In the summer of 1977, I was nine years old. We were in Massachusetts, visiting my grandmother. My godparents, Liz and Sarkie, and my brother’s godfather, Butch, lived right next door to her and owned several movie theaters and drive-ins around the area of Haverhill, MA. It was a foregone conclusion that we would go to the movies at least once while we were back there.
On a warm, muggy August night, my parents piled my brothers and I into Butch’s Trailblazer, along with Butch’s son, Brucie David. We headed to one of the drive-ins to see a movie..any movie. We had no idea what we were in for.
It took a few minutes to really figure out what was going on. A drive-in, after all, is not the best place to sit and get lost in a movie. Once the lasers started firing, and Darth Vader came stalking in through the smoke, black cape billowing behind, we were transfixed. I would bet that was the first time during that whole trip that my brothers and I sat quietly, probably with our mouths open just a bit.
When we got back to Phoenix, I talked of nothing else, until my cousins finally convinced my aunt to take them to see it.
That was it. It only took one viewing to turn Star Wars into our obsession. My cousin, Tom, and I were hooked.
My mom has said that she never understood my fascination with Star Wars, and she couldn’t understand why I was so excited about the new version that came out yesterday. In trying to explain, I said that at nine, Star Wars became the toys we played with, the trading cards we bought, and what we played at recess. It was on the tee shirts we wore, on the lunch boxes we carried, and completely took over our little kid brains. We wanted to BE Han Solo. We wanted to fight with the princess and learn the ways of the Force. There were spaceships, and creatures, and sword fights, and heroes. And, yes…at ten, I was a tomboy. I thought Han Solo was the COOLEST. I dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween; but, Solo was IT.
It’s similar to how kids today are swept up in all things Marvel, or Frozen. I mean, geez…you can’t go anywhere without seeing a miniature Spider-Man or a little Elsa walking around. We just had less “stuff” and fewer product tie-ins than kids do today. We had to work a little harder to find ways to feed our imaginations. I’m pretty sure that George Lucas can be thanked for the marketing overkill we have today.
Through the years, my love for Star Wars never faltered, though I grew less obvious about it. Occasionally, in conversation with a co-worker, I’ll drop a random Star Wars quote, and it always fascinates me to see a face light up in recognition. Ah…a fellow nerd!
When the prequels came out, Dave and I took our kids, eagerly anticipating a return to that experience from our childhood. Though they were fine, they didn’t capture us the same way that the original movies did. I know that I came away a bit melancholy. Perhaps it was time to let go.
When it was announced that there would be a new trilogy, set after the original three, I was interested, but wary. Then, JJ Abrams was announced as the director, and a little spark of hope flashed. He’d done a good job rebooting the Star Trek franchise. Could he do the Star Wars universe justice? Dave is a Star Trek fan…he edges slightly more toward the Star Wars camp, though. This is a good thing. I’m pretty sure that though we disagree on many things, including politics, religion, music, television shows, and DC vs. Marvel, our marriage would not survive a Star Wars vs. Star Trek argument.
Production began, and casting was announced. Our original heroes were returning. I started to get excited. Really excited.
When previews started coming out, I found that even the Lucasfilm logo was enough to take my breath away in anticipation. The release date was announced and we toyed with the idea of getting our tickets in advance; but, we didn’t want to stand in huge lines to wait to see it. Maybe we’d savor the anticipation and see it on Christmas weekend or for Dave’s birthday, New Year’s Eve. The more times I watched the preview, or drew doodles of characters, the more I wanted to see the movie.
Yesterday, Marcie stopped by the office after lunch, and said, “Let’s shut down!” We have worked so hard this year, and we finished our last renewal with time to spare. Our goal for this year was to have the holidays off. I hadn’t been sure that we could pull it off. This time last year, we were still buried. We will take next week off,the first time we could take time for Christmas.
I called Dave as I left the office, feeling good and wanting to celebrate. I suggested that we might consider checking to see if any tickets were available. Dave was tired after a long overnight shift, so he said he’d think about it. I didn’t push; but, I hoped he would be up for it. I hung up and called my mom.
By the time I got home, he had purchased two tickets for the 6:20 showing. Suddenly, I was breathless…excited and nervous. We took off for the theater, thinking we would still have to stand with a crowd, and that we’d have to fight for decent seats. At the theater, though, there were maybe twenty people in line for our showing and the Harkins staff was almost done cleaning the theater from the previous screening. I got in line while Dave headed to the snack bar. In front of me stood a guy my age wearing a Rebel fighter jacket, with his two kids. The son had a Stormtrooper jacket and the daughter had a Star Wars tee shirt on. Behind me, a family walked up, the son carrying a Darth Maul double light saber. I chatted with the kid doing crowd control, asking him if he’d seen the movie yet. He shook his head ruefully, and said that Disney doesn’t allow advance showings for theater workers…that stinks!
I’d only been in line a couple of minutes when they let us into the theater. I called to Dave, still standing at the concession counter, and told him I’d get seats. Happily, our favorite seats, right in front of the rail, were wide open. A good omen. Dave joined me and we settled in, anxiously making predictions about what we’d see. Finally, the previews started. Five previews, not one that interested me. Then, it was time.
From the very first scroll, I was transfixed. It’s a long movie…over two hours, and I never fidgeted once. I couldn’t see enough. It was everything I had hoped for, with some really good surprises, and a return of humor that had been missing from the prequels. There was one prediction that I’d made, and I turned to Dave at the end and said, “This is one time it sucks to be right.” There were moments throughout where I realized that I was glad I’d hung on to my napkins…I cried a lot …tears of joy, tears of shock, tears of sadness and horror, and tears in the release of such tremendous anticipation.
Look. I know it’s just a movie; but, as I stood in the lobby afterwards, waiting for Dave, I found that I couldn’t stop crying. It was like I had been given the gift of being nine years old again, before life had kicked me in the teeth a few times. It was a return to the innocence of youth, a return to the joy of seeing a movie you know nothing about, a return of your heroes…like old friends. And, now, we have new friends…new heroes, new favorites. I’m so glad.
We are going to see it again. Ben didn’t go with us last night; because he’d already made plans with his friends. We won’t see it this weekend, but definitely durning the next week.
I’m sitting here this morning, still weepy. When you build something up in your head, usually you find yourself disappointed. There are so many bad things in this world…so much stress and worry. To be able to lose yourself in something that gives you some relief from that? What a gift. If that makes me a nerd, I accept the title gladly.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a perfect movie; but, it’s the perfect Christmas gift for me.