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Star Wars And Me

December 15, 2015

Note: This will probably read a bit disjointed, but I'm just reflecting back on my attachment to Star Wars over the years. It'll probably be of little interest to anyone, but for some reason I just felt like writing about it.

I don't remember the first time I saw Star Wars.

That's because I was only around three years old when my parents saw it at a drive-in and took me along. My mother says I didn't blink the entire movie. Oddly enough, the first movie I can remember seeing in a theater is Disney's attempt at cloning Star Wars, The Black Hole. I still love that movie, even if it looks incredibly dated despite coming out after Star Wars. Those two movies pretty much cemented "space plus robots equals I like it" in my mind. My parents realized this early on, and sci fi combined with super heroes is all that would shut me up for a few hours.

I do remember seeing Star Wars in an actual movie theater with my mother when they re-released it before The Empire Strikes Back came out.

In fact, my earliest memories of Star Wars are from having the figures of R2-D2 and C3PO, which my aunt had bought me as a gift. They were the first in a lot of Star Wars toys that I and my brother had as kids. I remember picking out a bunch of Star Wars toys for Christmas from the Sears catalog. I had the Cantina playset. I remember having the Death Star playset with the cut up foam in the trash compactor. I remember having the toy lightsaber that was yellow with the inflatable blade. Both blasters that had batteries and would make noise. I didn't grow up rich, but my brother and I always had a lot of toys.

I definitely remember seeing Empire Strikes Back in theaters. I remember being blown away by Hoth and the speeders versus the AT-ATs. I remember not believing that Vader was Luke's father. There was an agonizing wait of three years to find out if Darth Vader was lying or telling the truth. I don't think people seeing those movies now can understand or appreciate waiting THREE YEARS to find out what happens next.

I remember the giant-size collection of the Marvel Comics adaptation of Empire. I remember dragging it along anytime we went on any sort of car ride and reading it until we got where we were going, or until I got car sick if we were on a long ride.

I remember having the audio of all the dialog from the first movie on vinyl record and playing that over and over and over and over. Then we got cable and Star Wars was a regular fixture on there. We recorded it on VHS.

I just recalled how the Artoo figure was a piece of plastic and had a sticker all around his body. That shit came off in the tub. Countless Artoos were ruined that way in my house. I remember after Empire came out, they had the Threepio you could remove the limbs from. Shit, the original had that feature by accident if you let my cousin play with it.

If you weren't a kid at that time, you don't know the feeling of taking your Star Wars guys outside and losing their guns and other little bits, never to be seen again. (As an adult, I wonder why they didn't sell packs with a bunch of replacement guns like they did with GI Joe figures. Kenner would have made a small fortune. Maybe they wanted you to rebuy the whole figure.)

I remember when I was a little kid my mother would buy those packs of trading cards with bubblegum in them from Empire and Star Trek The Motion Picture and sneak them into my lunchbox without telling me. Sometimes, she'd do that with those 3-packs of comics you'd see in stores too. She might not even remember doing that, but I'll never forget it.

An entire new boatload of toys came along. The Hoth playset (which hurt to accidently step on as much as Legos did!). Those minature playsets with the tiny figures. (The Bespin one had a breakaway window to hurl miniature Luke out of!) One of the few toys my brother and I didn't have was the AT-AT. A friend of ours had it, and it was awesome.

Finally Return Of The Jedi came out. Of course I remember getting excited when it was called Revenge Of The Jedi. As a kid I loved it. As an adult I see the flaws. I see Harrison Ford phoning it in. I see how much Ford clearly hated being in that movie. I see Mark Hammill busting his ass to give a great performance before fading into obscurity until he does the Joker's voice for Batman cartoons and video games years later. I see the cynacism of Lucas turning what was planned to be Wookies into Ewoks so he could try to sell teddy bears to little girls. I see the seeds of what would eventually be everything wrong with Episode I in Return Of The Jedi. But at the time, I loved it.

I remember coming home after seeing Jedi in theaters and my brother and a few of our friends were having lightsaber battles with wiffle ball bats. Accidents happened. That had to be going on all over the nation. Maybe even all over the world. I'm laughing thinking of kids in Asia hitting each other with bamboo sticks and reciting Star Wars dialog in their native language.

While Jedi was still in theaters, my uncle game us a copy of the movie that somebody recorded with a camcorder. My brother and I watched that tape over and over and over.

After Jedi, Star Wars sort of fell by the wayside for me. I'd occasionally thumb through the Marvel comics in stores, but by then not only had Marvel's (and to a lesser extent DC's) own characters grabbed me more. Then came GI Joe, the Transformers, Voltron, and Robotech. Comics had stuff like the X-Men. Lucas had made it clear that there wasn't going to be anymore movies. The story was over.

I pretty much forgot about Star Wars until around 1996. Maybe it was '95. I was working in a comics store at the time. I remember seeing the new versions of figures from the classic trilogy. I don't know why, but that planted a seed in my head. A few weeks later I was shopping for movies on VHS with one of my friends and my brother, and I spotted the remastered THX version of the Star Wars movies. I bought them, and that same day because I made my movie purchase I decided that I had to have a brand new Sony Hi-Fi VCR to replace my older VCR. I called a few other buddies over and we ordered a pizza and watched all three movies back to back.

That started the whole thing over. I went out and bought all of the new figures. (To this day I've still got the first two waves on display on the wall as well as extras in storage, some on the card and some open.) I remember going to Toys R Us and waiting around for them to put out the figures so I could get the rare figures. A few of us even went in a blizzard once to a few towns over because we figured there'd be less competition. "Let's risk life and limb because it's hard to find a fucking Princess Leia!" (Scalpers wanted like $40+ for her at the time.)

I bought the Millenium Falcon, which was just a re-issue of the one I had when I was a kid. I bought everything I could. About two years ago I was looking for something and I came across many boxes full of Star Wars shit I don't even remember buying. I had saved Star Wars Taco Bell kids meal boxes for crying out loud.

At the comic shop, we had a small TV set and VCR. We had a small selection of anime tapes, most of which weren't appropriate viewing for the store. The boss had Goldfinger on VHS (I wouldn't become a Bond fanatic until later on and didn't want to watch some boring old movie from the 60's), and I'd bring in my trilogy on VHS whenever I'd work alone and loop the movies non-stop. I probably saw those movies around 600 times in a two year span.

By then in addition to buying any merch I could find, I had bought the movies on VHS again, but this time letterboxed. Then on laserdisc. DVDs were years away, but I bought the Special Editions on VCD from China. Then bootlegs (made from laserdisc) of the original trilogy on DVD from eBay.

When the Special Editions were announced me and my buddies lost our minds. I remember me and my friend Donnie paying to see that Star Trek Next Gen movie with the Borg and they go back in time... just to see the trailer for A New Hope Special Edition.

I saw each Special Edition on opening day. I dragged the girl I was seeing at the time to one showing of each. She didn't get it. None of the girls or women I've dated over the years had seen Star Wars before I showed it to them. It baffled me as to how somebody could grow up in a first world country after 1977 and have never seen a Star Wars movie, not even on TV. After years of that experience, it's even more baffling to me that all of the sudden, younger women seem to like Star Wars. (Some of them at least.)

I remember back when shopping malls would randomly have collectibles "shows" and you'd see baseball card dealers, and comics dealers get to set up tables in the mall to sell back issues. As I worked at the comics store, I did quite a lot of those. One time it was when that book that took place between Empire and Jedi came out. I remember taking a break to go buy it. I also remember my brother buying the video game for it on the N64 and us playing that the night he got it. I even bought the action figures they released from that, but I can't remember the name of the book and it was so inconsequential that I don't even care enough to Google it. I just remember if it was Star Wars at that time, I had to have it.

God knows how many novels, toys, and whatever else I bought during this time. How many times me and my friends sat around talking about the movie and quoting it. Especially me and my friend Chris. In some cases, we were two grown men buying toy lightsabers and sword fighting. With the plastic swords. Not our dicks. I know you were thinking that.

Then the dark times came.

Special Edition-era girlfriend was out. New and improved girlfriend was in. Yet another one who hadn't seen Star Wars. A new movie is announced. Life is wonderful.

Thanksgiving 1998. I decided to work for the extra money. By then the comic store was in the rearview mirror. I was a few months into working for a small local ISP. The trailer for the new Star Wars prequel, Episode I was released that day. I remember gathering around the one computer in the building that had speakers attached to it and watching the trailer a few times. Back in those dial-up days being able to watch a trailer on the internet in something besides a shitty RealMedia file was mindblowing.

Months of anticipation and finally it's opening night. The first showing. There I am with my girlfriend, yet I feel like I'm eight again. That 20th Century Fox fanfare hits. Even now, no matter what movie I'm watching, when I hear those drums, I almost expect Star Wars. Then that first note of the Star Wars theme. The opening crawl. Then... soul-crushing disappointment.

More digital ink has been spilled shitting on Episode I than I can probably imagine. I'll just say I didn't care for it, although it had some good points. Oddly enough, the girlfriend who didn't like the original trilogy really liked Episode I. That right there should have been the sign that things weren't going to work out. Well, not really. But still, it didn't help.

A few weeks later the company I worked for rented out a theater for it's employees to screen Episode I for them. A really nice gesture, and probably the last time the company felt like a great place to work.

Despite not liking the movie, I remember buying a cam copy of it on VCD and then when telecine rips started showing up I got my hands on that on VHS.

In a lot of ways, I'm grateful for Episode I being so bad. It saved me so much money. There was no way I could keep up with the deluge of merchandise around this time, even with a full time job.

2002 rolls around and I'm single. Chris (my biggest Star Wars buddy) and I have tickets along with his girlfriend, and his dad, for Episode II. By this time, my rekindled mania for the franchise had been snuffed out by Episode I. But still, of course I'm going to see this movie. At least by this time I was done with buying the merch. (Although I was pretty much importing everything I could in terms of toys and merch from Japan for various anime around then.)

In fact, even though I had tickets for the first showing on opening night, I downloaded a cam copy of the movie and skimmed through it before going to the theater. It looked better than the last movie. It was better than the last movie. If you skip most of the parts with Anakin and Padme, it's a better movie. I even won a framed poster from the movie. It's still hanging on my wall. I would've preferred one from Star Wars (to me it's not Episode IV, it's Star Wars) or Empire, but still, it's a nice piece of Drew Struzan art.

When Episode III came out, I was there opening night, first showing again with Chris. Probably the best of the prequels, even if that "NOOOOO!" is comically awful. I remember liking it, but not loving it.

I did buy the prequels on DVD as they came out. Even Episode I. Old habits.

Then the originals came out as Special Editions on DVD. Had to get those. The original, non-special editions came out not long after, but at that point I was reluctant to part with the money. My brother wound up buying them.

When my brother passed away in 2008, I remember opening his DVD player to see what was the last thing he had watched. It was the special features disc from the original trilogy. I know for a fact that one of the two last actual movies he saw was Lucasfilm related. Two nights before he died, we watched Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull together. I think he loved that stuff even a little more than I did, even if he wasn't as much of a voracious consumer as I was.

When the original trilogy hit Blu-ray, of course, I got them. Even though they'd been re-edited so many times with changes I didn't like. In fact, as I write this in 2015, my copies on Bluray are still sealed. I've got 1080p Bluray rips of the movies on my HTPC. I'm sure when they hit 4K, I'll buy them again. But aside from picking up the movies, like the good little consumer George Lucas has trained me to be over my entire lifespan, I pretty much stopped thinking about Star Wars again like I did after Jedi. I probably never need to watch the originals ever again. Along with Transformers: The Movie and Goodfellas, every single line of those three original movies are permanently etched in my mind. Someday when I forget my name, how to go to the bathroom on my own, or everything else, I'll be able to remember, "These are not the droids you're looking for." (As well as, "Now go home and get your fuckin' shinebox.")

So I was out. I was done. There were no more new movies coming (again!), and the story was done. Sure there were video games, Dark Horse comics, and endless novels. But none of them really mattered.

Then came the announcement that Disney had bought Lucasfilm. Along with Marvel, old Walt's company has purchased a good chunk of my childhood. Of course they want a return on that investment and annouced that basically they're going to make new Star Wars movies until the sun explodes.

I've checked out the new Marvel comics. They're pretty good. I say give it a few years and they'll turn into shit like the original run of Marvel's Star Wars comics. They started off with top tier talent and eventually it became where they stick new people who aren't quite ready to work on X-Men or Spider-Man. Hell, it was a place to stick people that weren't even quite ready for third string books like Powerman and Iron Fist or Dazzler. I have a feeling history will repeat itself there.

I'm also hooked on Star Wars Rebels. Oddly enough, a show aimed at kids is better than the prequels.

Now Episode VII is upon us. This will be the first time since 1997 that I'm not in that theater at the first available opportunity. I'm looking forward to the movie seeing the movie eventually. But there was no way I was going to buy tickets for a movie in October when it comes out in the middle of December. It just seems insane to me. It's a movie. It'll still be there even if you don't go opening day. I guess other people have taken up the mania for this stuff where I've dropped off. Still, even when I'm not fanatical about it, some part of me will always love Star Wars.