Thirty-five years ago today, "Star Wars: Episode IV" opened in theaters.
I don’t remember the first time I saw "Episode IV," though my parents did take me to see it in the theater. I was only two or three so the memory didn’t stick. But one of my clearest childhood memories was seeing "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back." Dad said we were going into Boston to see it. That was exciting in and of itself. Most movies, we saw at the theater at the mall. We only went into Boston for the important ones. The theater had long, red velvet drapes, and I remember thinking it was so fancy. And when the movie started and the drapes opened, I was awed. The music, the characters, the world—all of it—was so epic. I didn’t know how to read yet, so as the backstory scrolled on the screen my dad whispered the words into my ear. I barely understood them. Rebel forces? Imperial Starfleet? All I knew was that this was AWESOME. And to this day I can point to the original Star Wars trilogy as a huge influence on my creative life.
Let’s talk Princess Leia. Here was a princess…a PRINCESS…who was also a rebel. She was tough and smart. She took charge when she needed to. She was sarcastic and always ready with a funny comeback. She had long brown hair like me. I WANTED TO BE HER SO BAD.
Darth Vader, man. DARTH VADER. My favorite villain of all time. He was fascinating. Why the suit? Why the breathing? Why is he so angry? And, people can say what they want about the new trilogy, but—Jar Jar aside—I enjoy those movies, too. They’re necessary because they show Anakin’s full story. His ultimate redemption in "Episode VI" is more meaningful after watching his descent into the dark side.
"Star Wars" was also my first experience with fandom. I collected all the figurines and played "Star Wars" constantly—by myself, with kids in the neighborhood, etc. My dad bought "Episode IV" on 8mm, and I watched it over and over on a cheap pull-down screen in my musty basement. I dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween. Many years later, all grown up, buzz about "Episode I" started to hit. I went to the theater to see a movie I didn’t care about just so I could watch "Episode I's" preview on the big screen. When the music cued up, the theater exploded with cheers. And when I saw that line "Every saga has a beginning...," tears filled my eyes. TEARS. I saw all three movies on opening night. Even "Attack of the Clones," when I was about to give birth in two weeks. Uncomfortable and enormous, I sat on the ground waiting in line and needed two people to help me up. I theorized with friends over who is the true Chosen One: Anakin or Luke. (My answer: Anakin. I will argue to the death over this.)
Generations & Family:
Though family, secrets, identity are all big themes in the films, here I’m talking about real families. One of my happiest moments in life was introducing "Star Wars" to my son at age five. (Original trilogy first, of course.) And all of a sudden I found myself playing with "Star Wars" figurines, having light saber battles in the yard, all these same things I did at that age. I didn't grow up with the cool things his generation has—Xbox, Internet, cell phones, etc. But here—"Star Wars"—this was something that hadn’t changed. It was something our childhoods actually had in common. A passed down, shared experience.
I only hope my grandchild in 2040 is a fan, too.
Happy Birthday, Star Wars.
May the force be with you.