I don’t think there has ever been a time when being a “nerd” was considered so cool and acceptable like it is today.
Yes, Comic-Con has been doing its thing for awhile, while hoards upon hoards of fans and artists flock to it year after year to show off their passion and creativity for all things comic book, sci-fi, etc. Nowadays, we get two Marvel Cinematic Universe theatrical releases every year, multiple Netflix original series, DC attempting to compete and catch up with their own version of a film universe, you get the idea. There was a time when Batman fandom was restricted only to those who read comics, or possibly were Adam West fans. But the exposure to these imaginary characters and worlds have now reached a new peak in popularity.
It also means we will be getting a new Star Wars movie every year for the time being.
With the release of The Force Awakens right before Christmas, the hype was astronomical, the merchandise was flying off the shelves and everybody was talking about Star Wars again, and had been for the two previous years. I mention Comic-Con above as an example of fandom and passion, and I say that in the most positive way. Even on Halloween, how many Doctor Who’s do you see roaming around each year? Or students of Hogwarts? These fictional worlds have touched upon so many people and brought strangers together on such a massive scale, and while I may be going out on a limb, I’m going to say none of them are quite the size of Star Wars. Go ahead, argue Star Trek, argue whatever you want, that’s fine, but putting as much personal bias aside as I can, Star Wars reigns supreme.
In what I expect to be a very long winded piece, I would like to attempt to recount my story of growing up and why Star Wars has meant so much to me over the years, and still does. Since the Rogue One teaser trailer was released just the other day and The Force Awakens arrived on home video, it seems like an appropriate time to stop and collect it all. I love hearing people’s tales of passion, and I’ve told parts and sections of this story to different people throughout the years, and it has made me realize that it is either very long, or I have found a way to ramble and drag it out. Feel free to decide for yourself.
As we get older, our experience alters our memories. It is unclear the first time I saw the original Star Wars in full, but I do remember my first encounter with it. I was 4 or 5 years old: bouncing around the Oceanside, California townhouse like a little conduit of energy. My mom was watching tv, as she liked to do. My love of movies developed from her and her alone. Like I said I was flying back and forth, running through the house, playing with my little sister, and in passing I remember stopping to watch what she was up to and I remember the exact scene: Obi-Wan’s lightsaber duel with Darth Vader on the Death Star. They banged their weapons around, the people in the white armor running away, the pirate looking man saying “Now’s our chance, go!” The deep-voiced man in the black armor striking the older hermit, and his body disappearing. This is where it begins to blur, for I know that my interest was struck, but I cannot remember the first time I watched it in full. However, I do know that it didn’t take long before I knew the movie like the back of my hand, and like Superman II & Tim Burton’s Batman, Mom had them recorded off of HBO on a videotape. And I wore all three of them out over the next couple of years.
Fast forward to mid-1998: I was 6 and now living in the desert town of 29 Palms, California. Star Wars has become my go to movie, and I don’t know what made this Saturday different from the rest, but I wanted to watch it and of course asked permission (I always asked if I could “watch a movie” before doing so back then) and on this day I decided I was going to watch Star Wars and my mom said, “You know, there’s more.”
More? I had a couple of toys at the time that didn’t make much sense to me. Like Han Solo being inside a block slab? I didn’t remember that happening in the movie so maybe it wasn’t a huge shock to me. For some reason I had just accepted the toy as it was.
She went to the drawer underneath the TV and pulled out another recorded VHS tape, this one having two movies on it, written in cursive lettering: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. So we popped it in, rewound it to the start, and I began watching.
That was the day. My life would never be the same.
I’ve had so much time since then to think and reflect on it, but it’s hard to remember how and why it affected me the way it did. It also doesn’t matter much why, it has been my favorite movie ever since that day, 18 years ago. Darth Vader was always the most interesting (coolest) part of Star Wars, so the fact that his role was increased probably had a lot to do with it. The lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader was incredible, especially compared to the one previously mentioned on the Death Star. Han Solo had a lot more funny things to say until his emotional imprisonment, the snow battle in the beginning with the AT-AT walkers was amazing, learning the ways of the Force in the swamps with Yoda, all of this added up to being a much more personal and deeper film than the original. I didn’t know all of this at the time, I was just reacting to how I felt, and I said, “Can we watch it again?”
Mom asked, “But Jacob, don’t you want to find out what happens?” referring to Han Solo being taken away by Boba Fett. I simply said no, I wanted to watch it again, first.
So we did. Then we went on to Return of the Jedi.
I don’t know if it was because I was so jazzed up about Empire, but I didn’t like that one as much. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it and as I’ve gotten older it has grown on me. It just doesn’t reach the level as before, and that’s okay because it’s asking a lot to compete with what became my favorite movie. What I do remember most about it was the resolution of Darth Vader and his death, which of course I was very sad about, but even at such a young age I felt it made sense to the story and recognized how big a deal his sacrifice was. Now, let me remind you once again that I was 6 years old, because my favorite part without question was when Luke Skywalker activated his new lightsaber.
It lit up green. My mind was blown.
I don’t even like green that much, so looking back it seems rather silly, but I had it in my head that blue was good, red was bad and that was it. It stopped there. There was nothing else to it. But I thought that was so amazing that Luke became my favorite character just for a couple of minutes. I was 6. I corrected myself quickly, and apologized to Lord Vader.
As I was nearing the end of 1st grade, about to turn 7, The Phantom Menace was about to come out. I did not have a huge grasp of how long it had been since the original trilogy came out, but obviously they were older and I recognized that this new movie was going to take place before them. So a lot was going on that I just took as coincidence. Why was I able to go see Episode V and VI in theaters? I didn’t know anything about the Special Editions quite yet, but I thought I noticed a couple lines Darth Vader said that were different than on the tapes I had been watching.
I also was desparate to buy the trilogy on VHS at Walmart, and I looked at them overtime I was there. But $30 was a lot of money for a 1st-Grader (WOW! That much for 3 tapes? My, how times have changed) and eventually I was able to acquire them. Dad didn’t want to buy them since I technically had them at home, but it meant so much to me and eventually I came home with them. Though there is a good chance I had to pay for some if not all of it. Where I got that truckload of money I’ll never remember.
Upon watching them, I noticed differences. Clear ones. How could I not, I had seen them so many times. I didn’t understand how that could be. Did they cut things out just because they had been recorded on TV? That didn’t make much sense to me, but I was young and the internet was hardly anything at the time so I just accepted it and moved on. And when The Phantom Menace came out, I loved it too. And call it ignorance, naivety, being young, or lack of caring, I never knew how looked down upon the prequels were until well after they were all over. Basically not until YouTube came into existence. But at the time, I would talk about how the lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Darth Maul was the coolest thing ever, and even swinging my toy lightsaber asking, “Mom, do you think I could beat him?” referring to Darth Maul.
“No? He’s a Sith Lord.” … Thanks, Mom. Thanks for that.
Attack of the Clones came out in May of 2002. The 16th if I’m correct. It was shortly after Spiderman was released (we saw that too) and it happened to be the week we were visiting my Mom’s brother in Texas for my cousin’s college graduation. This would grow to be my least favorite one, but of course I loved it at the time still. I was at that perfect age, it was made for me: I was seeing Anakin’s slow transformation, I saw some great lightsaber combat and I got to see a huge battle with a Clone Army. But it wasn’t until I saw it a second time with my Dad that I really shined, because Dad doesn’t watch movies, especially not in theaters. We were in Palm Springs that day, which was at least a 45 minute trip, probably more, so I know we had to be there doing something else, but we ended up going and he was talking about how the effects and attention to detail had just blown him away and that he “couldn’t wait for the next one.” I never thought I’d hear him say words like that about a movie, and it meant so much to me anytime I could share an experience like that with him.
A lot happened in between Episode II and III. I moved three times, a different state each one, the Clone Wars cartoon micro series came out, and Mom went to Iraq for the war. When she came back, and decided it was time to retire from the NAVY after her 20 or so years, it was decided they would buy a house in Kentucky, which they did. She went back to California to finish up what she had to do, and my Dad, my sister and I moved into an empty Kentucky house on May 20th, 2005. The day after Revenge of the Sith came to theaters. And of course, being the first of many trips, we didn’t have much with us aside from a few things to keep entertained and mattresses to sleep on. So, we went to see Star Wars, and I walked out of the theater with an incredible sense of satisfaction. It was complete in my eyes and my heart. So many years of waiting in between, and I was satisfied. Like I said before, I didn’t know the prequels were so looked down upon, and even thought I’m much older now and can see why they might feel that way, I still don’t care. They all mean something to me and I can’t help that. We of course saw it again when Mom joined as and we fully moved in, and she cried when Darth Vader was being burned after fighting with his Jedi brother, although she attributes a lot of that to thinking I looked a lot like him. I still say “whatever” to that.
Fast forward to 2012: I’m halfway through college, pursuing a degree in film, and unsurprisingly a lot of people want to know what your favorite movie is. The answer was always Star Wars, specifically The Empire Strikes Back. When I would go home for holidays, my sister and I would often watch them with her, because she loved them too and it was a nice connection. And that never changed. I had those six movies. But this night, sitting in the on-campus Panda Express chatting it up with my fraternity brothers, someone was scrolling news on their phone and with alarm announced that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and were in the beginning stages of making more Star Wars movies.
I was in shock. Complete and total shock. And not in a good way.
I didn’t believe him. I looked at what he read and scrolled through it, thinking it might be a joke. And it took me a couple days to think about it. I wasn’t sure how I felt: if I was scarred they might change what I loved about it or if they would mess it up. I felt it was complete and had carried those thoughts for 7+ years. But, slowly, I came around. As they announced JJ Abrams as the director, released the photo of the table read, and eventually began releasing trailers. By that time, the trailers were bringing tears to my eyes and I was fully on board. It had just meant so much to me that I was scared of that changing, but as time went on and I saw how excited people were getting, I realized it was a good thing. There was a new group of youngsters who would experience what I did seeing new Star Wars movies in the theaters. New toys were coming out, people were talking about Star Wars again in a way I never thought would ever happen.
The release date drew closer, the hype kept building, and finally the movie arrived. It was praised by fans, well-received by critics and broke records all over the place. And while I was happy with it as a new beginning, I admit I was slightly underwhelmed due to the hype. But seeing how people reacted and how excited and happy they were was such a warm, lovely feeling when people can be so spoiled and cynical about movies these days. And of course to be back in the Millennium Falcon, to see the original cast again, to even see an X-Wing in action again… Wow.
The feeling hasn’t gone away. The teaser trailer for Rogue One caught me completely off guard, and seeing the AT-ATs again, seeing the original stormtrooper outfits again, it gave me the feeling of excitement that I don’t know can ever go away. And it’s not blind fandom, I very much do expect to personally enjoy that film and Rien Johnson’s Episode VIII more than I did The Force Awakens. But I must tell you, watching the making of documentary on the newly released Blu-ray affected me far deeper than the movie. Seeing all these people come together to bring Star Wars back to life was emotionally overwhelming. Not to mention seeing it come together as an aspiring filmmaker, listening to all these interviews about dreams coming true being able to work on making a Star Wars movie once again… Let me tell you I can relate.
I didn’t tell all of that as simply an act of self-indulgence, but as an example. There are many specifics that I even had to leave out, such as how the music alone has influenced and affected me. I’ll save that story for another day, but my point is the passion and the love. I’ll be the first to admit I cannot stand Doctor Who or the obsession over Harry Potter, but that’s okay. It’s not for me to understand, it’s for those who found it in their heart to love it. Going to film school, I was often given a “how could Star Wars be your favorite movie out of everything ever made?” Well, how could it not? During major points in my life, it was there. I grew up with it, both my life and the story evolving and expanding as the years went by.
You never know what role something could play in another person’s life. It’s more than a movie to me. It reminds me of times spent with my family, times when things changed, specific experiences and events, and simply a reminder of how things were another time in my life: who I was.
A long time ago.