Friday, December 18, 2015

Thirty Years Of Star Wars And Here We Go Again

This will give you an idea how old you had to be to go to the original Cinema showings of the first Star Wars. I was looking for pictures of the Forum Cinema, in Dun Laoghaire, now closed down, and most of the returned images in Google were in black and white. I am not kidding. Look for yourself.

It didn't look like much from the outside, but the Forum Cinema was gorgeous on the inside.
Understanding why Star Wars means to much to people my age is simple really. We just didn’t stand a chance. There was nothing like it back then, it blew the lid off for my age group, starting with Star Wars, all the way through Empire and on to Return. It is no exaggeration to say that Star Wars, and the subsequent sequels, acted as a background narrative to many of my peers and I in the 70s and 80s. The simple tale of good versus evil resonated for a variety of reasons and dragged us with it through the years, through the mixed-bag second batch of movies and all the way through to today and the JJ Abrams re-boot.

There’s was just nothing like it.

I want to talk a little about actually physically going to see the trilogy, but first, how it manifested itself through my life. I know many of you my age will nod and hopefully smile at some of the references.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember much about Star Wars before actually going to it. I don’t remember the hype. However, I do remember the day I went, as clear as if it was yesterday. Well, two weeks ago, maybe. I also remember various little moments through my youth that all came from the Star Wars experience.

The vociferous argument with my parents around my communion name. I wanted Luke. For obvious enough reasons. I was vetoed. I remember where I was standing as I moaned ‘You never let me do anything!’. 

''Mum, Dad, I'm going to school''

I remember coming down the stairs at home, dressed up as a Rebel soldier on Hoth for a school Halloween party. The outfit was lovingly put together using anything and everything I could get my hands on, but as I stood in front of the mirror in my room, about to go down stairs, I steeled myself for the inevitable ribbing from my family, or, worse, apathy. To this day I remember which step of the stairs I was on when my Dad looked at me, shrugged, and said, ‘’You know what, I actually know what look you’re going for, and that’s not bad.’’

The action figures. Who my age hasn’t thought to themselves ‘Why didn’t I leave just one or two of them in their box?! Why?!’ If you had the foresight to keep a few of those figures in their original packaging, I salute you. You are most likely either very rich, or about to be very rich. Those things go for thousands, each!

Why?! Why didn't I buy ten of them and leave them unwrapped?!

I got one pound pocket money, and I saved basically only for Star Wars figures. I can picture myself as clear as day standing in front of the packages in one of the few stores that sold them in Dun Laoghaire, 2-3 weeks’ pocket money saved in my clammy hand, trying to figure out what figure to get this time. Princess Lea on Hoth? Chewie? Han Solo, in any number of cool outfits (if you don’t think Han Solo is cool, you may as well stop reading now, in fact I am astonished you got this far).



I remember one day after school standing beside my poor mother as she made dinner, giving her a long, detailed explanation of why X-Wings, and all the other craft in the Star Wars galaxy, look so old, worn and beaten up. Realism. Yes, I was evangelizing the merits of realism in the craft design of Star Wars, to my mother, as she made dinner. She gave me some money to go buy something she didn’t need, but I bounded down the street happy that I had clearly recruited another believer.

Have I ever tried to move something using The Force? Yes, I have, and no doubt a few of you have also. Pencils, rulers, that kind of thing, while day dreaming in class Yes, I did that. Sure.



Star Wars formed a background to much of what my friends and I did way back when. Aaron Wilson (I wonder where he is now…) had pretty much all the toys, including a majestic, enormous AT-AT, and if you were invited to his house you got there early to make sure you got in on the action early. The figures, any other merchandise, they were all high value currency. We occasionally traded figures and other bits but generally you just horded what you had and treasured it as if it were solid gold.

The Star Wars universe found its way into everything else, for us, back then. I remember when we first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, my first few characters were all based on someone you might hear about in the Star Wars world. Jed Jorfu was one of my favourite creations. Used that one a few times.

Star Wars was always there, hovering over us, binding my friends and I together. We were not what you would class as super obsessed, we didn’t join any of the uniform groups (at least not that I know of), there were no Rebel Alliance tattoos (yet) and none of us successfully had our names changed to Luke, Han or Lando (kudos to my friend Paul for naming one of his sons Luke). However, Star Wars was an incredibly profound constant in our lives.



In our minds we were always on Tatooine, staring up at the moons (yes, plural), dreaming of fighting the evil Empire, and falling in love with Princess Lea. Apart from Barry Colleary, he wanted to fight for the Empire. I guess the uniforms got to him.

It all started and ended though, with those first viewings. The first time we snuck off to the cinema and saw the original three movies. In my case it was literally snuck, as my parents barred me from seeing it, fearing it was violent escapism. I remember the walk to the cinema, with Barry, who was about to be sucked into the glory of the Empire and their fancy outfits, and Roghan Kinlay, a free spirit about as close to a real life Luke Skywalker as I would ever meet. We walked down from Barry’s house, with Barry clutching a 5 pound note that his Dad had given him to buy our snacks with. This 5 pounds ensured we could buy anything we wanted. I had two sodas, a bag of popcorn and a big red box of malteesers. The guys got similar, and we still got change. Maybe it is a statement of how bad other movies were at the time, but when the big red velvet curtains pulled back and the music blared and that opening, shining, golden text rolled down the screen, we sat with our jaws dropped down to our knees, having never seen or heard anything like this before.

The movie itself was a rolling, pounding, thrilling and indeed romantic ride. We were hooked and we wanted more. The wait for Empire was painful, but I remember sitting back in the seat in the same cinema, a couple of years later, thinking, ‘’Well, here we go again, God I hope Luke and Lea get together properly, enough with this messing around!’’

You can imagine my face after that was over.

Empire led to Return, at which point I was finally growing up and building a pretty strong sense of skepticism. Return still resonated, and the ending, although a little clumsy, let’s face it, still felt like closure. I even excused Return for those stupid Ewoks. Who cares, Speeder Bikes!

Is there any point in mentioning the second batch of movies? Let’s just forget those, other than, I enjoyed the second two, and saw the third one a couple of times, including one time after a morning Irish World cup match where I’d had a couple of drinks, and went to a 2 pm showing. I fell asleep in the cinema and was woken by an attendant, cycled home, found out I was locked out, and fell asleep in the front garden, until my roommate came home, woke me up and brought me inside. That’s probably my strongest memory of that batch.

And with that, here we go again.

Look, I know, it’s probably best not to get too attached to a Science Fiction movie. I get that. And, I do draw the line. Like I said, I haven’t enlisted in a fake Rebel Alliance costume group (although I did research them, a few years ago). That said, going to see the Force Awakens is a pretty damn big deal for my peers and I.

Having read the above, it should be pretty clear why.

May the Force be with you.



1 comment:

Kathye Bergin said...

In 1977, my husband and I went to see Star Wars alone, supposedly "pre-screening" it for our almost-five-yr-old son. But when the MGM lion roared again for the first time in decades, and John Williams's opening score "had me at hello," and then those giant words scrolled up the screen, I knew I'd never, ever feel the same about movies again. As soon as our son returned to Austin, TX, from my parents' in Dallas, it took us three days to convince our boy that he wouldn't be frightened by an outer space "war movie.".

He emerged from the dark cinema into the blinding, post-matinee EVENT a changed person (as I had after my first viewing). From then on, through the seven years before his baby brother joined us, not a square foot of our house permitted safe walking: the floors were, literally, a constantly rearranged Star Wars universe. No SW toy was too big or too small (or had too many it's-bitsy control panel decals applied lovingly by Santa at 3 am Christmas morning. Our horrible mistake was letting our younger son--who did not see SW as a religious experience--play (read "destroy")--so many of the smaller crafts. It took almost 30 years for that rift in the brotherhood to heal.

I can't climb theater steps anymore (wheel chair) and had to wait this year for the BluRay version of the "real Star Wars." That didn't keep me from fearing up at the iconic beginning or bursting into tears when Solo and Chewie enter the Falcon and Harrison Ford--still the quintessential swashbuckle--says, "We're home, Chewie."

Oh, yes. We ARE!

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