It's hard to express in words the excitement I felt in the mid-1990s when it was announced that there would be a fourth Star Wars movie. (Here is my attempt: "Yay!" See, it didn't really work.) For weeks after the announcement, I was on a permanent high. Sure, like everyone else, when I first heard that the title would be The Phantom Menace, I had a slight moment of pause ... but, whatever! Star Wars was back.
On Tuesday, when it was announced that the long rumored and often debunked Episode VII, VIII and IX would finally be produced, I didn't really care. I wasn't happy; I wasn't angry -- I just didn't care. And I've been trying to put a finger on why.
In the mid-1990s, it was safe to call myself a "Star Wars fan." There were two movies that I loved -- Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back -- and one more, Return of the Jedi, that was "good enough." Sure, over a span of 20 years, there was also the Holiday Special, the live action Ewok Adventure specials, a couple of Saturday morning cartoons and a slew of books -- which, compared to today, isn't that much (hold that thought). When Star Wars was mentioned in the 1990s, it only meant those three movies. Today, the Star Wars franchise is so diluted, I can honestly say that I am not a Star Wars fan.
Look, The Empire Strikes Back is still my favorite movie of all time. It's the first movie that I ever saw in a theater and I was fortunate enough to interview its director, Irvin Kershner, shortly before he passed away. And of course I still love the original Star Wars (or, A New Hope if you must). Jedi is OK and, well, it's better that we don't talk about the prequels. So, add that all in with The Clone Wars animated series that I don't watch and the Expanded Universe books that I don't read ... and how can I call myself a fan of Star Wars when I only like a small percentage of the total product?
I used to make fun of Star Trek fans for its ridiculous saturation of All Known Media. Between the concurrent television series (plural) and feature films, it was just too much. (For the record: I do like Star Trek) But us Star Wars fans just had our three movies and we were happy with that. Now, the two franchises have switched places, and I think that's the reason for my ambivalence: With the announcement of at least three more movies, Star Wars is now the diluted entity, while Star Trek has consolidated itself into the J.J. Abrams movies, which feature the original group of characters that everyone loves. Yeah, let's talk about that for a bit.
Following the announcement on Tuesday, I wrote a reaction piece about the options for a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi. One option, which I doubt will be used, is to recast the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe -- Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa -- and continue their adventures. The more I think about this -- knowing that this strategy most likely won't be used -- the angrier I get . Star Trek got it right, focusing again on Kirk, Spock and McCoy. And to take it even further, it's not like Trek ever forgot the characters that got them there -- featuring the original core group in six movies. For whatever reason, Star Wars, at least in recent history, wants us to forget that Luke, Han and Leia ever existed.
No, for the past 13 years, we've gotten Anakin Skywalker. Want to know why audiences haven't latched on to Anakin quite like they latched on to Luke? Well, I know I've written this before, but, to reiterate: In the future, Anakin will abuse, then murder his wife; incinerate Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru; kill Ben Kenobi; freeze Han Solo; and sever his own son's hand. Yeah, nice guy. Oh, I forgot: he also whines a lot. Yet, this has been Star Wars for more than a decade. This is why Star Wars is no longer cool. What made Star Wars cool was Luke, Han, Leia and, as a villain, Darth Vader.
Obviously Vader can't come back, but why can't Star Wars take some notes from the new Trek and give us who we want? For crying out loud, Han Solo is one of the most popular characters ever created in movie history and we haven't seen him in action since 1983? (No, I am not counting Star Wars: Detours.) There was a magic chemistry between Luke, Han and Leia that no other Star Wars entity has been able to recreate (much like the chemistry between Kirk, Spock and McCoy). This is very hard to do. We, as an audience, care about their interactions and what eventually happens to them. If Episode VII brings us all new characters -- or even the offspring of characters that we care about -- it's just more of the same. And that's why I don't care.
In other words: I don't care about Star Wars. But I do care about Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa. Its just a shame that Star Wars no longer cares about them.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. Based on his reaction to Episode VII, he is starting to question his whole existence. You can contact him directly on Twitter.