Star Wars is arguably the most celebrated American film franchise, among both adults and children of all ages. But did you know that the original trilogy was going to make children “dumber than they need to be”?
That is what John Simon, the curmudgeonly film critic for National Review, said when the original trilogy was first in theaters.
“I feel they are so bad because [the movies] are completely dehumanizing,” Simon told ABC’s Nightline in 1983. “Obviously, let’s face it, they are for children or for childish adults. They are not for adult mentalities, which unfortunately means that they are not for a lot of my fellow critics who also lack adult mentalities,” he added, swiping at legendary critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who debated him live via satellite.
“They are for children, and they are brutalizing children, they’re stultifying children, they’re making children dumber than they need to be,” he declared. “These films try to keep children stupid children forever. And that I think is wrong.”
Siskel and Ebert laughed off Simon’s fiery rhetoric, but his animosity toward the series has seriously deep roots.
Three years earlier, Simon took to the conservative magazine’s pages to decry the “malodorous offal” of The Empire Strikes Back. Barely concealing his disdain, Simon described the film as “repulsively commercial,” “stale, limp, desperately stretched out, and pretentious.”
Star Wars was “imbecilic,” Simon said, because its “preposterous” plot catered to “the blessed infantilism of children and the blessed regression of adults.”
Indeed, throughout the entire series, Simon was seemingly obsessed with the theory that George Lucas had “infantilized” a nation.
In true get-off-my-lawn fashion, Simon wrote in 1983: “But the children: will they love it? Most likely, because… most children have neither inborn good taste nor innate incorruptibility. As for childish adults, of whom there seems to be no shortage, they should, like most of my critical colleagues, have a ball.”
A socially conservative tendency toward “sky is falling” proclamations about a godless America came into view when Simon fretted that, because of Star Wars, “a whole generation of kids may grow up with the Force as their faith, the Jedi knights as their apostles, Luke (i.e., Lucas) Skywalker as their Savior, and Obi-Wan Kenobi as their Paraclete…. I suggest that, unless it is already too late, an energetic campaign be mounted against this nascent theogony and theocracy.”
In 1999, following the release of prequel The Phantom Menace, Simon did not retreat an inch, writing that the entire series has created a “gaping hole in our education—not to say our religion.”
Geez. Someone get this guy some Corellian brandy.
Perhaps Ebert was right when he countered that Simon was just too “old at heart” to understand the Star Wars appeal.
Or maybe Siskel said it best when he looked into the camera and told his rival critic, point-blank, “I feel badly for you” for being so joyless.