I love Star Wars.
Before Gunpla. Before Japanese martial arts, Final Fantasy, or sports. Before anything, I loved Star Wars. One of the earliest memories I can recall at will is sitting in the theatre watching it. When Star Wars released on May 25, 1977 I was less than a week away from my third birthday so, of course, I was too young to take to a movie and I would never have comprehended what I was seeing. It wasn’t until Empire Strikes Back released in June, 1980 that I had my first Star Wars experience. That day I had no idea what was going on as I climbed into the car and my mother drove us an hour to the only theatre anywhere near our little town. I didn’t even know what the words Double Feature meant. As the music started and the words scrolled up the screen I still had no idea what was happening and I probably couldn’t even read the words that were disappearing into the distance.
Then the camera panned down, the fleeing ship entered the shot, followed by the Star Destroyer that seemed to go on forever. That was it. I was hooked. I might not have blinked for that hour and a half. Star Wars finished and there was a break before Empire started but I don’t recall leaving my seat. Once the closing credits were finished and the lights came back on in the theatre, my mother and I headed back to the car and I neither of us realized what had been set in motion.
One of the great things about Star Wars is that everyone experiences it in their own way with their own level of involvement. For me, Star Wars is Episodes I through 6 and now 7. When I was a child there was no internet so no one could tell me how I should appreciate Star Wars or what I should not like. There were no online reviews or forums or anything to influence me. Star Wars was my own thing and while I didn’t get into it the same way others did through extended universe books or video games what I did have was more than enough for a young child.
I should really thank (or blame?) my mother for my Star Wars fever. She took me to each of the movies and every year for both my birthday and Christmas I would plead for more Star Wars figures and she usually came through. My mother is a pro-level cake decorator so some birthday parties had Chewbacca cakes while others had Ewoks. I owe the joy I find in Star Wars to her.
Here is a picture of a young me and some of my Hasbro 3 3/4 figures. I would distribute them on our large kitchen table divided by the movie and the setting. Empire Bespin related figures in one place, Jedi Jabba’s palace figures in another. I kept all these figures into adulthood whereupon, finally having my own source of income, I proceeded to hunt down and complete my collection. I could have spent my money better, probably.
Jedi and lightsabers led to an interest in Samurai and Japanese swords which led to an interest in Japan in general. This culminated in moving to Japan and snagging a job working with toys and plenty of Star Wars stuff. Strange how life works.
Even though I wrote that I love Star Wars there was a period of time where it was distanced from my life. The years without any Star Wars releases were filled with me just doing adult stuff. The release of the special editions was more painful than thrilling. We should have realised then that the originals are as great as they are because of the limitations Lucas had in bringing his vision to the screen and not despite them. Then came the prequels.
I lined up for a day and a half to get first showing tickets to Episode I surrounded by fans who were more hard-core than me! I felt like Homer Simpson. ‘Nerds!!!!’ Yet, I was more like them than unlike them.
The high level of anticipation I had while taking my seat just before the lights dimmed and the crowd screamed turned into disappointment as I trudged out of the theatre in the wee hours of the morning.
Pretty much universally panned, the prequels had the effect of dulling my feelings towards Star Wars in general. I think most people felt the sting like I did. We all held Star Wars dearly in our hearts and we all just anticipated a new movie would be more of the things we already loved. That was not the case and while I can look back on the prequels now and see the story George Lucas was trying to tell, at the time it hurt. Of course, I’m not saying Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi are perfect films and I definitely viewed them through the tinted lenses of youth but they have that special something that the prequels did not. There was one thing we probably avoided thinking about prior to seeing the prequels for the first time; The likelihood that what you will see in the prequels affects how you view the originals.
On their own Episodes IV, V, and VI are the story of Luke Skywalker and how he saves his father while saving the galaxy. It’s a feel good story. As a whole, Episodes I through VI are the story of Anakin Skywalker and how, despite his best intentions, he ended up being a curse rather than a blessing. It’s a terribly sad story that only has some redemption at the very end.
As a ten year old, Darth Vader is the biggest badass in the galaxy. He can force choke people and carries that red lightsaber. Awesome! After seeing the prequels you are made to realise that he is just an emotionally unbalanced mama’s boy with no father figure who got his ass handed to him by Obi-Wan and is now just a shell of his former self. He can’t even beat his untrained son in a duel on the Death Star in VI. I watch the originals now and think, ‘Poor Annie’.
I had always thought the concept being-strong-in-the-force was something akin to a naturally ability similar to athleticism or mathematics or music. Some families are much better at some things than others. Genetics play a big part, I suppose. Luke’s father was strong in the force and Luke (and Leia) had that power too. But, within 30 minutes of Episode I, uh, nope, this kid has a high mitocloridian count. Why don’t we just blood test every kid from now on?
Or, the Jedi seemed to a young me to be a kind of Robin Hood. Someone going around trying to right wrongs and maintain some kind of justice for those not strong enough to have it for themselves. However, it appears they are more like a government-funded special forces group being dispatched throughout the galaxy by the decisions made by the senate.
All these things force you to either see the originals in a different light or ignore the implications of what you are seeing when you watch the originals again.
When I heard Disney purchased the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas I immediately was filled with a sense of dread. Why can’t they just stop making these movies so that the battered and wounded love I have for Star Wars can be left alone? George Lucas at least made the movies he wanted to for himself but Disney wasn’t going to approach things the same way.
I held back from getting excited. Then the first trailer dropped.
I was understandably cautious at what I was seeing but then the Millennium Falcon (that’s the Millennium Falcon!!) did the loop and two Tie Fighters screamed by and something inside me woke up. Just give me 90 minutes of that, I thought.
When the second trailer arrived and THERE WAS A STAR DESTROYER!
When I saw Han and Chewie together for the first time in 30 years I felt like they felt, “We’re home”.
I suppose the coinciding release of the Star Wars kits from Bandai also helped add fuel to this fire that was starting to burn again. Upon moving into a new place rather recently my desk started to look like this:
My desk/room hasn’t looked like that since I was in my early twenties.
Despite being burned by Episode I, I still lined up early to be sure to get tickets for the first showing. Waiting was tough and because the theatre in my town in Japan wasn’t selling tickets until December 8th I felt like I was running the risk of missing. I shouldn’t have worried. Star Wars has its fans here just not as many and I was able to get 7 tickets for the opening show. At 6 pm December 18th I was making my way into the theatre, praying that I wouldn’t regret it…