I’ll level with you.  I’m probably the least qualified person to write anything about Star Wars.  Generally, when one issues forth thoughts and reflections on a movie or TV show or franchise or what-have-you, it is expected that the reviewer approach the material with a measure of objectivity, detachment, and scrutiny.  And very often, I am perfectly capable of measuring the output of these filmmakers with a relative fairness, tempering my enthusiasm and/or dislike with an educated, fairly balanced critical eye.

But not Star Wars.  When it comes to Star Wars, I am a gibbering fool.

Let’s jump in the WayBack and take a trip to the summer of 1977.  The Skyview Drive-In theater in Lancaster, Ohio was The Place To Be on any given summer evening.  Note: As of this writing, The Skyview is preparing for its seventy-second year of continuous operation, despite the long dwindling numbers of these venues (so shout-out to the Skyview woot woot).  Somewhere amongst the rows of parked cars was my Dad’s metallic green Buick Skylark with the pine-green vinyl roof.  Mom and Dad sat in the front.  Six-year-old Ricky was the monarch of the back seat.  Some comic books were scattered on the floor, brought to entertain while we waited for the sun to go down and the movie to start.  We had to get there early to get a good spot.  I had come dressed in my pajamas, all the easier to be carried inside and tucked in when we returned home after the double feature.  They were my Cookie Monster jammies, which I carried an ongoing love/hate relationship with.  The material was scratchy as hell, but they were my only set of jammies that had shorts instead of long pants.  To be honest, I had probably outgrown these the previous summer, but I still squeezed myself into them because of the shorts.

Our primary motivator for coming to the drive-in that particular evening was a Disney movie.  The Rescuers had landed in theaters in June, and that was most likely the movie we came for.  To be honest, I can’t say I remember the lead feature accurately.  Most days, if asked, I would say it was a reissue of The Jungle Book, but a bit of research reveals that Jungle Book wasn’t reissued until the following summer in 1978.  Sometimes I try to romanticize the experience and say Disney’s Robin Hood was the lead feature, but that’s only because it was my childhood favorite and I sort of want it to be associated with this auspicious night.

It was kind of an accident that we even stayed for the second feature, really.  The Disney movie had ended (Penny was saved and the Rescue Aid Society had triumphed).  All around our car was the crunch of gravel under the feet of people headed to the concession stand and the bathrooms.  Some had flashlights.  A few car engines growled to life as those patrons content with only a single feature prepared to leave.  On the screen, the Ten Little Indians countdown had begun, each culturally problematic animated minute interspersed with ads for local businesses and treats at the small building in the center of the lot.

Dad looked over into the back seat and asked, “Are you still awake enough to stay for the second movie?”

I said I was, but what was the second movie anyway?

“Some kind of sci-fi thing.  I don’t know if it’ll be any good.”

We agreed to stay long enough to check it out. We’d leave if it was boring or stupid.

The following two hours were, without exaggeration, watershed.  So much of the rest of my life was impacted by those two hours.

It was Star Wars, man!  There was so much I didn’t understand.  Why was it the fourth episode?  How much story came before?  Who was that guy in black and how is he so powerful?  What happened to the Jedis?  What is the Force?  How does a lightsaber work, and how can I make one?  What the heck is a Wookie and where can I get one?

The droids were funny.  I remember being quite taken with the droids.  At that point in my life I had discovered Laurel and Hardy and recognized the similarities to the gold robot and the little can that talked with beeps and whistles.  And Chewbacca!  Chewie was (and is) the greatest thing about Star Wars for me.  That walking carpet with limited expressive abilities utterly conquered my six-year-old imagination.  And the fact that Han and everyone around him seemed to understand every word he said made me laugh uncontrollably.

But what was it, really?  This shoestring-budget sci-fi fantasy probably should have gone the way of Zardoz.  What made it so impactful that we’re still talking about it and selling out multiplexes on opening nights and crashing streaming platforms whenever a new episode of The Mandalorian drops?

For me, it’s all about that summer night in 1977.  From the first moment, the first heartbeat of the film, my imagination was inflamed.  We all know George Lucas can be a bit of a wonky guy, but no one can ever convince me that he didn’t inspire an entire generation to dig deep and embrace its imagination.

In the silence, before anything else, we see “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

A long time ago?  I thought this was about blasters and star-ships and laser swords.  Seems really futuristic, right?  But we are informed that this is happening a long time ago.  Immediately, my six-year-old mind exploded with possibilities.

And then came the first burst of music.  John Williams.  I think it’s safe to say that John Williams has unwittingly written the soundtrack of my life.  Indiana Jones’ theme always gets my blood pumping.  My heart feels like it might burst out of my chest at the heroism of the Superman theme, but then it breaks a little when I hear the tones of ET’s theme.  The music of Jurassic Park makes me want to look over my shoulder for a T-rex.  But it was that single sustained note at the beginning of Star Wars that (maybe literally) blew my hair back.

And while I was recovering from the burst of music coming from the speaker hanging on the car’s window, the scroll started.  And this was the moment when my childlike imagination tucked the napkin into its collar, picked up the fork and knife, and began its feast.

Star Wars.

Episode IV.

Episode IV?!?

Does that mean episode FOUR!?!

This is the fourth chapter of the story?

And then, after the scroll sets up the action, we are dropped into the middle of a battle on some kind of space cruiser.  Into the middle of it, Darth Vader arrives.  He is clearly the bad guy.  If the black suit hadn’t clued me to that fact, the dark military march would have.  And there’s a princess and a couple of robots scrambling around and can this get any better?

In media res is a literary term meaning “in the middle of the action.”  It’s a great way to start a story, and Lucas knew it.  Not only are we accessing this galaxy in the middle of an intimate yet chaotic situation, we are apparently three chapters late in joining the story.  Has any story in the history of ever begun more in the middle of the action than New Hope?  I’d like to know what it is.

The viewer’s head is spinning with the possibilities.  Where are we?  What’s going on?  What’s going to happen to the princess?  What was she doing with that short robot?

And just when things start to get dire, we cut to the two droids doing their Laurel and Hardy routine in the middle of the desert.  From there, it’s Jawas and space wizards and Wookies and bar fights with George-knows-what kind of creatures in a bar with a catchy bop playing.  The star ships don’t look like rockets from past sci-fi.  They are all different shapes and sizes.  And was it my imagination, or did one of the ships look like a shoe?

It was easy to identify with Luke Skywalker, even if I aspired to be more like Han Solo.  Leia might have been my first media exposure to true feminism, and if that’s the case, I’m eternally grateful to Carrie Fisher for showing me how incredible a take-no-shit woman can be (if only so it could begin to prepare me for the woman I would eventually marry and have children with).  Chewbacca instantly became a sentimental favorite for me.  The expressiveness of his grunts and howls and the head tilts spoke volumes.  Peter Mayhew simply doesn’t get enough credit for his pantomime abilities.  But if I’m totally honest, Obi-Wan was the most intriguing character.  I wanted to know more about him. And what were these “Clone Wars” he mentioned?  And what was the story about Luke’s dad?  I would have to wait twenty years for more Obi-Wan, and longer than that for answers about the Clone Wars.

New Hope was a treasure trove of ideas.  It was epic fantasy camouflaging as a sci-fi story.  It was an innocent farm-boy hero and an old wizard and their comical sidekicks and a couple of roguish brigands getting mixed up in rescuing a tenacious princess from a dark sorcerer and his minions with the future of the entire galaxy at stake.

So there we were, my mom and dad and me, on that summer night.  The crickets and frogs in the wooded area at the back of the drive-in were probably just as loud as they were any other night that summer.  But I didn’t hear them.  I was transfixed by this silly little sci-fi movie that we almost ditched in favor of an earlier bedtime.  There would be bed sheets and curtains and posters and comic books.  And toys! Oh, Lord Almighty, the toys!

But all of that would come later.

That night, that first night, that night at the Skyview was, without exaggeration, life-changing.  Sure, I would eventually become a lifelong Star Wars fan, but it was more than that.  That night opened me up to the endless possibilities of storytelling.  It planted the seeds for a love of movies that continues to grow to this day.  It awakened my imagination like nothing ever had before.

And it continues to this day.  As soon as I hear that opening theme and see the scroll or hear the chirp of a droid or the scream of a tie fighter or the hum of a lightsaber, I am a stupefied six-year-old in the back of Dad’s Skylark.  There is no critical thinking or objectivity, only wonder.  I’m probably going to need a tissue or two when I see episode nine in a couple of weeks.

So, see what I mean?  I have no business writing anything about Star Wars.


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