Listen my children, and I’ll spin you a tale of long, long ago in a suburb not far away.
Perhaps if I’d been a boy, I would have seen the first Star Wars in a theater like my husband Chris did. But probably not. My dad was more into raunchy comedies than science fiction. I was five, and we didn’t get a nearby walk-in theater till I was a teen. Also, my parents were convinced children magically fell asleep for the second feature at the drive-in.
(This also explains why I saw movies like Caddyshack and Porky’s before I was ten.)
At any rate, I did see Star Wars – and The Empire Strikes Back – on VHS. In our basement, we had a VCR which my dad got in trade for a van. That thing worked for fifteen years, which was probably longer than the van did, but I can’t really verify that.
In these days, there was no RedBox on every corner dispensing movies for a buck. You had to drive over the bridge to Louisville. You had to join a “video rental club,” give them a $50 deposit, and movies were $5 a night. I’m pretty sure they sent the police after you if you didn’t return them.
- I remember having an intense crush on Luke, and thinking Han was kind of a jerk.
- I remember thinking Leia was awesome, but I wished she got to have cool Jedi powers, too.
- I remember being terrified during the trash compactor scene.
- I remember playing Star Wars in my back yard a lot. I wrapped myself in yards of unbleached muslin and pretended to be a female Jedi, although I was not sure this was actually a thing?
[Aside: I’ve read several articles from women who watched Star Wars for the first time this year, and it’s interesting that mostly they have the same reactions I had: that Luke is a much better character than he gets credit for, that Han’s behavior was pretty creeptastic up to the middle of ESB, and that Leia was by far the most competent of the three main characters.]
Then in 1983, I lobbied to see Return of the Jedi at the drive-in. I lobbied hard, and we went and it was glorious. And yes, I adored the ewoks. My sister and I had stuffed ewoks, which were also glorious.
Luke had become a badass, black-clad Jedi. He got his happy ending (or at least the vindication of knowing he was right about his dad). Han stopped acting like such a jerk, and OMG YOU SHOULD NEVER PISS LEIA OFF EVEN IF SHE HAS NOTHING BUT A CHAIN AND A RIDICULOUS BRASS BIKINI SHE WILL KILL YOU DEAD THE MINUTE THE BODYGUARDS BACKS ARE TURNED.
Like I said, glorious. There were many more evenings of playing Star Wars, until the sun set. I had none of the action figures the neighborhood boys had.
I needed no action figures, I was the action figure, because that is how drama kids do.
And then years passed. I grew up and got into comics (which, like Star Wars, girls weren’t supposed to like back in the 1980s, but since when did I like what I was supposed to?)
I got married and moved to Japan and had a little boy. I endured the prequel trilogy, which was exactly like when you’re a kid and some jerk grown-up offers you your favorite treat. You get excited, and then the “treat” turns out to be some crappy health food version, like you’re not gonna notice. Well, we did notice, Uncle George. We noticed a lot.
FLASHFORWARD TO DECEMBER 2015.
I’m a little older, a lot more cynical, and my daughter is the same age I was when I first saw Return of the Jedi. We spend a week watching the original trilogy, which she hasn’t seen, before going to see The Force Awakens. She loves the ewoks when we get to ROTJ, and we agree that Leia’s braid game is consistently on-point.
I tried to temper my expectations. I tried not to get my hopes up. I mostly failed. But it ended up fine. More than fine.
I’m not going to spoil the movie for anyone here. But I will say that the both the current-day 11 year old girl, and the 11 year old girl who watched Star Wars in her basement on a VCR possibly even more durable than the Millennium Falcon were thrilled. The husband who did get to see the original in theaters in 1977 and had the action figures was thrilled. The college-age son who just got cast as Chewbacca in a local theater production of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars was thrilled.
It was not Uncle George’s crappy health food version of Star Wars. It was the real thing. The new characters were wonderful. Many old friends were back. The galaxy far, far away felt like a real place with grit and rust, not a glossy, digitized proof-of-concept from a videogame.
And yes, the main character is a girl. The trailers have featured a lot of John Boyega – who is delightful – but if you had to pick the main character, it’s Rey. It’s hard for me to describe exactly what that means to me. Yes, Leia was awesome and yes, she was more competent than both boys combined, but there was never any question that she was not the protagonist.
Ending this post is like trying to land an X-Wing on Dagobah. There’s so much more I could say, but I already feel like I rambled on too long. I am already excited for Episode VIII.
I just found out the first “anthology” movie, Rogue One, is going to be a heist movie set before A New Hope, about how the Rebel Alliance actually got those Death Star plans. You know how I love a good heist story, but then they went and threw in Alan Tudyk, and my poor Firefly-loving heart can hardly take it.
Lately, I’ve been working on scraping off the crusty soul-barnacles of cynicism I’ve built up. Letting myself just simply enjoy things. Re-igniting my childlike enthusiasm.
The Force Awakens made it easy to do just that.