I am going to indulge myself in some nostalgia here. Many of you who read this blog were born long after the original Star Wars trilogy came out, so I’m going to talk about that for a minute.
When Star Wars IV, A New Hope, came out in May of 1977, it wasn’t even on my radar. I was finishing up my senior year of high school in a very strict boarding school where I had virtually no exposure to popular culture. Eventually, at some point during summer school, I began hearing rumors of a sci-fi movie that some people loved so much they had watched it repeatedly.
I didn’t care, because as soon as summer school ended, I was on my way to Europe to spend several weeks with my family. During my brief stay in Michigan before heading back to the same strict school for my freshman year in university, everyone was talking about Star Wars. I felt like a clueless outsider because I hadn’t seen it. By then many fans had seen the movie in theaters 100 times!
Then, it was back to school, where even there people were now talking about Star Wars, having seen it during the summer. It began to be my ambition to see this movie, which was still showing in theaters through October and November.
At the end of that semester, I was picked up by my cousins David and Steve. They and seven of their friends were driving two cars down to Florida, which is where our family would be having a reunion. So we had 10 teenagers in two cars, and we had to stop and spend the night in Valdosta, Georgia on the way. Fortunately there were five girls and five boys, which made it easy at the motel, where there was a girls’ room and a boys’ room.
After we checked into the motel, we talked about going out for supper, and one of the guys said, “Hey, let’s go see Star Wars! It’s still in theaters!” I was all in favor of this plan, though I didn’t say anything, and then I was glad I didn’t say anything, because my cousins very diplomatically maneuvered the conversation away from the idea of going to a movie, and I suddenly remembered that my mother’s side of the family did not go to movies at all and in fact considered it worldly and un-Christian to do so.
Once I was united with my family in Florida, my three brothers and I shared a common determination to see Star Wars. We begged my parents. The only problem was that if we went, it would have to be a secret, because we were with our whole extended non-movie-going family.
On Christmas Eve, we walked across the street from the compound where we were staying to a local mall. There was a theater in the mall, and it was showing Star Wars. We pressured my parents to let us go to the matinee showing. They agreed, with the understanding that we would hurry back to the compound after the movie, because there was a big Christmas Eve dinner and program that we were required to attend.
So, the four of us went into the theater and sat down. It is hard for me to convey to you the impact that movie had on us. It blew our minds. We spent the entire time with our mouths hanging open. Remember, we had grown up in a third-world country where we didn’t even have TV. There was nothing in our lives up to that point to prepare us for what we saw. A space epic portraying a real, gritty life where stuff looked used and machines broke down and people were still greedy and conniving or noble and courageous.
When the movie ended, we were still overcome with shock and awe. It no doubt added to our enjoyment that we were being “naughty” by watching the movie. All we wanted to do was have a few hours to talk it over and discuss every detail. Instead, we had to hurry back across the street to go to the dinner. Not only that, we could not say one word about the only thing on our minds.
The movie had gone longer than expected, so we were late to the dinner. Everyone asked where we had been. We truthfully answered that we had been at the mall, though a couple of knowing looks from our kinfolk led me to believe they might have guessed what we were really doing. The effort of keeping our mouths shut about the movie was excruciating!
That was almost exactly 38 years ago. 38 years of being a Star Wars fan and seeing each successive movie in theaters when it came out, then usually calling my brother Matt to talk about it afterwards. I remember that he saw The Empire Strikes Back before me, and couldn’t resist calling me. “Do you want spoilers?” he asked, and I could tell he was dying to tell me, so I let him. “Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father!” Once again, my mind was blown. Those of you who have grown up always knowing this can’t imagine what an earth-shattering shock this was at the time. Like Luke, I wanted to yell back, “No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!”
By the time the prequels came out, I had children to take with me. I think Phantom Menace might have been the first movie Spencer saw in a theater (he was four). He became a lifelong Star Wars fan. Although I never loved the prequels in the way I loved the original trilogy, I went to see each one with high hopes.
So, this time around, my expectations were very low. I tried not to be swayed by all the hype. I made a point of avoiding spoilers, and I’m so glad I did. I’m not saying it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen, but I will say that I enjoyed it more than any Star Wars movie since The Return of the Jedi. I loved getting to see it with my kids. I love the fact that something I’ve enjoyed for 38 years is now something that all my kids enjoy too. I loved seeing some of the original actors on the screen again after so many years. It was like a long-anticipated visit with old friends. Will I go see it again? Very likely.