I am watching Return of the Jedi as I type this, and I am remembering…
I had just graduated from college, starry eyed and ready to believe, when Star Wars: A New Hope burst onto the screen on May 25, 1977. I had no kid to take, but I didn’t care; my friends and I had read early great reports, and we were all excited about going to George Lucas’s new film.
We found seats in the perfect spot–three or four rows behind the center, smack in the middle section of the theater. I scrunched my knees up against the seat in front of me, and that music began to roll, and so did the words–marching away from me in neat battalions, scrolling forward, opening up a new world that existed a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars: A New Hope was a revelation to me: a fairy tale for children, full in breadth and scope, that spoke to the heart of an adult. I didn’t move, I don’t think, for the whole hero’s journey. I watched the unknown, untested Luke begin to blossom–to discover his gifts, to unleash his daring and his bravery. Everything, for Luke, was new–the adventure and his history, the martial arts, the weapons, the travel,–and the tragedy. I sucked in my breath when that boy screeched his land speeder to a halt, jumped out, and came upon the remains of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beroo.
Family gone–essentially the only parents Luke ever knew–he is freed to forge new bonds. Old Ben–Obi-Wan–becomes his trusted mentor. Han becomes a rakish role model. Leia becomes a dream figure, a shining example of bold and righteous femininity. The droids add humor and poignancy.
And the adventure, and the mystery, slowly unfold.
Oh, they shouldn’t win. How could they win—puny, untrained humans struggling against a mechanized, organized, stealthy death corps? But they have their truth and their belief; they have their valiant spirits, even when, as in the case of Han, that spirit is well-buried.
Their have allies–wookie and Jedi among ’em. They have, as the poet wrote, the wit to win.
When the lights came up after A New Hope, I turned and asked my seat-buddy, “How long before the next one comes out?”
Can you imagine waiting THREE years–three years!–for the sequel? The Empire struck back in 1980; and then, in 1983, the Jedi returned. By then, I had me a 9-year old stepson and a good reason to go to the movie. And oh, what a satisfying ending. George Lucas had truly created an epic.
Life rolled on, we got a VCR, and the films became available on VHS. Jim was born in 1990, and I can remember him in his one piece footie pajamas, bouncing up and down in front of the TV set, two fingers in his mouth, enthralled by the world of Star Wars.
“Wuke!” he would proclaim, pointing a menacing finger at whomever walked by. “I am your FODDAH!”
Do you remember your shock on learning that Vader was the daddy? For Jim–and much of his generation–that was a truth they don’t remember ever not knowing.
Now the music swells, ominously: Darth Vader’s ship has landed; his shining black presence fills the screen. Oh, he’s a villain who chills. I’m watching the original film: we are purists, avoiding the digitally enhanced version released for the 20th anniversary of the phenomenon’s beginning in 1997. Jim was seven; Matt was twenty-one, and the second generation of Star Wars wonder began. New toys abounded–“Oh, shoot,” said Matt, “the originals were better,” and Jim argued with him, hotly.
Star Wars was an archetypal tale by then, its people woven into the memory-fabric of all the children we knew. Earnest Luke, rascally Han, beautiful, brave Leia. Monsters and furballs and talking machines. We had witnessed the birth and firm rooting of a classic tale.
The prequels were disappointing to me–good, I guess, but not anywhere near the epics of episodes IV, V, and VI. Tonight, I watch Jabba confront Chewie–oh, Jabba: that blubbery, devious, wicked piece of work!–and I wonder about the newest film. Jim, raised on the saga, worries: does the new film turn heroes into the fallen? He hesitates. Perhaps he won’t go to the theater–perhaps he’ll wait for it to stream.
But the originals, meanwhile, still thrill. Here is Han, frozen in carbonite, and here is his mysterious rescuer. I must go. I will rely on my colleagues here in Blogging 101 for recommendations about the newest film in the series. Meanwhile, we need to get Han warmed up and seeing,—and clear of the dark side.