In 1977 I was the ripe old age of 4 years old and Star Wars changed my life. It might be true but wow there are thousands of these stories all over the Interwebs. I will fill in a few tiny details just to establish myself as a long term fan and then get to the meat. My mom took me to see the movie in the summer of ’77 and from that moment on my childhood was filled with Star Wars. I am not just talking about the toys, I had a beautiful collection that was played with nearly every day, or sheets, cups, plates, pjs, Halloween costumes, t-shirts, sneakers or anything else that was stamp with Star Wars. Before I could write on my own I would dictate stories about Luke, Han and Leia to my mother. She would fill up spiral notebooks with my adventures that involved freeze rays, shrinking rays, super invisible ships, cross overs with Star Blazers and G-Force. I used to wrap myself up in my Star Wars bathrobe and sneak into my grandparent’s laundry room, pretend to crawl through the drier (it was a portal to a Galaxy Far Far Away) and my trusty inflatable blade lightsaber and I would defeat the evil empire. Luke’s lightsaber was yellow in my world too. I saw the first Star Wars movie 10 times in the theater, once more than my best childhood friend Todd Boykin.
The visual spectacle that was Star Wars lit a fire in my imagination and has kept it fueled.
So, there is my official Star Wars Geek card. Are there other fans that have more heartwarming stories about how Star Wars changed their lives, sure there are but this is my story and not theirs. They can write about it on their blogs (and most have).
The Original Trilogy (Star Wars – it wasn’t called A New Hope yet), Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) were the framework of my childhood and like many things from our youth that have strong emotional ties my memories and feelings for those films are jaded. That is not a bad thing, those memories and emotional attachments are the building blocks of who I am. The adult me still has a very warm place in his heart for the original movies. To be honest I actually enjoyed the much maligned Prequel Trilogy (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) as I bonified Star Wars geek I am aware that statement will have many readers dismissing the rest of this blog post or maybe even having a Kylo Ren. Many years of reading books and comics from the Extended Universe prepared me, managed my expectations for the Prequels. Jar Jar was not an abomination to me, I actually found him kinda funny. I will explain as I run through the movies in release order.
Episode IV: A New Hope
The one that changed everything. In the years since it has been torn apart by every aspiring student of film as a modern example of the hero journey done right. All the right notes were hit, the whole thing was put together to pull on the strings of our collective mythologies. George Lucas studied Joseph Campbell’s writings and it shows. We have to remember too that George was/is a huge fan of the Saturday matinee adventure cliffhanger stories, these were little films with cheap sets and big ideas filled with so much cheese it is hard to watch these days without become embarrassed for both watching and for the actors that worked so hard to star in them.
A New Hope capture both of George’s loves so very completely and showed the world how amazing a space movie could really be. ** special note on special editions … I never once thought about whether or not Han Shot first until I saw the T-Shirt and even then it didn’t matter to me. Han Solo was a scoundrel and shooting first or second does not change his character enough for me to lose sleep over the change. I actually liked how some of the FX shots were cleaned up and it was nice having a scene with Jabba to feel the threat to Solo.
Episode V: Empire Strikes Back
In any three act play the middle act is where things go bad for the heroes. Empire delivers so well that it is almost universally considered the best of all the canon films. Again Lucas taps into our collective mythologies, hits us with a surprise or two (OMG Vader is Luke’s DAD!!). A greatest wise man in film, Yoda, is introduced and the whole world gets to speak in extreme passive voice. We get a better connection with far far away by learning that there is a bigger baddie than Vader (was that even possible) and that Luke still had a long way to go in his hero’s journey. Let’s also be honest with ourselves, Luke was really whinny in the first movie and only slightly less whinny in the second, he’s growing up right?
The characters are put through the ringer and in the end the bad guys look to be getting the upper hand. Perfect second act.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Final Act baby! Again George’s scholarship pays off. We have a great closing chapter to the hero’s journey that Luke has been on. We see him come into his own, allow himself to be a Jedi and come to terms with his father being the guy that cut his hand off. Not sure if Luke really deals with the whole kissing his sister thing. I almost image that awkward moment when Leia is all like “I love you like a brother and Han is really the guy for me.” Then Luke is like, “No problem, sure love ya like a sister too. By the way, those couple of kisses, can we like totally forget about them, I mean nothing personal but I really need to forget those. By the way, the little green guy that has been teaching me how to use the force told me that we are actually brother and sister, crazy right, and that Vader is like our dad. I know bummer but hey, that’s how it shakes sometimes.”
The attack on Jabba was great and the right way to start the movie. Then we get another Death Star, I guess the Empire goes with what works right, cover up the exhaust port, throw a shield around the project and make sure the laser is online first. It would have worked too if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids and their little droid.
A word on Ewoks… their cute and while it does take a taxing amount of suspension of disbelief to accept them defeating stormtroopers with rocks and spears, we are at the end of the day talking about a movie that has people flying into space slugs, getting out and walking around in the thing’s stomach.
This one has always been special to me because we saw a son get past the evil and through to the good within his father. We learn that there was good still in him.
The EU Years
After the credits rolled in 1983 we were left wanting. There were rumors about the prequels and then sequels. But Lucas had moved on with lame little remarks about technology and stories. The guy was just interest in making other movies and writing a couple of books with Chris Claremount. The comics died out and eventually my figures got packed away and Star Wars lived on only in my heart, a dusty collection of spiral notebooks and a pile of VHS tapes.
That was until 1991 when Timothy Zahn’s book Heir to the Empire was published. I found the book on a shadowy lower display at the local Waldenbooks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Instantly, I thought that this had to be a sign that a new movie was right around the corner. I bought it and read it in a day. I loved it, it was great and had all of the Star Wars magic that I had been craving. Then the bookstores were flooded with new novels and series that continued the lives of Luke, Han and Leia. Computer and Console games came out and gave me a fix for the Star Wars habit.
I mentioned that the EU prepared me for what we got with the prequels. It is true that not all of the books or game were all that good. There were some real stinkers and the sad part was that they told stories that were important to me. Courtship of Princess Leia, the whole Luke tries to find his mother story line and I have to admit the Yuuzhan Vong books felt a little too drawn out and I had a hard time with the Solo kids, there was something that just wasn’t rooted correctly, I liked Ben Skywalker but the twins I never connected to.
When word at long last came that a new Star Wars movie was in the works, a prequel I was excited, giddy with anticipation. I also did not fill my head with preconceived notions of what it would be like. I knew that it would be about Anakin Skywalker and that was about it.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
I was sitting with my fiancé during the opening midnight showing. I cried when the 20th Century Fox fan fare sounded and the opening crawl set shivers down my spine. I greatly enjoyed watching the movie and was set to watch it again by the time the credits faded to black. Jar Jar was silly, Darth Maul did not have enough screen time, Obiwan was a bit of a jerk and Anakin was a little kid with a crush on an older girl. The mythology was touched on in much the same way as A New Hope, the set up for the next two movies was in place, just like A New Hope.
When ranking the movies I usually stick A New Hope and Phantom Menace together.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
To me this is the weak link of all of the movies. I know why it is needed and seeing Yoda go all Jedi Warrior was thrilling but the detective and romance movies didn’t have enough room to spawn a good second act. Look at it this way, Captain America: The Winter Solider was an old fashion Cold War Spy Movie, George Lucas really wanted to capture the detective noir vibe with part of Attack of the Clones; he also wanted to make sure the audience bought into the whole romance between Anakin and Padme. Do I hate the movie? Nope, it just isn’t one of my favorites. I get the story that George was trying to tell but it wasn’t a best effort and elements would have been better as off screen filled in by a tie-in novel or even a tv show (what an idea, right?).
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
It seemed to me that too much of Sith was really a second act kind of movie, as far as framing goes. We get the fall of Anakin, the rise of the Empire and the death of the Jedi. Also, Luke and Leia are born. All good things but they are there to set up a final act that doesn’t really come because we already had Episode IV, V and VI.
Just going on the record to say the final battle between Obiwan and Anakin was the best lightsaber battle on film and the ending made me cry because they had been best friends, they were brothers and it was gone now.
The fan rage that follows the prequels around annoys me, my son loves the prequels, my wife enjoys them and my daughter loves them too. In terms of quality of movie, yes there are flaws; however, the originals had flaws too. I think the biggest problem of the Prequels was that their stories were told second. It is hard for some fans to take that step backwards and care about what came before what they already know.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Now the Mouse driven Star Wars movie is out. When Disney bought Star Wars I was thrilled. My family is a Disney family to start with but seeing what they have been doing with the Marvel property gave me instant comfort that Star Wars was in good hands. I was not wrong.
On December 18th, I have too much responsibility to go to midnight shows right now, when the kids got out of school we all went to see The Force Awakens. I loved it. I was blown away by the quality of the movie, the respect to what went before and the set up for what will come next.
The strongest moment in this movie for me was watching Rey holding the lightsaber out to Luke. I was begging him to say something, anything just one word would have been enough. But the silence that closed the movie was perfect. JJ Abrams and the Mouse did a good job and I cannot wait to see what comes next.
Star Wars didn’t really change my life, it has been this constant thread that has woven itself through me and now I get to share with my children in a way I didn’t think I would be able to. I am grateful that Star Wars is getting to live on and that I will be able to go to the movie theaters (best place to see a Star Wars movie in my opinion) and watch far far away with my family and see my children glow with those magical threads that will be woven into their lives.