For all the discussions about prompted by the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I've been surprised that nobody drew a line connecting George Lucas' first great triumph, American Graffiti, and the franchise that "conquered the galaxy." American Graffiti was itself a massive hit and helped to usher in an era of baby boomer nostalgia about that generation's barely completed childhood.
In my latest Daily Beast column, I argue that the first Star Wars trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) is a celebration of the generational exceptionalism embodied by American Graffiti but that Lucas changed things up in the second trilogy (released between 1999-2005). As Lucas' frequent collaborator Steven Speilberg said while promoting Saving Private Ryan:
"It was as simple as this: The century either was going to produce the baby boomers or it was not going to produce the baby boomers." Only a baby boomer could reduce World War II to a footnote in the history of a cohort not yet born.
While most fans merely suffered The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, those movies represent a piss take on what happened to baby boomers who cut their teeth protesting Vietnam and ended up bombing hell out of the world during the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
No one would confuse George Lucas with a deep thinker (his filmography includes such neutron bombs as Howard the Duck, Labyrinth, and Willow), but he has managed what is arguably the most ruthless and withering appraisal of the baby boom generation from young rebels to imperial overlords. The first six Star Wars movies document in imaginative form how antiwar activists became the cryptkeepers of Abu Ghraib, how hippies who called bullshit on LBJ and Richard Nixon staffed a Bush administration that sanctioned waterboarding and an Obama administration that generated a "kill list" not subject to any sort of due process.
Even more impressive, in 2012 Lucas and his eponymous film company relinquished ownership and creative control over the franchise. The Force Awakens, directed by Gen-Xer J.J. Abrams, has opened to universally strong notices, and, in the summary of Rotten Tomatoes, "successfully recalls the series' former glory while injecting it with renewed energy."
As aging boomers such as Hillary Clinton (aged 68), Donald Trump (69), and Jeb Bush (62) desperately try to become the next president, Lucas has abdicated his throne and graciously allowed younger generations to take control of his prized possession, the most beloved and valuable property in the history of popular culture.
And before you see The Force Awakens, for god's sake, check out these trigger warnings!