We’ve lost perspective in prequel’s hype

DAVIS, Calif. (U-WIRE) — I consider myself a mild “Star Wars” fan. I can’t quote lines from the movies, and I don’t subscribe to fanzines or any of that. But I know about as much about the original trilogy as do most ordinary people. I’m also, of course, chomping at the bit to see the new “Episode One: The Phantom Menace,” which opens in just a few short weeks. But then again, I’ll admit to being surprised by the massive amount of attention devoted to just a movie.
I know, saying that any part of the “Star Wars” series is “just” a movie will probably be near heresy for most hard-core fans of the stuff, but I find it interesting how a movie series has gained such a worshipful following in the last 22 years. I read in the morning papers that people have started (or have been) camping out in front of theaters in order to ensure that they can see this glorious new film on the day that it opens. This past week, the merchandising frenzy for the movie was unleashed, and some fans were lining up at midnight just so that they could grab toys and other various keepsakes.
This is insane.
“Star Wars” is indeed a cultural phenomenon at this point in time; we, the people, have elevated it to that status over the past two decades. The original “Star Wars” wowed audiences with its amazing blend of story and really cool graphics. I respect the idea that seeing the movie opened up new hobbies and ideas for some people; it’s quite easy to see that the film revolutionized how movies were made and what would draw audiences into theaters.
The idea that more people will see the new “Star Wars” than will most likely vote in the next presidential election is somewhat pathetic, though. Granted, there’s more interest in the movie, but pop culture and entertainment is effectively dethroning the inherent realities of daily life. Science fiction is going to be a bigger draw in 1999 than real-life problems will be in 2000.
Why is America so apathetic to most of these problems? What has turned us off from dealing with the necessary workings of the country and facing up to the problems of government services? Instead of knowing that we need to achieve certain standards in our government, we willingly flock to go see a movie instead. I realize we all need our relaxation time and escapes from reality, but at a certain point life takes a turn for the ridiculous.
1999 will be remembered as the return of a worldwide cultural movement, a mass of people celebrating the return of the fantastical figures they adored when “Star Wars” first came out and in the sequels that followed it. I can understand why people will hang onto their escapes from reality. But with the devotion we now give to superfluous ideas while real life continues to beg for simple attention, the situation deserves a thorough screening.
One quick, simple analysis says that we’ve made getting away from our problems too alluring and tempting. Who can resist allowing the human imagination to run off, especially when the worlds offered by movies, television and novels are so diverse and rich? Hollywood doesn’t just strive to create more lifelike sets, but producers and directors also seek out more surrealistic sets and offerings.
Movies like “Entrapment,” which focuses on a pair of thieves who artfully romp about the world, become staples of the cinema. Films become less and less like real life because no one wants to see real life. “Episode One: The Phantom Menace” is the same type of idea: a very richly woven tale, beautifully designed and hopefully wonderfully told.
But with such a frenzy over those ideas, real life pales in comparison. Interest in the mundane reality of life dies when dealing more attractive ideas. Do we need to start dressing politics up as sexy and daring? Didn’t work all that well this last time around.
If we don’t want that in our political figures, how can government sell itself to the masses? People need to realize that the real world needs watching and maintaining too, that opinions can be heard and make a difference as long as they are aired. Living in a democracy should be a metaphorical contact sport, not something that happens once a year when people go cast some votes.
Somehow we need to discover how to make running the country important and real to people again, as realistic as “Star Wars” is for all of the hundreds of millions of people who will rush to see it.
Of course, I’ll be getting in line pretty quickly for my own tickets.

Matt Kiedrowski’s column originally appeared in Monday’s University of California-Davis Aggie.