Happy Birthday, Wing Commander
The movie is ten years old.
That’s a startling fact. When the movie came out I was a senior in high school, the world was ahead of me and I was off on one of my first great Wing Commander adventures. In shaking hands with Chris Roberts, debating continuity with Chris McCubbin and seeing the movie again and again with Chris Reid, Wing Commander went from being my favorite world to simply being my world. Previous anniversaries have been academic, this one is personal.
I will always remember it as a supremely exciting time. It is hard to understand today how deeply ingrained the desire for a movie was in Wing Commander fans in the 1990s. It was in our DNA: the earliest fans were demanding their movie at bulletin boards and newsgroups mere days after the original game changed the world in 1990. To say we were excited would be an understatement.
I am not going to argue for the movie here; lord knows I have done this many times over the years. I am not going to debate continuity or explain the workings of the original cut or the reasons for changes or any of those things. Ask me tomorrow for all that and I will, as always, gladly oblige.
Instead, I want to clear up a single point tonight. We hear about Wing Commander again, from time to time, when some studio pushes out another ‘video game movie’. Our film gets stuck in an oft-repeated list of bad adaptations, alongside Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and DooM and the Mario Brothers. Another point on a ceaseless line of paint-by-numbers cash-ins, we’re told.
No! We must recognize, regardless of anything else, that Wing Commander does not belong on these lists. Yes, it is based on a video game and perhaps you were disappointed with it… but the similarities end there, and the difference is absolutely essential to recognize.
All these others were, indeed, cash-grabs: game companies turning a fast profit by selling their name recognition to a movie studio. Wing Commander was not: Chris Roberts put his career on the line in order to make the movie himself. It was something he believed in, and it deserves our respect for that reason alone. Mr. Roberts fought, for years, to turn Wing Commander into a major motion picture and to make sure that he was involved instead of just handing over the rights for a big check. At the end of the day, the man who made the games made the movie. No one else has that.
Still, we must recognize that the movie was also an ending. It was the last published Wing Commander project that anyone at Origin worked on. It will be the last tenth anniversary that we recognize until 2013, and that one will be for a GameBoy port. Ten years is a bittersweet recognition, in a sense.
Happy birthday, Wing Commander. I think you’re great.