Most kids would have rather been doing anything but what I was doing over the summer of 1994. Twenty years ago, I was struggling with math in school, and was given enrichment packets by a teacher and that meant the summer months I would practice the problems that hadn’t been assigned in class to help broaden my skills. I worked as hard as I could, and mom tried as hard as she could to encourage me, and even help correct the problems, but it was still a grueling task for me.
Thankfully she bought me this real cool toy computer that talked and could drill me on math problems. Computers, even toy versions from the 1990s, are always fun. But still between the packets and the computer, something was needed to help escape for just a bit from the boredom of math. As I sat at the table working on the problems, the phone rang. Mom answered it and I could tell by the tone of her voice that it was my dad. Dad had stopped off at Target to ask about picking up a movie on video cassette, one that would provide that much needed escape.
“Yes,” she said. “I think he might like that…I suppose you could get it.”
Dad came home and as I got up from the table he showed me what he bought. It was a video called “Star Wars”. The box art, looked something like this:
From the moment I saw it I was curious. The beautiful damsel holding the blaster, the man holding the white laser sword aloft, the two robots standing in the distance, and then to top it all off, the ominous black mask looming over head. It was strange, mysterious, and utterly fantastic in the best way possible. My dad explained that it had been one of his favorite movies when he was younger and he figured it would be something I would like too.
It was a hot summer night, and we didn’t have air conditioning, so that night we decided to spread out the old white bed sheet and eat dinner downstairs ( pizza) and watch Star Wars for the first time as a family. Dad popped in the video and from the moment that iconic 20th Century Fox fanfare rolled to the last note of the end credits, I was hooked. Star Wars had instantly became one of my favorite movies. A sick day from school became another excuse to watch Star Wars again. It was one of the movies I would show to friends and family to the point I swear the tape almost got eaten by my grandparents old VCR.
I would like to say I hadn’t seen anything like it before, but keep in mind, this was 1994 and to say as much would not be entirely accurate. I had seen creatures in Jurassic Park, Robots in clips from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, and space ships in Star Trek and E.T. I even saw people fly in Superman and The Rocketeer. However, the scene that really made the movie for me and capture my imagination was the moment when Luke Skywalker stands outside his farm house watching the binary suns set on the world of Tatooine.
I had never seen a world in film, or read about one in books, with two suns. I wouldn’t even know that something like this existed in reality until I was in high school astronomy. Even despite this, the fact that this planet has multiple suns made it feel otherworldly in a very beautiful and simple way. Pandora of Avatar almost crosses into the Uncanny Valley but Tatooine, just pushes open the envelope between reality and fantasy just a crack to the point where I could wonder, “ what if?” and think, “Yes, that could be possible.”
Along with that was the character of Luke Skywalker. I could relate to Luke in a way that I never fully could to any character in the Star Trek series. Luke was a kid like me. He was eager, ambitious, and a bit of a day dreamer. To say nothing of the fact that I bare a slight physical resemblance to Luke, I had finally found a fictional character that was, to some extent, me.
Add into it his wise mentor Obi-Wan, the beautiful Princess Leia, the beguiling droid duo of C-3P0 and R2-D2, the charming rouge Han Solo and the lovable Chewbacca, you had a nice group of seven heroes ( a call back to Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai) who were ready to take on the Empire. The characters had distinct and likable personalities and seemed like people you may actually know. This made them more accessible to fans then other sci-fi heroes.
Last of all ,was the iconic villain Darth Vader. Cloaked in black like the space age Ghost of Christmas Future he was like a walking image of death. You didn’t even need to hear him say a line in order for him to be frightening. However, when he spoke, it was like the voice of doom sending chills up your spine. This was a villain to be reckoned with, and yet his mask kept him in a state of mystery. You wanted to know who was behind that mask, yet somehow you knew as a viewer that if you did it could be your own peril.
Now, while I may have certainly seen space ships before, I can admit that they all felt pristine. Contrast ships like the Millennium Falcon felt lived in, and the iconic X-Wing fighters looked like they were old army surplus vehicles that were refitted by the Rebellion. These ships seemed to be held together by nothing but some duct tape and the Will of the Force, and this quality it gave the ships a sense of personality that was missing in science fiction, especially in contrast to the sterile ships of the Empire like the Star Destroyer or the Death Star.
Also, while laser guns were a plenty in sci-fi, Star Wars had one thing most outer space movies didn’t. Lightsabers. Simple, basic laser swords, with colorful blades. Not only did it give the Jedi knights and Sith Lords an iconic weapon that set them apart from others n the films, it became the must have toy for any young fan eager to reenact those adventures they saw on screen. Even a stick from the back yard could transform into one thanks to the power of imagination.
Last of all there was The Force. Too often science fiction sets itself in a world or a future in which we have abandoned the very idea of any religious belief as was the case in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 a Space Odyssey sequel 3001, or Star Trek. Yet, in the Star Wars universe, religion and belief, or a lack there of are part of every day life. When a high ranked Imperial Admiral tries to mock Vader for his devotion to the Force, he is quickly Force-chocked by Vader, as the Sith Lord reminds him that there are things more powerful than the Death Star.
Finally there is the irreplaceable John Williams score. As soon as that first note blared and the words “Star Wars” slowly sailed across the screen it had me hooked. There were moments it was big and heroic, as with the “Main Theme” and “The Rebel Fanfare”, and yet also moments were it was tender and thought provoking, like the Force theme. It became one of my all time favorites, and the score for one of the movies was among the first CD’s I ever bought.
I was so enamored that when I got my birthday pictures taken that year and saw they had a blue and yellow “laser light back drop” that looked like lightsaber beams, I had elected to wear my karate uniform with the laser beams in the back drop. I wrote my own Star Wars type stories, including a play I wrote inspired by it that I put on with some of my friends. I was even nice enough to let the cute girl I liked help out as a costume director as she loved Star Wars and she had Nerf fencing swords we could use for the skit in place of lightsabers (Star Wars toys wouldn’t make a return to the toy stores until the fall of that following year, so it was either Nerf swords or going to a dollar store to buy what can only be described Darth Bozo’s lightsaber).
That silly skit, for which I made a total of ten dollars in play money for Sunday School class was the first science fiction story I ever wrote. Much to say, it’s one of the many reasons why I would go on to write science fiction. Star Wars opened my imagination to the limitless possibilities for story telling in outer space. Whether in another galaxy or our own, space is exciting, mysterious and filled with exotic locals in which to tell a story.
To this date Star Wars is still among my favorite films. I’ve gone to opening nights in costume, seen the science exhibit and gone to the orchestra concert. I’ve read the comic books and “Legends” expanded universe novels ( some of them good, some of them bad), and watched the cartoons. Two friends of mine and I actually watched all six movies plus the clone wars micro series in one setting back in college and I’ve even made the obligatory lightsaber duel video. I’ve read commentaries and articles, and even studied the mythic archetypes in the films ( look for an exciting new blog series next year to coincide with the new movie).
Despite all this, any time I watch the movie, it always makes me feel like a kid again. Something about Star Wars brings out that “kid” in all of us. The kid who, like Luke, gazes off to the future, dreams of adventure and excitement, thrills at the tales of the struggle between good and evil and firmly believes that the good guys will win in the end. And you know, to this day, I still get chills over that binary sunset.