A long time ago, in a suburban home far far away…OK not that far. Like literally 3 kilometers from where I’m typing this but I digress. In the late 70s and early 80s home video became a thing. Before that you had to go to the theater, buy your popcorn, watch the movie and if you liked it you had to go see it again while it was still playing or it would be gone forever. The advent of home video changed all that. You were able to buy (for an astronomical price in those days) or rent a tape and watch it again and again. The act of renting a movie became as much of an event as going to the theater. This was very true in our house. It became something special. A chance for our family to spend time together. And I loooooooved movie night.
I remember when we got our first colour TV. I was probably 5 or 6. My parents splurged. They came home with what seemed like a huge TV, even though by today’s standards the screen was probably tiny and the box surrounding it was massive. But to me it seemed like it was giant. A huge glorious screen to watch cartoons. Oddly enough it wasn’t cartoons that captured my imagination and held it for close to 40 years. Along with the TV was a rectangular grey box called a VCR. Very similar to todays DVD/Blu-Ray players, but thicker and with a special function called tracking which allowed you to adjust the fuzzy lines on the tape to go from crappy to less crappy. The house was energized. All of us, my brother and sister and I were buzzing with excitement. It was the most extravagant thing I remember my parents ever buying. A big colour TV and VCR so we could watch movies on the weekend. I’m sure there were a lot of things they bought through the years that dwarfed this in comparison but this sticks out in my memory.
We set up the TV in the “library”. I use the term loosely because library calls to mind a cavernous room lined with books from floor to ceiling. With a ladder that can be wheeled around the room to fetch the tomes at the upper reaches of the shelves. This was quite the opposite. There were books. Many books. So many books. Three walls of this tiny room, no more than 8 feet by 8 feet were lined with books from half way up the wall to close to the ceiling. The TV sat in the corner about 3 feet away from this big Victorian looking couch which wasn’t comfortable or uncomfortable, it kind of rested in a state of comfort limbo. This weird purgatory of having to find the exact place to sit in order to not have your ass turn numb. The rabbit ears stuck out the top of the set (see kids in those days without cable we had to use an antenna to get the TV signal travelling through the air), usually with a ball of tin foil wrapped around the end to achieve maximum clarity and with any luck on a clear day maybe we could pick up PBS. This was our entertainment center, a far cry from the huge flat screens and streaming services we have today.
The day we got our TV and VCR we of course promptly went to and joined a video store and started looking over the selection of films. This was a family event. Throughout my childhood my family had a few traditions. Renting videos was one of them, at least in the first year or so when we were still dazzled with the ability to watch these big screen adventures at home. I don’t remember all the movies we rented that night but I remember one. The one that had us laughing, screaming, and hanging on to the edge of our seats. It was a movie that had adventure, excitement, and comedy. It was far beyond any of the cartoons I had seen before. It may have been the first live action movie I ever saw that wasn’t made by Disney and featured a self aware Volks Wagon Beetle. I’m talking of course about…
Ha! You thought I was going to say Star Wars. Don’t worry it’s coming.
I had no idea what to expect when we put this movie in the VCR. I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t know if my parents did either. Presumably they knew about Indiana Jones considering this was the second film. There must have been a reason they chose this movie. But I was completely in the dark. I knew nothing about it. To me it was something my brother and sister had decided to rent. But I was immediately drawn in. The opening scene in the Chinese speak easy had me hooked. I hadn’t seen anything like this. Indy was cool. He was tough, and funny. Able to fight off multiple hoods while being poisoned. My family was buzzing with excitement as the inflatable raft hurtled down the mountainside and into the river. We cringed as Indy and his companions ate monkey brains and eyeball soup in the palace and again when Willie Scot (Kate Capshaw) crawled through the tunnel filled with giant bugs. This was my kind of movie. It had everything I wanted to see. I was hooked. Fantasy adventure was my thing. From here on out that’s what I wanted to see.
This led to seeing Raiders of the lost Ark of course, and Jewel of the Nile, and Romancing the Stone. These kinds of pulpy serial adventures were a revelation to me, and a modern throwback to the kinds of movies my dad would watch as a kid. “That was amazing!” I proclaimed as the credits rolled after Indy had returned all the children to their village.
My brother leaned over and said “Tris, if you liked that you should see…”
“What’s Star Wars?” I was intrigued. My brother was a teenager. He must know what was good. He had an insight into these things that I knew nothing about. He wouldn’t lie to me. Fast forward to him telling me that he put snakes in my bed and my perception of him changed very quickly.
And so I was led to the saga of young Luke Skywalker. I must have sat there in a daze, just letting it wash over me because I honestly can’t remember any details of that first viewing. In my mind’s eye I picture myself staring slack jawed at the screen as the Millennium Falcon zoomed through space, as Darth Vader force choked General Motti during a cabinet meeting, and was shocked as Vader struck down Obi-Wan. I imagine I cheered as Luke fired those torpedoes into the exhaust port, destroying the dreaded Death Star.
This was beyond Indiana Jones. This was beyond anything I had ever seen. I needed more. I needed to see what happened next. I devoured Empire Strikes Back. This was before the addition of roman numerals in the actual title. They were of course in the opening crawl and that baffled me as a kid. Where were the other 3 movies?? Empire nearly made me cry. Han ended up encased in carbonite, Luke lost his hand and the unthinkable…How could Darth Vader be Luke’s father!? Did my brother know about this? Was I discovering something new? No of course he knew. He had seen it during it’s original run in theaters.
I remember very clearly what my brother said to me before I watched Return of the Jedi. I had returned home from the video store with my mom. I was so excited. “I rented Return of the Jedi!” I exclaimed to my brother. He leans down to me, looks me straight in the eye says in a soft voice.
“Darth Vader takes off his mask”
“What!?” It never occurred to me that there was something under that shiny black mask. A part of me assumed he was mostly robot. I sat through the movie anxiously waiting to see what was underneath. I was captivated the whole 2 hours. In my mind Return of the Jedi had more than the other 2 films. Jabba and the Rancor, Boba Fett (who died cinema’s least cool death for it’s coolest character), The epic final battle between Luke and Vader. And as Vader gasped his final breaths Luke lifted the mask to reveal the aged scarred face of Annakin Skywalker. This was the moment I waited for. It was both incredible and heartbreaking. Annakin had finally returned to the light side of the force only to die in his son’s arms.
The credits rolled. Immediately I ran off to play with the few Star Wars figures I had. Reenacting scenes from all 3 movies. Over the years I watched them hundreds of times. As an adult I bonded with one of my best friends over them. Even going so far as getting matching tattoos of the rebel alliance insignia. I collected the toys and other memorabilia. I read the novels, and played the RPG. I saw the Christmas Special for the love of God! I couldn’t get enough.
Cut to 1999. My best friend, his girlfriend and I make our way to the theater to take our seats to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Episode I gets shit on…a lot. People complain about JarJar, they complain about Jake Lloyd as a young Annakin, they complain about the political story line. But it took me back to when I was a kid and watched Star Wars for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect. Yes I had watch the trailers, I had read articles in Entertainment Weekly, but I still went in with no preconceived notions. And I loved it. I wanted more. It was Star Wars but turned up to 11. There were more lightsabers, more lore. We got to see the Jedi council, and how Palpatine rose to power. And Darth Maul, the coolest, scariest villain since Darth Vader.
It was exactly what I needed to know after I asked myself 15 years earlier where the other 3 movies were. Three years later Episode II – Attack of the Clones was released, and yes Hayden Christensen wasn’t a great actor in it, but that was a staple of Star Wars movies. Great actors not acting great. Again I was floored. we finally got to see Samuel L. Jackson (arguably the coolest man to ever grace the silver screen) finally pull out his lightsaber and be a bad mothafucka. Annakin came off as a whiny brat, but then he murders an entire tribe of Tusken Raiders. Jango Fett introduced us to a young Boba Fett and gave us what we should have had from Boba in the original films. Hundreds of Jedi and Clone Troopers fighting alongside each other against the Separatists on Geonosis. We see Annakin lose his hand, foreshadowing what will come with Luke. Yes there are weak parts. It isn’t a perfect movie, non of them are but it’s Star Wars.
Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is arguably the darkest Star Wars movie ever made. Annakin’s decent into madness is harrowing and heartbreaking. Like watching a friend succumb to addiction. Which, of course, is exactly what was happening as he feels the power of the dark side and grasps for more of it. We feel for Obi-Wan’s loss of his brother and friend. Ewan Mcgregor is an incredibly gifted actor. He embodied Alec Guiness to bring us a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. He showed us the Obi-Wan we wanted to see when he told us of the clone wars in the original Star Wars. We had a hint of his abilities in the 1977 film, but he was an old man. Seeing Ewan McGregor’s portrayal gave us Obi-Wan at the height of his abilities. He was arguably the best part of the prequel trilogy. Because of McGregor’s acting we see his heart break when he realizes his student has given himself completely to the darkside.
I gave myself wholeheartedly to the prequels. I accepted them, treasured them. They were what I wanted. I wanted to see how the Empire came to power and how Annakin turned to the darkside. Unlike many of those who hated the prequels I accepted that what we saw, how it was presented, was how it was meant to be. This was George Lucas’s vision. I allowed myself to sit and watch them without judging them. I wanted the story. I was transported back to when I watched Star Wars for the first time when I was a kid. The magic and adventure was there. The weird aliens and pithy robots. And the philosophy.
Star Wars is an integral part of who I am. It’s ingrained in me. An entire universe created out of the mind of an industrious storyteller. The most successful independent films ever made. And so I watched them all hundreds of times. I bought every new version that came out on VHS, then DVD, then Blu-Ray. I watched all the special features. And I resigned myself to the fact that the saga was finished. I, like many others, thought the story of the Skywalker family was done being told. That is until Disney bought the rights and informed us all that they were going to release a new Star Wars movie every year. When I heard that I was ecstatic. More Star Wars movies, more stories about the Skywalker family. But the original actors were older now, how were they going to continue the story of Luke Skywalker as an old man?
I stayed away from reading spoilers about Episode VII – The Force Awakens. I didn’t read about rumours, or look at set photos. I didn’t want to know anything. I wanted to go in fresh, with an open mind. It was the right thing to do. I knew that J.J. Abrams was going back to using practical effects as much as possible. I had a vague idea of what the story was but that was all. I watched the trailers to hype myself up. And this time I got to take my son. We had watched all the movies together but he never got to experience any of them on the big screen.
When we went to see The Force Awakens my son was roughly the same age I was when I first saw Star Wars. I think I spent more time looking at his reactions to seeing it on the big screen than I did watching the movie. I could see in his face what my reaction must have been when the words Star Wars first appeared on the screen to the blaring of the orchestra playing that all too familiar John Williams theme. I watched him smile and get enthralled with the adventures of Finn, Rey and Poe. And I’ll admit I got a little teary eyed when Han and Chewie stepped aboard the Falcon and Han claimed “We’re home.” Again I was transformed into being a kid in that tiny TV room and seeing the galaxy far far away for the first time. This time I got to see it through my mid-thirties eyes and the eyes of my 7 year old son. And I’ve watched every subsequent film the same way. Half of my attention on the screen and half on the boy next to me. I love this kid next to me, I love sharing Star Wars with him. Because of that, even with any problems the movies may have, I love every Star Wars movie.
Do you have any Star Wars memories? Share them in the comments section below.
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