I have kind of a weird story as it concerns me coming into the Star Wars universe. When I was a young kid, we weren’t allowed to go to the theater. We didn’t have HBO. We didn’t own a VCR at the time. My folks were really conservative back then. So, all my knowledge of Luke, Han, Leia, et al, came from friends’ countless re-telling(s) and playing with action figures to solidify the plot in my head, A LOT. Oh, and trading cards. The trading cards were crucial. Thanks to my neighbor Eric (he also drank Elmer’s glue out of the bottle, but that is another story) and his massive collection, I cobbled together a narrative of episodes IV, V and VI that was pretty well fleshed out. I was enthralled. I knew I liked sci fi from seeing re-runs of shows like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers on tv, but this seemed to dwarf them all. Plus, Luke was younger, he seemed more like a kid. I felt I could be Luke.
Remember, in the 80s you couldn’t just jump online and watch clips or full movies. Lucas didn’t even release them in a VHS boxed set until 1995. So when I was able to see those specific iconic scenes I had heard so much about portrayed on those tantalizing glossy Topps trading cards, it was pure magic. I finally could see with my own eyes the Death Star explosion, Han’s freezing in Carbonite, Luke clutching his severed arm, lips contorted in shock and rage with what I would later know were the words, ‘It’s not truuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue!’
I knew the story well enough I don’t even think a lot of my friends knew I hadn’t seen them. I could have discussions about what powers the Jedi did or didn’t have, back story about Kashyyyk and the Wookies, how the galactic senate had worked (or didn’t), who would win in a fight, Bosk or IG-88. I lived in a kind of second hand fantasy land.
I will always remember the day my neighbor called. My mom had the phone,’ Uh huh, yes…hold on.’ She cradled it to her shoulder. ‘It’s Mrs. Anderson, HBO is going to show Star Wars Saturday night and she wanted to know if you and your sister want to go?’ Whaaaaat?! I don’t think I could have been more excited if she had said it was a lifetime subscription to Amazing Spider-Man. Yes! YES! Now, the Andersons didn’t even have kids my age, but my sister was friends with their daughter and we went to church together and carpooled to school sometimes. You may ask yourself,’ Why would a neighbor call just to say something was on HBO?’ but this was huge. At this point, you could only have seen any Star Wars at the movies and it had never been released on cable. It was a major coup HBO had pulled off.
Well, I remember waiting for Saturday like it was Christmas. I was a little scared as well that all the concocting I had done in my head would be a jumbled mess and wouldn’t fit together right.
We got there and the living room was full of people, even the adults knew it was a big deal. I wonder now in hindsight how many households across the country were doing the exact same thing that night.
I staked my claim on an ottoman near the front with an unobstructed view. I didn’t want to sit on the couch and be jostled or touch other people, to even know they were there. As far as I was able I wanted to shut out everything else and experience it just for me. Fortunately they turned the lights down. Some of the younger kids were noisy at first but amazingly quieted down when it started.
The music, the MUSIC with the now-legendary scrolling yellow text gave me the chills. Everything else faded as I was in awe of the monstrous star destroyer devouring the top of the television screen hulking over the glowing, rolling Tatooine as it fired on the tiny Tantive IV trying desperately to flee with the Princess and the plans. The distinct sound of the lasers firing still brings me joy just hearing them.
The next two hours flew by and I was surprised everything in my head jibed as far as I can remember, it was just the glorious coming into focus of the overall story and actually experiencing the characters that was so amazing; 3PO’s comic relief, Han’s rakish charm, Leia’s leadership, Luke’s over-eagerness, Ben’s wisdom, Darth Vader’s menace.
People talk about what makes Star Wars, and specifically A New Hope for me, so compelling even though on the surface it is a plot-hole-riven, over-acted, silly-dialogued YA space opera, but the scene where Luke has his hand on his knee looking with longing wistfulness at his planet’s double moons at dusk is a big one. At its heart (Remember, I grew up with the OT not prequels) it is a coming of age story of a hero-in-waiting who wants to see new places and do great things, of heroes not yet revealed, of villains and perceived villains who find redemption, of intrigue and secrets all set upon a backdrop of a fully realized fantasy world that had never before been attempted on that scale. With a classic soundtrack for the ages rippling with brilliant themes and motifs that, together with the film, create a mythology that would make the Greeks proud.
And not only have I carried the nostalgia and ethos-weight of that, I have the baggage of my own longing and expectations (which were definitely met) built up from having to wait so long to finally see it compounded upon it. Consider Star Wars my very own Red Ryder BB gun, except I didn’t “shoot my eye out, kid”. It was a big moment for me.
Later, I was able to see The Empire Strikes Back on HBO as well and then Lucas re-released Return Of The Jedi to theaters one last time prior to what would be a long hiatus before the prequels. By that time, I had bugged the shit out of my parents so badly, they acquiesced into letting me go to the movies. So, Episode VI was my very first Star Wars theater experience and I relished it! In the time between I finally got VHS copies and watched the OT many, many times, even trying to duplicate a big screen experience by hooking my VCR up to a projector and putting two huge ass PA speakers angled in on either side of the screen while sitting on a couch right in the middle. It was glorious. Then, it was pretty special when I finally got to see A New Hope in theaters in 1997 before the releases of the prequels, all of which I saw as well. Now, I could go on a tangent here, but all I’ll say is, I accept the PT as a necessary movement of the story to the OT and definitely to the development of Anakin, and I even enjoyed several parts of them. My favorite? No. Do I own them on Blu Ray? Yes. Is that diplomatic enough?
All that to say, from everything I have seen leading up to The Force Awakens, it appears we are in very good hands with Abrams as it is eliciting many of the same feelings for the OT I used to get as a kid. I am excited for all those young ‘uns everywhere who have only ever seen the OT and PT (granted, probably on a huge HD flat screen with surround, but still) on TV, and will have those same chills run down their spines as the yellow text scrolls and whatever jaw dropping scene JJ has planned for the intro fills that giant screen. I will be right there with them. Cue Williams’ score…