Friday, May 26, 2017

40 Years Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: My Life-Long Fandom of 'Star Wars'


The original Star Wars was released 40 years ago on March 25, 1977. I cannot detail any great story about standing in line with eager anticipation or how on that night the giant Star Destroyer filling the screen changed how I saw movies. The reason being that I was still a few months away from being born and was blissfully unaware of the giant phenomenon that was about to take over North America and then the world for the next four decades.

I can say that I don't know a time in my childhood where I was not only well-aware of Star Wars but completely enthralled by it. I watched the original at least monthly, and each time, treated it like a mega event. I owned over-flowing boxes of Star Wars action figures. I had Star Wars bedsheets, curtains, posters, and ate C-3PO cereal. I owned Star Wars comic books and novels, and several coffee table books that detailed how the movies were made. I also remembering setting the VCR and counting down the hours to seeing the latest "Making of Star Wars" TV specials that gave me a sneak into the fascinating world that concocted my most beloved movie. I also watched all those Ewoks TV movies, saw every episode of the Ewoks and Droids animated series, and I would have watched the Star Wars Holiday Special if it had not been erased from canon so I never even knew about it as a kid (I did finally see it in my 20s). One of my favourite past times was either writing my own Star Wars stories or going out in the backyard to recreate my favourite Star Wars scenes. You would be correct in labelling me a bit of a fan.

Star Wars was my window into sci-fi, fantasy and monsters, and while I may have always had affection towards those things, it was that movie that spurred me on to find other material with that sense of adventure and wonder. It fuelled my creativity and imagination, and somewhere on some raggedy notebooks is my first endeavours into story writing that often were about a young boy going on inter-galactic adventures to become a hero. Over time my stories moved away from the Star Wars archetype, but the belief that I could create my own worlds and characters came initially from my deep love of Star Wars. I used more writing to explore the know unknown and George Lucas made me believe that I could.

As I grew older, I moved on to new obsessions to define me like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, WWF wrestling, grunge rock and girls. Through it all, there was still that little young boy who wanted to fly the Millennium Falcon or venture through Jabba's Palace who lived on in the recesses of my heart. That young boy came alive again in 1997 with the re-release of Star Wars as Special Editions. They are burning hell now if you ask most Star Wars fans that grew up with the original theatrical releases, but I remember loving them at first viewing. I was happy to get anything Star Wars again, and being able to relive that magic in theatres.

I remember a few months after The Return of the Jedi, trying to gobble up any little bit of information that I could about George Lucas' plans for more movies. I was excited about the prequels, because it was Star Wars, but the bigger deal was the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia and Han. Though in 1984, I felt a slight gut punch knowing the plan wasn't to start filming for another decade (I wonder what Fox thought about that plan too). Even though I never was one that was frothing at the mouth for the prequels, I went opening night to Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. I went four more times after that. It really wasn't good enough to justify so many trips, but I was Star Wars starved.

It was after the prequels being disappointments that I thought my Star Wars love affair had ended. I was ready to move on and eliminate Star Wars websites from the bookmarks. I told myself I really had no interest in the movies that were planned after Jedi. Of course, then the news came that Disney was buying the right to Star Wars and there would be more movies, and that 6 year old boy came screaming out again. Then he burst into a thousand children and performed a massive parade in my office with the announcement of Star Wars Episode XI: The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens got the number one spot in my Best of 2015. Did it deserve it? Was it really the best movie? It depends what you define as best. As a movie reviewer, I am expected to give a deeper analysis and look at what really makes a movie work. But to be honest, I am also just a guy who loves movies. A love that from what I remember started with Star Wars. In the end, I have to go with my gut reaction and how I feel when leaving that movie theatre, and then as the reviewer, it is my job to write what created those feelings. It was a spiritual and magical moment watching The Force Awakens for the first time. I am sure lot of that joy came from the fact that it felt like the Star Wars that I remembered as a kid, and it played properly to my nostalgia while crafting new characters and adventures. It is now a year and half removed from when I made that list, and I still would put that movie on top.

But this isn't about The Force Awakens, this about the movie that has now been around for 40 years and spawned an empire. An empire that no one saw coming when it first was released in May 25 1977. Actually, most pundits predicted it would be one of the big box office flops of the year and many expected it to be out of theatres after two weeks. It was a movie that was rejected by every major studio and finally, picked up by 20th Century Fox, which was a studio struggling at the time. George Lucas landed the rights to the merchandising, because at the time no studios thought one could really make much money on things like that. Star Wars was seen as such a dud that 20th Century Fox had to threaten theatres that if they want to screen what was expected to be the big summer movie, The Other Side of Midnight, then they also needed to screen Star Wars.

Then it was a massive box office hit that became the highest grossing movie of that year and broke box office records. The Other Side of Midnight, based off the bestselling Sidney Sheldon novel, was a modest hit but no one is still talking about it 40 years later. After all the major toy companies turned them down before release, Kenner made the action figure line but was so unprepared for the pop culture phenomenon that at Christmas time they had to sell Early Bird Certificate packages that meant they could be redeemed for the action figure. Now, I don't think the production of Star Wars toys has ended since 1977. As for merchandise, Lucas became a millionaire off it, and studios rearranged their thinking about that area of movies.

How movies were made really changed after that. Every studio wanted their next Star Wars, and then having a yearly big event movie become a thing. Science fiction moved out of the drudges of the B-Movie label and became major studio pictures. Because of Star Wars, Flash Gordon returned to cinemas, we got The Last Starfighter, that glorious cheesy rip-off Starcrash, and most the 1980s big event fantasy and sci-fi was in some way influenced by Star Wars. Even though it is nothing like Star Wars, I argue Alien was given a great budget and a large marketing push thanks to Star Wars, because all things science fiction was hip again.

Star Wars has influenced almost all science fiction in some small or big way over the last 40 years. Not just science fiction, but you can even see its finger prints in stuff like Harry Potter and Marvel Studio flicks. It is fitting it has influenced so many movies and books and shows and comics, because Lucas has been very open about Star Wars being an amalgamation of many past works. I could write an entire book, and a few people have, on all the things Star Wars "pay tribute" or was influenced, including Flash Gordon (Lucas originally wanted the right to make this movie), Metropolis, The Hidden Fortress, works of Joseph Campbell, King Arthur, Silent Running (droid design), and Dune. Even if it is seen as a derivative work, it is now a pop culture icon that is more recognizable than anything that inspired it. It is alongside Mickey Mouse and Superman as icons that will still be recognizable and even immensely popular another 40 years from now.

Even if Star Wars is nowhere near an original work or it may have some of the cheesiest dialogue ever for a big budget movie, it will always and forever be my favourite movie. It cannot be topped. There is no movie experience for the rest of my life that can compare to the first time I watched that movie. No other movie has influenced and inspired me the way that movie did. You can argue much better acting, way better special effects, more coherent storytelling, and various other things exist in other movies, but you can't argue that my heart tells me this will always be the best movie to me.

Now, that it is the 40th anniversary and my son, Everett, is turning 6 this year, I think it may be time to sit him down and show the entire series (minus maybe Rogue One, which has some tough material and an ending he may struggle to emotionally handle). Or at least begin the journey with the first movie. It also just so happens, that I somehow married a wonderful women that has never seen a single one. It may have to a big family event.

Happy Birthday, Star Wars. It was the greatest movie of all-time when I was six years old, and well, that six year old still has a pretty loud voice today.

No comments:

Post a Comment