disney doesn't do anything half-assed when it comes to marketing and merchandising. As successful as he was, George Lucas was a rank amateur in this regard by comparison. He wasn't going to take Star Wars to the next level. He was done with it, so he cashed it in.

Gen X is a freaking rounding error of potential sales by comparison to this demographic.

The original fans, the Gen-Xers, who are now hitting their fifth decade of life, are not going to spend big bank on new Star Wars playsets. OK, maybe we'll get a couple of Tervis cups, iPhone cases, T-shirts, etc. Guilty as charged.

But the big money is to be made on the millennials and their children. Gen X is a freaking rounding error of potential sales in comparison to this demographic.

But you cannot introduce a new generation of buyers into an existing franchise of merchandise without context. The Force Awakens served its purpose of introducing the new characters and plot line while tying it into the old.

To move forward, Disney had to tie up the loose ends and started killing off characters from the old story arc, so it can really get the cash machine moving with the new merchandise.

For the mouse has theme parks in Florida to build and action figures to pump out of molds in China by the millions.

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We have to say goodbye

Unfortunately, in real life, shortly after the film's release, we lost Carrie Fisher -- so seeing the way her character was dealt with in The Last Jedi was that much more painful and an insult to injury for many of us.

I am not going to go into spoiler territory, but I think a lot of us Gen-Xers are not happy with how it ends for Luke, either. It doesn't reflect on the character well, in my opinion, and it doesn't give us full closure. And we'll never get closure with Leia.

But, let's face it, the actors were getting on in years. You can't have a transition to a new plot line and new characters without including them somehow. So, we have to say goodbye.

It hurts because the original actors are in in their mid-sixties or older (Harrison Ford, for example, is two years older than my father), and we are now of the age where our own parents are touching their twilight years, so all of this hits us right in the feels.

The millennials and Gen Ys will never completely understand why we are so upset. They don't have context.

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Let the past die

One of the major themes in The Last Jedi is letting things go. Kylo Ren actually poses this eventuality to Rey in their ultimate confrontation -- in the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke's flagship.

He says to Rey, quite bluntly, in his trademark emo style, "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to."

This is not just a maxim for the characters in the film. That's the only way Disney can bring in an entirely new generation of fans, for decades to come, and to capitalize on a $4 billion investment.

For us Gen-Xers, who filled George Lucas's coffers over the decades, Star Wars is dead. It is finished. Our fandom and our emotional investment are in the past. You can't go home again.

It is being killed off because of a business decision, one that you can argue is being rightfully made due to how much money is at stake. We are being discarded.

Except, of course, for when the holiday season comes, and we have to buy our grandchildren Star Wars toys -- just as our own parents and grandparents did for us.

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