The recent news of Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars was met with both trepidation and cautious optimism. For those from my generation and older (that would be the 40+ crowd) the release of the first three episodes in the Star Wars universe weren’t exactly over the moon with how it all unfolded. We all knew the basic plot points of how we got to a New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but the inclusion of some surprise extras (Jar Jar anyone?) left many of us shaking our heads.
Before you start thinking this is going to be yet another bashing of Episodes I, II, and III let me say that the films are not as bad as most people say they are. Sure, the acting is a bit stiff but it’s made up of all of the stuff that we loved the first time around: interesting characters, worlds we had never been to before, space ships and amazing special effects. After spending a good amount of time in my own Star Wars room in my home contemplating what went wrong, I came up with the following conclusions.
When the first Star Wars came out, I wasn’t even quite six years old. I vaguely remember seeing it, but it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back came out that I really fell in love with the world. I was almost nine, and turned nine during the time of its release. In fact, I remember seeing the film 13 times that summer of 1980. The only other thing I remember from that summer was the release of the song Funkytown which will forever (for me) be associated with the film.
Looking in the rear view mirror, it doesn’t seem that long ago (30 years seems like a short time somehow) but it was definitely a different world back then. I was able to take the bus by myself to downtown Brantford to see the film at the Capitol Theatre (now replaced with the beautiful Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts). It was also a time when seeing films at the theater was something that lasted for weeks and months because fewer films were produced and home video releases were a relatively new thing. For a child, the time between the episodes seemed pretty much like an eternity.
There was little coverage of the Star Wars universe on television at the time. The film may have been mentioned periodically as breaking box office records, but the only ability to return to the universe outside of the theater was to save up your allowance and get your hands on as many action figures as you could. There were never enough funds to buy everything there was, either. It seemed like Kenner released new figures every week and the ships – oh the ships – they were just to die for.
I asked for a Millenium Falcon for Christmas in 1980. It was the coolest and best toy there was, but my parents could not afford it – or they couldn’t find it. So instead, I got the “put it together yourself” model version of the Millenium Falcon. Although it wasn’t really what I had wanted (you could not put your figures inside and play with them) I did end up spending a lot of time with it. Paint, stickers, and a cool battery operated light at the back that lit the whole thing up better than the Christmas tree made this a toy I grew to enjoy over time. In fact, it’s one of the few things that I cannot find from my childhood – I am not sure whatever happened to it but fortunately the rest of my Star Wars toys are intact and can be enjoyed anytime.
The key here is time. As a child, I spent a lot of my time in the Star Wars universe, even when I wasn’t in the theater. I used to tie a string from our tree to the neighbours railing and have Luke and his friends escape from the Stormtroopers and the evil Darth Vader in the nick of time, over and over again. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford those ships, I built my own from cardboard. I used pop cases as the base and made egg cartons into seats. I painted control panels and lights onto cardboard pieces that I fitted into the ships. I played out my own scenarios in these contraptions of my own imagination and created adventures that even George Lucas hasn’t thought of yet.
That is why Episodes I, II, and III – released at first when I had not quite reached my 28th birthday – would never capture my imagination, my mind, or my heart in quite the same way. Sure, I saw Episode I a number of times when it first came out and then bought the DVD (and the VHS, and now the Blu-ray) and I’ve seen it a few times since 1999. However, I did not build ships and think about the movie during over 75% of my free time. Life, bills, and a million other things were crowding my inner child. While Episode I was a fun (albeit short) trip back into that Star Wars universe, there was absolutely no way it was going to be as good or as fulfilling as the universe was the first time around.
With Disney at the helm, I hold cautious optimism that I can once again be transformed into being a child with a huge imagination and a roomful of action figures and cardboard boxes. Even if it is for only two hours, there is nothing that will ever replace or come close to my memories with Luke, Han, Leia and Darth from the 80’s. Star Wars helped shape the person I am today and there is nothing that will ever change that. Not even a new Princess in the Castle. For the Silo, Syd Bolton.