Wednesday, May 18, 2005

On Star Wars

The original Star Wars premiered on May 25th, 1977, three days before my fifth birthday. We were living in Brookings, South Dakota, in a large white house a few blocks from the South Dakota State campus. That house and its expansive backyard are about all I remember from my early childhood, although two things do stand out in my earliest memories: I remember a neighborhood kid coming over to our front yard where my sister and I were playing and telling us that Elvis had died, and I think I remember seeing Star Wars in the theatre.

The story, if my sister is to be believed, goes something like: my parents were concerned that Star Wars was too violent for a five year old, but between family friends’ assurances that it was okay and my incessant begging, they finally relented. I remember being in the movie theatre in downtown Brookings, and our parents having to sit apart because the theatre was so crowded (although, come to think of it, this might have been for Superman, a year later).

I don’t remember specific scenes, and I can’t say it was a life-altering event because I don’t really have any point of reference before it. But I was certainly hooked.

I distinctly remember my dad coming home from some trip somewhere with a Star Wars album; I’m pretty sure it was the entire film, dialogue and everything. I vaguely remember the Star Wars Christmas special on TV, and crying my eyes out when Chewbacca saved his family at the end (I think that’s how it ended). Speaking of the Star Wars Christmas special, George Lucas now officially hates it – rightfully so, because it’s so very bad – and it’s pretty hard to find. I managed to download a shitty copy of it a few years ago and howled with laughter, it was so bad. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it all the way through to the end, because my gut hurt from laughing. Seriously. Bad.

Of course, my toy collection was dominated by a constellation of Star Wars merchandise, mostly figures. My parents never bankrolled the major pieces – no Death Star, no Millennium Falcon – but I had enough figures to play out the important scenes, and I had the Tie Fighter and X-Wing (both of which, their battery terminals long since corroded, their plastic canopies yellowed, and missing various parts, still reside in a box somewhere in storage). My shittiest Christmas ever was marginally improved by the cool droid junkyard set piece; it came with all these little robot parts that you got to mix and match to create your own droids.

What set pieces I didn’t have were improvised: I made a few levels of the Death Star out of cardboard boxes and tape. Han, Chewie, Luke, and Leia scooched through little cutout doors, pursued by Darth Vader and a couple of Storm Troopers. The coup de grace was a trash compactor, complete with a moving wall on rails.

The one time in my life when my mom resorted to bribery involved Star Wars figures. I was having a hard time taking some pills – or more accurately, cooperating in taking some pills – and my mom said if I got these last two down she’d buy me a Star Wars figure. Gulp. Of course, I had to remind her about it a few days later (Jesus, Mom, did you really think I wouldn’t remember?)

While my interest focused on the figures, I liked playing live-action Star Wars, too. I never had a lightsaber, which didn’t really bother me that much – I was always more of a Han Solo kind of guy. Never got that cool gun of his, though. One year for Halloween my mom acquired this amazing furry fabric that might as well have been genuine Wookiee hide. From this she made an entire Wookiee suit, and combined with a cheap Chewbacca mask it was the costume of a lifetime (another family story has it that this costume somehow wound up at my aunt’s house, where it scared the bejeezus out of my cousin).

My interest in Star Wars peaked with The Empire Strikes Back, released a week before my eighth birthday in 1980. I’m willing to bet that 90% of my free time that summer pertained to Hoth, Yoda, the Cloud City, or Boba Fett.

When Return of the Jedi came out in May of 1983, something had changed. Sure, we got to see Darth Vader’s nasty face, and yeah, Luke was now a Jedi Master, and holy shit, Yoda died, but it still felt empty somehow. Maybe not empty but . . . juvenile. I bought a few figures, but playing with them had lost its charm. That was the summer I started checking baseball scores regularly.

In the spring of 1999 I was a trainer in the Customer Service department at Our boy Jeff Bezos flipped the bill for a couple of busloads to a reserved showing of The Phantom Menace in a Seattle suburb. On the ride over we were giddy twentysomethings cracking jokes based entirely on obscure Star Wars references. On the ride home we were prototypical Generation-Xers: deeply angered and vaguely betrayed. What brainiac cast that little toehead as Anakin, when the kid couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag? Metawhat? Jar Jar fucking Binks?

As a Star Wars devotee, I’m telling you that whatever flak George Lucas caught from critics, he deserved every word of it. At least Ewan MacGregor absolutely nailed Obi Wan. Three years later we were generally more receptive to Attack of the Clones, with the exception of Hayden Christensen’s melodramatic whining.

So now I’m pretty excited about Revenge of the Sith. This is by far the most important movie of the three prequels, since it shows Anakin’s pivotal switch from Jedi to Darth Vader. We also get the Star Wars setup by somehow separating Anakin’s and Padme’s twins, with Luke going to his uncle’s place on Tattooine and Leia going, well, wherever she goes. Obi Wan must also wind up on Tattoine, presumably after the Empire wipes out almost all the Jedi and takes control of the galaxy. Rumor has it Obi Wan kicks Anakin’s ass – which I really can’t wait to see – before getting the righteous hell out of Dodge. Good stuff.

There it is. I think I’m probably going to wait until early next week to go see it with some other staffers. In the meantime, I’m going to watch the original trilogy over the next few days.

I’m not going to say it.

I’m . . . not . . . going to . . . say it. . .

Must . . . not . . . say . . . it . . .

Must . . . not . . .

Oh, goddammit. Maytheforcebewithyou.


Blogger Shannon said...

I'm driving to Cheyenne tonight to go to the midnight showing. Woohoo! I'll tell you how it is. ;)

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog (and memory) Paul.

Tim's seeing it in Germany as I write this comment! Although I don't know how Chewbacca may say it, our friends in Germany would say... "kann die Kraft mit Ihnen sein" and my Brazilian clients say... "pode a força ser com você" (both translated as "the strength with you can be").


1:38 PM  
Blogger Tamara said...

Heh. May the force be with you, too.

10:32 AM  

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