Skip to main content

Watch Siskel and Ebert explain Star Wars' greatness to a grumpy critic

Watch Siskel and Ebert explain Star Wars' greatness to a grumpy critic

Share this story

Few souls dare besmirch the Star Wars brand on this, its most holiest week. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a room of reporters, "I respect Star Wars’ place in the American cultural firmament, but it’s never quite been my thing," the internet briefly convulsed with confusion. Who does this guy think he is?

It's hard to fathom today that Star Wars bashing has a storied tradition, one that followed not just the prequels but the original trilogy. Take for example this excerpt from a 1980 episode of Nightline, a heated showdown between former New York Magazine critic John Simon and late critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

"They're brutalizing children."

"Let's face it," says Simon. "[The Star Wars films] are for children or for childish adults. They are not for adult mentalities, which unfortunately means they're not for a lot of my fellow critics, who also lack adult mentalities. But anyway. They are for children and they're brutalizing children."

Simon's criticism, while needlessly mean, is a timely reminder that no film is free of criticism — even the most popular film in the world. With Star Wars' marketing ballooning to the size of a moon, it wouldn't be so bad to have someone like Simon to deflate it, just a little.

Both Siskel and Ebert respond with passion and humor, championing The Empire Strikes back as nourishment for the imagination. It's hard not to take the side of the two more famous critics, who in their lifetimes became synonymous with approachable criticism on their syndicated television show At the Movies.

Go to a regular movie theater

Siskel's advice to Simon is worth taking to heart if you're one of the millions watching The Force Awakens this week, before the inevitable social media backlash and backlash to that backlash begin.

"I think Mr. Simon ought to do what I did over the weekend," says Siskel. "I went to a regular movie theater in a shopping center in Michigan City, Indiana. And I sat amid all the kids. There was one tall ahead, and a lot of small heads.

"They were ecstatic. They were enjoying it. They were rooting. They were asking each other who's who. They were getting all involved. They were rooting for the right guys, they were booing for the bad guys. I felt it was a lot of fun. I feel badly, honestly, I feel badly that this other critic, John Simon, didn't have a good time at these pictures. That's too bad for him."