Clippings: Star Wars provides lifetime of thrills

I know there is a lot going on in the world these days and a lot to discuss, but, as you might have heard, the new Star Wars movie opens next week. And that is what has my attention. I am a Star Wars geek. Well, maybe not a geek. How about a superfan? I have never gone to a convention dressed as my favorite character (though I did dress as a Tusken Raider for Halloween in 1977). I have, however, stunned people with the depth of my knowledge about the original trilogy. Can anyone name the Mos Eisley docking bay where Luke first encountered the Millennium Falcon? How about the name of the chief model maker for the first film? I can. And I am proud of it.
I was hooked on Star Wars even before I saw the movie. My first memory of Star Wars is from May of 1977. I was sitting at my family’s kitchen table looking through the mail. Staring at me from the cover of the new Time magazine was Menachem Begin. No, he wasn’t a character from Star Wars, he was prime minister of Israel. But up in the corner of the cover was a banner that said, “Inside: The Year’s Best Movie.” As a 13-year-old movie fan, that really caught my attention. And when I opened the magazine I just about lost my mind. There was Luke Skywalker driving his landspeeder. Han Solo and Chewbacca poised for battle. Stormtroopers firing blasters. X-wing fighters rolling through space. C-3PO and R2-D2 on a desert planet. It hit every button in my science-fiction-fantasy-movie-loving brain.
The big problem was that back in 1977 movies didn’t open on 4,000 screens across the country like they do today. Star Wars opened on about 50 screens in late May. And not one of those 50 was in my hometown of Duluth, Minn. I waited and waited. Walter Cronkite reported on the lines of people waiting to see it and the box office records it was crushing. I still waited. I can still see myself tearing through the newspaper later that summer and finally seeing a coming soon ad. A couple of weeks later I convinced my older brother and a friend of his that we should all go see it. Crowds were heavy and we had arrived just minutes before the start time. The only three seats together were in the front row, all the way in the left corner. It strained my neck to look up at the screen, but when the movie started I couldn’t look away. I risked permanent neck damage trying to see every detail-rich moment.
Needless to say, the movie blew my mind. It was new, it was exciting, it was fresh, it was thrilling and I became obsessed. Mostly with how the movie was made. I read everything I could find and I eagerly awaited the arrival of the sequel. The Empire Strikes Back, released in 1980, was also fantastic, better in some ways even than the original. By the time Return of the Jedi opened in 1983 I was in college and some of the wonder had faded. And I was not a fan of those phony-looking Ewoks. Still, my obsession held on. The original film had left a powerful mark on my childhood and I repaid the gift by learning as much as I could about all things Star Wars.
In the late 1990s the original trilogy was rereleased in theaters with some digital upgrades (too much digital nonsense if you ask me) and I transferred my love of the films to my young son. I enjoyed buying Star Wars toys and books for him as much as he enjoyed getting them. When the prequel films arrived a couple of years later we were almost as breathless with anticipation as I had been in 1977. Unfortunately, Jar-Jar Binks, the sweeping self-important visuals, the sleep-inducing politics and the dead-in-the-water romance let us down. Some bits kept us excited but all these years later my son and I pretend the prequels don’t exist. Did the prequels sour me on the whole franchise? Of course not.
Proof is my excitement about the imminent arrival of a new sequel. The Force Awakens opens in one week and I am feeling a little 1977ish about the whole thing. Of course nothing can replicate the original film or how it made me feel, but I am very optimistic. My son, who lives in Massachusetts, already has tickets for opening night. I have not gone that far but I have been discussing the film and speculating about it for more than a year. Has Luke turned to the darkside? Are the new characters the offspring of Han and Leia? Will Jar-Jar’s dead body really show up in the background of one scene? Is Darth Vader alive?
Maybe I am a geek after all.

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