Jessie as a nosy neighbor. Photo copyright Linda Heuring 2006
I saw the original Star Wars in a movie theatre in Columbus, Ohio. It was amazing. From the pyramid-shaped introduction moving off into the distance to the battle scenes with highly maneuverable ships, the special effects seemed to usher in a new era in filmmaking. At least that’s what the critics said. For me, it was a fantastic tale with machines and settings I hadn’t imagined.
That was before Star Wars became such a franchise. Before they renamed the 1977 movie Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Before a jumble of prequels and sequels melded the dark side and the light side into a sea of gray fog I didn’t bother to navigate.
Last winter I sat in a Chicago theatre, in a much cushier seat, and watched those familiar graphics roll into the future for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was amazing. The dialogue at times was lame. I had to suspend belief, logic, and let the Force carry me along. Just like the first time. My heroine was there. My heroes. Even Chewbacca. The new kids were just as unruly and unbelievable as the old timers were in a galaxy far, far away. The storyline fit with what I remembered. The writers filled in just what I needed to know for this sequel to make sense. It was fun. It was Star Wars.
As the weeks count down to yet another Star Wars movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I haven’t decided whether to see it or not, even though our movie theatre has added nice reclining chairs. I’m leery of the critics: not the journalists, but the critical fans.
After A New Hope, I got hammered for my ignorance. How could I possibly enjoy watching without knowing the details of all the other episodes? How could I not have read the Disney books? How could I refuse to read the spoiler-laden Huffington Post blog about the movie and the 40-point Facebook rebuttal by another rabid fan who swears the HP blogger didn’t even see the movie?
After all, I’m an educated woman, a writer, a person who displays an interest in how things come together, who points out incongruities in stand-alone movies and novels. Why did I chose to remain ignorant? I have no problem with people who want to dig into the details or follow every lead down every worm hole. In fact, I admire them. Every writer and filmmaker wants a fan base like that. I remained ignorant because what I do for a living makes studying Star Wars work. And sometimes I just want to be entertained.
I want to stay up half the night with Tim Dorsey’s wacky duo Serge and Coleman. I want to skim across the Gulf with Doc Ford in a flats boat in Randy Wayne White’s novels, and I want to pretend that Robert B. Parker is writing his Spencer novels from the grave and his German Shorthaired Pointer, Pearl, unlike my own departed GSP Jessie, is alive and well. (No offense, Ace.) I write, I read, I study, I dissect, and I write some more. And when I’m not working, I read for the pure pleasure.
That doesn’t mean I won’t try to pick out the references to past books in John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries or find David Mitchell’s Easter eggs. It doesn’t mean I won’t contrast the latest Chicago Shakespeare version of The Tempest with the Bard’s script or the Julie Taymor movie. It doesn’t mean I can’t participate in a critical literary discussion. It does mean that I should be able to choose when to get totally engaged and when to just enjoy the story.
It’s a courtesy we writers should extend to our readers, too. Sometimes they want to read for fun, not caring if this is really Hamlet on a dog farm or a trans Romeo and Juliet. All they ask is “Tell me a story.” Great literature and a great story aren’t mutually exclusive. If the reader enjoys the story you’re halfway there. Your true readers, those who buy your novels and read your short stories and poems, do so because they connect with your work. How they connect is their business.