I was 6 years old when Star Wars hit the silver screen. The weekend of Memorial Day 1977 I stood in line with my mother for an entire afternoon outside the Woodland Theater hoping to get in. Jimmy Carter was president. My parents were still on their first marriage. There was no internet. Cable TV was an extravagant luxury which only afforded you 10 extra channels. In our house music was played from vinyl records or 8-track tapes. The most popular radio station in town operated on a rock and roll album format. My favorite toy was a 12″ GI Joe action figure. Life was great!
The two hours I spent in the theater that day in 1977 changed my life. Star Wars, later subtitled Episode IV, A New Hope, turned my imagination inside out. I don’t need to explain this to any child of the 70s. The impact of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, released between 1977 and 1983 is now, for better or worse, part of humanity’s collective consciousness.
Almost all my memories of childhood up until High School are somehow wrapped up in Star Wars. Every Christmas, every birthday, every trip to the store was an opportunity to escape into the films. Likewise, every uncomfortable moment during my childhood sent me daydreaming. By fourth grade all I wanted to do was become a comic book illustrator. With the help of a friend that year we created our own illustrated accounts of both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. By the sixth grade my obsession with the films had gotten out of control. I was 12 years old, nearly 6 feet tall and living in a bedroom with Star Wars wallpaper, draperies and bedspread. With a Super 8 camera I attempted and failed to create my own sequel to the Star Wars trilogy. At one point I stopped being friends with someone because he dared to tell me that Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan was better than The Empire Strikes Back. I could have killed that fucker!
In 1984 I realized, after getting the shit kicked out of me for wearing an Ewok T-shirt to school, that my obsession with all things Star Wars needed to end. At about this time it was becoming clear that my room full of toys and my 400 Star Wars action figures, once the crowning achievement of my life, would seriously hurt my chances of ever scoring with the chicks. The next year, as I entered the 8th grade I focused my attention on rock and roll, parachute pants and any girl that would bother to talk with me. Within the three months that spanned the summer between junior high and high school, all vestiges of George Lucas’ epic were neatly tucked away, either in my little brother’s room or deep within my teenage mind.
Through the better part of two decades I never looked back. College was a time for political awakening. My main hobbies were drinking beer and building up my music collection. Despite a brief relapse into comic books my sophomore year, all was well. With adulthood I had left childish thoughts behind.
When The Phantom Menace opened 16 years to the day after Return Of The Jedi, I was married, had a mortgage and was in a perfect position to get clobbered. The pre-hype run-up to the movie had caught me off guard. I got into the spoiler hunt. I spent hours online at theforce.net arguing with other geeks, a passion which also led me to other obscure online associations, such as The Blue Yoda Society. At work I started doodling Tie Fighters and Storm Troopers on my Power Point Presentations during meetings. When Toys R Us rolled out the first toys in the Phantom Menace line, my friend Jake [Um, Jake who? – ed.] and I were there, digging through the mountain of Kenner shit looking for the “rare” action figures. My life had degenerated and I was living in the 3rd grade all over again. Except now I had the money to buy what I used to have to beg for. I was a God damn mess.
I managed to get passes to an early screening of Menace. Jake and I drove across the state to Pontiac, Michigan. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. Alas, The Phantom Menace sucked ass. Although I went on defending the film for years, it was an enormous disappointment. Within a few weeks I’d given up on the every expanding line of new Star Wars toys. And although I took my mother to see the film over Memorial Day weekend (as we had every single other Star Wars film in years past), the experience fell flat. I came to realize that the expectations of childhood and the fantasy life of my younger years didn’t fit in my adult life. It was a marketing ploy, a let down, a great big joke punctuated by “Jar Jar’s Big Adventure.”
Wednesday night I found myself sitting in a packed movie theater, counting the minutes to Midnight and the opening of Star Wars Episode III, Revenge Of The Sith. I was excited. But I’d long since let go of the kind of exuberance that led the 40 year old man sitting behind me to dress up as Darth Maul. The late hour was getting to me when opening crawl appeared. I’d been through this before. But this time was different.
George Lucas finally made the movie I’ve wanted to see since 1983. Right away the movie grabbed me, and for the next two hours I was back there again, not back in time but back in a place in my head where I could just plain let go and enjoy the experience. The genesis of all my geek fixations was laid out in front of me anew and I loved it. The CGI effects that plagued the last two films blend almost seamlessly with live action this time around. The story moves along at a pace not seen in a Star Wars film since Return Of The Jedi. The characters have life again, and the agonizing path they follow towards their inevitable fate left me heartbroken. The film’s greatest achievement is that it keeps the audience captivated despite the fact that we all know the outcome.
Revenge Of The Sith won’t turn every prequel hater into fans again. There are a few weak moments that critics will dwell on. It will not have the impact of the groundbreaking blockbuster that opened in 1977. It won’t make every idiotic and embarrassing thing you’ve ever done vanish from memory. It won’t justify all the time and money you’ve wasted on science fiction crap. For those of us who came of age in the 70s nothing can replace or touch our memories. But if you are willing to ante up the $10 ticket charge, this time around you will probably be more than entertained, and things might just for a moment come full circle.