Friday, May 25, 2007

Yub nub.

This post is my contribution to the Star Wars Blog-a-Thon
Star Wars was released seven years before I was born, and I'm sorry that, on the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary, I have no fond memories of seeing it (or any of the original trilogy) on the big screen. I saw the special editions, but while that experience was a blast, I'm sure it can't possibly compare to the collective sense of discovery moviegoers felt at a time when blockbusters were cultural events rather than preordained marketing triumphs. My own introduction to the Star Wars universe happened on video - when I was very young, my parents would make VHS copies of movies they thought would interest me, creating double features that I would replay over and over. And accompanying The Neverending Story on one tape was not Star Wars but Return of the Jedi; my parents had unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally?) given me a wild, almost Pinteresque introduction to Star Wars.

After the opening title crawl informed me of a man named Luke Skywalker trying to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, I was quickly plunged into a completely unfamiliar world. The experience was like Buckaroo Banzai, as I struggled to decipher images and terms that I had no frame of reference for (when Luke offers Jabba "these two droids," I thought he was referring to his cufflinks for some reason). The relationships between characters were baffling to me - I knew that Han loved Leia, Luke was the good guy, his dad the bad guy, and Yoda was awesome, but I couldn't tell you why any of these things were true. I also thought Obi Wan was Luke's grandfather. I didn't know what to make of Admiral Akbar or Bib Fortuna. And yet, despite all this confusion, I fell in love with Return of the Jedi. While I was deprived the shock of suddenly discovering Darth Vader's true identity, I responded strongly to the complicated father-son relationship, riveted as Luke was finally provoked to attack his father to protect his sister. Even in my latency period, Leia's gold bikini raised some interesting questions. And I must admit that I loved the Ewoks and cheered their victory over the Empire - it may have been my introduction to the still-potent concept of rooting for the underdog.

On a more basic level, I was captivated by Return of the Jedi's sheer audiovisual assault. While there's no substitute for the big screen, it's impressive to me that, even on a grainy 13-inch screen with tinny sound, I was transported to another world. I rented Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back soon after, and they had the same dramatic effect on my developing imagination. It's a shame that today's summer movie season offers children so few opportunities to be truly enchanted - these days, sarcasm is substituted for genuine wit. I can't wait to show the movies to my daughter and see if they've become dated relics or, I hope, enduring stories like The Wizard of Oz that transcend the technology of their time (if only George Lucas could have the same faith in his work).

Now, as a grown man, I've learned that Star Wars stands for many more things, culturally and commercially, than I once realized. It's almost impossible to discuss Star Wars today without talking about corporate synergy, the ethics of CG revisionism, and Lucas' transformation into a tragic, Charles Foster Kane-like figure. But these are topics for another day - I feel like being winsome, dammit. So today is for Star Wars for Star Wars' sake, for the memory of being a wide-eyed little geek sprawled out on the living room floor with the shades drawn, taken to a galaxy that is a considerable distance from our own.

1 comment:

Bob Westal said...

Nice post, Bemis. It's really interesting to me to hear how people come across the movies that blow their minds and sometimes affect their lives. It's also just darn strange to me that someone born so long after first film came up is now old enough to responsibly bear children.

And great video. John Simon was an okay writer but, criminy, what a joyless snob. Back when he was till reviewing, he was always my idea of a highbrow critic gone terribly wrong; back in those day, it seemed oddly appropriate that he wrote for the National Review. Today, it seems ironic as he's clearly Bill O'Reilly's stereotype of a typical ivory-tower secularist -- but that's a subject for another blog.