Video Games and the Star Wars Outsider

Video Games and the Star Wars Outsider

Bob explains the strangeness of seeing Star Wars long after playing the many games it inspired.

With the current Star Wars media onslaught blasting all of our senses, it may seem unlikely there once existed a period of time when you could remain completely ignorant of George Lucas' cinematic creation. But it's true!

Having been born at the tail-end of the first trilogy—one year before Return of the Jedi—my world debut came about a decade too late for me to be an OG Star Wars fan. So my first exposure to the trilogy came in the form of references scattered throughout several cartoons and kids' shows because—let's face it—slapping a Darth Vader-style helmet on a villain is easy visual shorthand for "bad guy." Sure, I could have rented the movies at some point, but they were never pushed on me as some life-changing thing I had to watch in the proper order—instead of being a Cultural Institution, Star Wars amounted to a handful of fun movies that were ultimately frivolous. Not until my teenage years did I ever encounter anyone who gave themselves the title "Star Wars fan."

Begun, the branding has.

This time period—roughly, post-Jedi up until the late-'90s re-release of the original trilogy—depicted those who called themselves Star Wars fans in a largely negative light. In 2015, when Star Wars characters are plastered on everything from grapes to bathroom towels, calling yourself a fan of the series is about as remarkable as saying "I like pizza!" But during Star Wars' fallow period, the infamous fanboy was viewed as a Revenge of the Nerds type with poor hygiene, zero social skills, and misplaced priorities.

If you need proof, the classic 1994 Simpsons episode "Lisa's Rival" paints a perfect portrait of just what "Star Wars fan" entailed in this age of relative obscurity for the franchise. Principal Skinner, tasked with judging the school's annual Diorama-rama, immediately tosses his credibility aside after seeing Ralph Wiggum's pathetic display: A collection of action figures from the trilogy in their original packaging. Skinner embraces them, immediately declares Wiggum the winner, and we're provided with an ideal example of just how Star Wars fans were viewed at this point in time: Sad, lonely men obsessed with dated and silly pop culture. It shouldn't be surprising that the Simpsons writers briefly gave this obsession to Springfield's own 40-year-old virgin.

I don't deny the power Star Wars had on the generation aged enough to see the original trilogy in movie theaters; it eventually had the same effect on me, though it had to be filtered through a few sources first. As a kid, I was a huge fan of Mel Brooks' Spaceballs—a late '80s HBO institution—to the point where my grandma taped it so I could watch it as many times as I wanted. And I did; if I had to guess, I think I've probably seen Spaceballs about 60-80 times, and it would be years later before I realized it was making fun of Star Wars. But, without a doubt, my biggest second-hand Star Wars obsession came in the form of Square's Final Fantasy IV and VI, quite possibly the Star Wars-iest games in the series.

It's tough to say you really don't care much about Star Wars without seeming like a snob—The Force Awakens is the thing we're all supposed to care about now, after all. But the strongest parts of Star Wars managed to work their magic on me, even if I didn't know they were being borrowed by the 16-bit sprites acting out their melodrama. Final Fantasy IV's depiction of protagonist Cecil's fight against his own dark side made for one of the most compelling story arcs—at least, for 10-year-old me—as did VI's story of a group of plucky rebels fighting an impossible battle against an evil empire. Sure, you could go into how much all of these stories draw from the tropes of the monomyth, but it's more than clear that Square's 16-bit developers were massive Star Wars nerds—even going as far as including their own version of Biggs and Wedge as a nod to what inspired them.

Original Plot Twist, DO NOT STEAL

It's a situation similar to seeing Citizen Kane after watching The Simpsons and other series parody the movie to hell and back for 20 years—something that also happened to me. By the time I got around to watching the original Star Wars movies, I couldn't help but immediately think of everything it inspired. And that's probably why they don't have a grip on me, like they do with so many other people: I enjoy them, but in the back of my head, I know I've seen this all before. It's hard to imagine just how I would view these films without these constant distractions running through my brain, but again, that's just the world I grew up in.

In the run-up to the prequel trilogy's release, George Lucas went to great lengths to ensure Star Wars would have a much greater presence in the world than it did during its brief period of obscurity. The re-releases weren't just a way to revisit old movies that were out of theaters for 20 years: They were a Special Event, which gave '80s kids a chance to see these Important Movies as intended—and with a bunch of dumbass CGI stuff thrown in. A kid born just a decade later than me would see Star Wars as something much more meaningful, and deserving of celebration. When I see Star Wars, I can't help but see Darth Vader as Final Fantasy IV's Golbez, or think the destruction of planets would be much more entertaining if performed by a massive robo-maid with a vacuum cleaner.

Locke might be no Han Solo, but I'd party with Moogles over Ewoks any day of the week.

And you can bet your Spacebucks Disney is using all of their resources to ensure what happened to me will never happen to another human being born on this planet until the heat death of the universe. I may be out of touch with my fellow nerds, but at the very least, I can rest assured I at least managed to dodge one form of pop culture indoctrination.

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