In the summer of 1977, I was 5 years old, pushing 6. My parents took me, and I think maybe my best friend, Christine Tussing, to see Star Wars. It wasn’t playing in our small town; it was playing in Gladstone, the smaller town 9 miles up the road. I remember a bit of the car ride there, some brief standing in line, and leaving the theatre totally and irretrievably in love with Luke Skywalker.*
Of course, like all people my age, I saw each of the movies as they came out, even Episodes 1-3, which were pretty terrible; no matter how much you like Natalie Portman (and I happen to like her a lot), she couldn’t save them. She was outnumbered by Jar Jar and precocious young Anakin and Hayden Christiansen; she never had a chance. And over the years, I’ve seen them again and again. I saw them when they did the rerelease in 1997, with new supposed “improvements” that I hated almost as much as I hated Jar Jar and young Anakin. I felt like someone had gone back into my childhood memories and wrecked them…at least all the ones related to a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away. Jabba walking? I mean, really.
And every time I saw the movies over the years, I became more and more aware of how much my love for them had as much to do with nostalgia and seeing them during my formative years as it did the actual story as written and acted. Dog knows, the writing was mostly, and sometimes shockingly, terrible. Plot holes you could drive a sand crawler through. And it’s no wonder Leia wasn’t impressed with Han. He was an unmitigated dick, trying to gain a woman’s attention by acting like an obnoxious 11-year-old boy. That they ever got together at all is really kind of baffling; I’d rather see her kissing her brother unawares than giving a jerk who does nothing but sneer at her and call her “Princess” as snidely as humanly possible as much as the time of day. When Scott and I rewatched the un-improved versions (which are the only ones I’m willing to watch) of the original trilogy again this past weekend in anticipation of seeing the new one yesterday, all of these problems seemed really obvious to our forty-something eyes.
But it doesn’t matter, because it is Star Wars, and all of us of a certain age are pretty much hard-wired to love it despite its shortcomings. Which is why we were so disappointed in the prequels, and we were all holding our breath waiting for the new one to come out, hoping it didn’t suck.** There was reason to hope, with George Lucas not writing it, and J.J. Abrams at the helm.
We were pretty excited to have made it to the theatre a week and a half after the release date without having seen or heard any spoilers, and settled in with our snacks to watch a movie we’ve been waiting basically all our lives for. And as the trailers played, I whispered to Scott which of them I’d like to see, and it was all very normal going-to-the movies behavior.
And then John Williams’s overture started, and the yellow text began to crawl towards the back of the screen, and I was in tears and my heart was overflowing. (In fact, I have goosebumps just remembering the moment right now.) I kind of surprised myself, and whispered to Scott, “I’m all farklempt.” And he just nodded; he wasn’t misty-eyed, but he understood.
I’m a sucker for overtures anyway; music goes right to my heart and my tear ducts. But it was more than that, and I realized then that Star Wars really WAS a big deal in my lifetime, and the hard-wiring I joke about is real.
Then I looked over at the little girl to my right who was there with her dad. She looked to be a little older than I was when I first saw Star Wars, maybe 7 or 8. And my first thought was, “Movie, please don’t suck!” because I hoped this new Star Wars would be as wonderful and important a childhood memory for her as it clearly has been for me. And then I reached over to the napkin dispenser so I could wipe my eyes and dab my sniffles.
*Eventually I would mature into realizing that Harrison Ford was the real looker of the two. Though I will say Mark Hamill has aged handsomely.
**It did not suck.