Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Star Wars - Episode IV - A New Hope

On May 25, 1977, an epic saga began -

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Episode IV

A New Hope

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister, agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freed to the galaxy....

And so, with the London Symphony Orchestra blasting through the sound system of theatres everywhere, the opening crawl identified the players – the freedom seeking Rebels versus the evil Galactic Empire – and gave the viewer just a brief history of the war raging between good and evil. It is against this backdrop that George Lucas begins telling his galactic tale.

I was a mere four years old in the summer of 1977. The hype of the original Star Wars movies was somewhat subdued, relative to subsequent releases, due significantly to the relative lack of star power from either the director or the actors – Sir Alec Guiness was the most notable of the entire crew. Yet, the use of colorful lasers and light sabers, the exotic sound effects, the sympathetic heroes and the ominous look and sound of the unsympathetic Darth Vader sufficiently piqued the interest and imagination of nearly every male child that I knew.

Soon after the release of Star Wars, the collective lexicon of American children was expanded with fascinating, if not foreign, names and terminology. Blasters and light sabers were the weapons of adversarial combatants. X-Wing fighters and Tie-fighters were used for intergalactic dog fights. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca formed the top of the Rebellion line-up card – Governor Moff Tarkin, Lord Darth Vader and a legion of faceless stormtroopers were the Imperial opposition. Planetary systems were named Dantooine, Tatooine and Alderan. Mos Eisley was a haven for thieves and villainry. And, the Death Star, was a technological terror the size of a planet and the weaponry to quickly reduce a planet to interstellar rubble. Obi-Wan explained a mystical power called “The Force” and warned of the temptation of the dark-side. And, to be a card-carrying member of “the cool kids” one must salute a fellow member with “may the force be with you” otherwise one might find himself the subject of some ridicule and probably a challenge to the death faux light saber duel on the playground.

Overnight, American children conscripted these words and phrases into everyday conversation, much to the dismay of grammar instructors and parents. My own father has recalled on several occasions the unknown words uttered by my older cousin and myself, wondering if Chewbacca was a new flavor of Beechnut chewing tobacco that we had sampled with favorable results, or whether the mention of Wookie implied some acquisition of carnal knowledge on our part. Now, the parent of a young child, I appreciate the concern over what probably appeared to be a cultish cultural development. Am I supporting the Rebellion or the Empire? In 1977, that answer was abundantly clear. In 2005, if I can find my way to the theatre, I consider it a Rebellion victory.

Although the original film (and the special / permanent edition released in 1997) was impressive for the up-to-that-time-extraordinary special effects, the original is generally dismissed as a campy fluff film heavy on lights and sounds and weak on story. However, Lucas and his magicians created technology and schemes for capturing on film what one imagines an intergalactic fist-to-cuff might look like. With a small budget and low expectations, the little-film-that-could transported children, teenagers and sci-fi fans to another time, place and dimension.

I am forever a “Star Wars” fan, despite the critics. If I cared one whit what a critic said, I probably would have a movie collection deprived of comedy and action, but heavy on “lessons” and revisionist history. If that’s your gig – fine. I have the equivalent of nine plus years of higher education, thus, I’ve got all the lessons and revisionist history one could stomach in that time. I watch movies for entertainment – and the “Star Wars” series does this better for me than any other series.

At least part of my fondness for the series is the personal memories I have of my oldest cousin and me. We were merely three years apart, and grew up a few miles apart. It was not unusual for one of us to stay at the other’s home for days at a time. He was the older brother I never had. We watched all the original movies together, sometimes repeatedly to the delight of the local theatre. We pretended to be part of the rebellion. We collected all the action figures, the ships, the trading cards, the comic books and the other paraphernalia that Lucas thrust into commerce – I like to think I helped lay some of the carpet at Skywalker Ranch, but I could never prove that.

In 1997, as the release of the special editions approached, we had plans to go watch the films together, to reminisce and fellowship. Unfortunately, a vile form of cancer besieged my cousin, and his life was cut short several weeks before the release of “Star Wars” in Jan. 1997. When I finally went to watch “Star Wars”, for a moment I was saddened by the absence of my “big brother”. We enjoyed everything about “Star Wars” down to the lousy lines and acting that was sometimes evident. But, it was ours. It belonged to us, if only in our minds. It took us back to a time when planning for college, worrying about life, and finding that big job were as distant as the “Star Wars” series itself. I bucked it up and watched the film, and enjoyed the enhancements made to the film, but “Star Wars” and its progeny are group endeavors – the more, the merrier. In my case, one of the Rebellion was absent, but his reward is now so much greater, that it is merely my own selfishness that tries to keep him tethered to this planet.

So, I thank George Lucas for his vision and magic. My attraction to “Star Wars” is as much an outgrowth of my relationship with my cousin as it is to the special effects and the plot. But, it was the perfect vehicle for two young kids looking for adventure without leaving the confines of our small town.

May the force be with you, cuz.


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