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.]
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer on
(Image: ZDNet)

Author's note: I wrote this editorial two years ago, in December 2017, shortly after the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. After seeing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, my views on the franchise have not changed now that the Skywalker saga has come to its conclusion.

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

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. I walked out of the last two Star Wars films with a sense of anger and disappointment I'd never quite felt before.

While I also had that feeling with The Force Awakens, I didn't quite exit the theatre as completely and utterly pissed off about the film itself as I was with The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.

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 mad 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 genuinely 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. Still, 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 numerous dystopian copycats targeted toward young adults) -- really came into their own.

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 a canon, but it is scattered. It's not as tightly connected, it is inconsistent, and many more writers have influenced it 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 excellent and the characters engage us. And it's television, so there is much more expository material to reflect on.

Read also: Star Trek: Discovery continues the mission of futurism and bold social commentary | The viewer's guide to Star Trek: Discovery | Pre-Discovery: 14 unofficial Star Trek series and films (Gallery)

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 actors and the characters they play like part of our family.

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 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 for 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 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.

Read also: Best Star Wars toys and gadgets for your office

We can't be so naive

I think many of us Gen-Xers would have been OK with the prequels ending Star Wars. 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 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. Disney bought Star Wars for $4 billion in 2012. You don't spend that kind of money on a franchise without expecting a massive 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 and wasn't going to take Star Wars to the next level. He was done with it, so he cashed it in.

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 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 plotline while tying it into the old.

To move forward, Disney had to tie up loose ends and started killing off characters from the old story arc, so it can 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.

We have to say goodbye

Unfortunately, in real life, shortly after the release of the second film in the new trilogy, 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 full closure with Leia (author's note/spoiler: particularly even with the way she is dealt with in The Rise of Skywalker).

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

It hurts because the original actors are 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 parents are touching their twilight years, so all of this hits us right in the feels.

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

Read also: Which is better: 'Star Trek' or 'Star Wars'? | The Droids of Star Wars: Feel the Dark Side | 27 Star Wars goodies you can download and 3D print right now

Let the past die

One of the major themes in The Last Jedi is letting things go. Kylo Ren 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.

What are your views now that the Skywalker Saga is complete? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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