With Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiering on the 18th my nerdself can’t help but obsess in anticipation. So I will be posting several things leading up to the release date. First off something I wrote last year when I first saw the trailer:
I watched the newly released trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII and was filled with conflicting emotions.
My inner 8 year old giggled and said “squeeee!” in a high pitched manner; while at the same time my old man cynic self said, “Fool me once,” then trailed off grumbly and inaudible. My 8YO self still remembered how great a new Star Wars film was but my OMC remembered how we’ve been burned in the past. I’m looking at you prequels.
Now to be completely fair there are two factors that should be considered: 1) The much maligned prequels, while by no means good, did have some redeeming qualities and 2) I am fully aware that I am not the demographic that these films are shooting for.
I am in fact the exact type of person (both age and gender) who is mercilessly mocked in forums and in comments and various forms of social media. We, my middle-aged, geeky brethren and I, are continuously accused of not being able to let our childhoods go. We are told that we see the past through rose colored glasses and are unable and unwilling to allow the new movies to exist on their own without the need to emulate or match the originals. We are, in essence, old fuddy-duddys that want everything to be exactly like we remember them to be.
And I am here to say, damn straight.
Look, it’s more than just idealized nostalgia. And I, like many of my contemporaries, would really love to see another great, fun movie set in the world that spurred our imaginations way back when. But what the later films lack is the real sense of wonder and adventure that the original ones brought. And it must be understood that when the original films came out it was everything. I mean everything.
The original Star Wars was released in May of 1977 just after I had turned 8 years old. I had seen the trailer a few months back during another film that I do not remember. It’s telling that I would remember the trailer played before a film rather than the film I was there to watch. I do remember my mother saying, “That looks awful,” as it played, but I thought it looked awesome. And from then on I dutifully paid attention to the newspaper movie section for updates and release dates. And when the coming soon adverts came in half page spreads I and my friends were all a buzz with anticipation.
My mother and aunt took me and my brother to see it two days after it was released. No one wanted to stand in line on the first day. We sat there, popcorn and soda in hand, farther away from the screen than I would have liked (it was a packed house and I couldn’t get the coveted first row seats) and waited.
Now I would like to describe to you what happened next, although I won’t do it justice. It was a moment while watching a movie that I never had before or since. It was…perfect.
The 20th Century Fox logo comes up with a roll of drums and fanfare. That got our attention. Then blue words, silent on a black background…a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This set the stage. It was a fantasy, a fairy tale, something we had never seen before. Then the burst of energy that is the John Williams score, that triumphant theme as the scroll of words fading away to nothing tells us where we are as if we just walked in on an ongoing story; then a small ship coming in from top frame followed by an immense ship that swallows it up; followed by an attack as the white armored villains invade and a dark, calm evil man in an angular mask surveys the dead, his breath loud and ominous heard throughout the corridors…
Honestly I think the first ten minutes of Star Wars is one of the best openings in movie history. It is absolutely brilliant. I was hooked.
After the film all I wanted to do was go over every scene in great detail with anyone who would listen at the Pizza Hut across from the theater. Luckily there were other kids there whose parents were more than obliging when asked to be released from the constant twittering of over-excited children. There had to be at least 10 of us just gibbering on and on about the best character, the best moment, the coolest part; all the while shoving peperoni pizza and Sprite down our throats. It was the start of something big.
Now when I say that Star Wars was everything I really mean it. Apart from seeing the movie every week with friends for months (not an exaggeration) we also had the merchandise associated with it. I had a poster in my room and a sheet and comforter set. I had a copy of the novelization that I read twice. Of course I read the comic that started not long after as well. I had the soundtrack as well as the movie audio albums. The movie audio was just that, the entire movie on two LPs so I could listen over and over to the film when not able to see it. I had a light saber; just a flashlight with an expandable plastic tube over it, still awesome. I dressed as Darth Vader for Halloween. It was just the plastic mask and printed plastic overalls that you got at Woolworth’s, but still cool. And I had the action figures.
The action figures deserve a post to themselves and there are several websites devoted to them, but suffice to say they were great and terrible and loved every one.
Still, this does not convey how the culture was changed by this movie. Yes the kids had toys to buy and the box office was breaking records, but that wasn’t it at all.
Every program had to have a Star Wars theme or parody. Saturday Night Live did it, Johnny Carson did it, the Today show did it, local news and PBS did it. I remember voluntarily watching an episode of Donahue because he had people dressed as jawas and sandpeople on it. And when Star Wars lost to Annie Hall at the Oscars that year I was convinced that it was a corrupt organization. To be fair I haven’t quite lost that feeling.
Star Wars references and imagery were used in fast food and retail outlets and milk cartons and cereal boxes and sneakers and soda cans and car commercials and late night TV and daytime TV and mid-day TV and plumbers and electricians and school curriculum and a thousand things I can’t recall. Star Wars was everywhere.
But that was not really the greatest impact. More than the toys or the advertising and the publicity it was how that movie made us imagine. It changed our play.
I remember my grandmother, who hated the film, say once, “It’s just cowboys and Indians in space suits.” She meant it as an insult, I took it as profound. Because yes, of course that’s what it was. And it was King Arthur in space. And it was Dracula in space and Sam Spade. It was clichéd ideas done fresh and it was every genre done different.
And I saw myself and my friends who once pretended to be knights in shining armor with broadswords become Jedi with light sabers. We once were cowboys with six guns but we became space pirates with blasters. We were young heroes that could still get the princess, except now the princess was an alien. Our games changed. Our imaginations changed. Everything changed.
I would like another 8 year old out there to have that too.
So ultimately that is my problem with the prequels, they were too calculated to sell rather than inspire. And ultimately my hope for the next series of films is that they just tell an adventure story, not so beholden to continuity and the whims of old men. Just tickle the imagination of a kid and tell a good story.
That will be a force to awaken.
This article originally appeared Dec 1, 2014