A Long Time Ago…
The dates are a bit hazy, but I believe the first time I saw Star Wars was 1979, a whole two years after its release. I was only six and my movie choices were limited to whatever a parent or grandparent wanted to take me to see.
Fun Factoid: The Rescuers, released the same year as Star Wars (1977), was the first movie I saw twice. What can I say? Animated mice were my thing, I guess.
The opening to Star Wars still stands up as one of the best of all time. John Williams’s heroic opening theme accompanies a scroll explaining the story so far. This segues into a brief moment of calm before a small spaceship zooms into shot and away from the viewer. Something is chasing it and a cacophony of laser fire assaults the ears as the music builds. The pursuing ship reveals itself, its gigantic size rapidly filling the screen and every time we think it’s as big as it’s going to get it reveals yet more. We know immediately that the small ship is in peril and hopelessly outmatched, and it’s thrilling. It’s like watching Jason Voorhees chase down a hapless victim. There is no escape. The juggernaut will catch you.
Star Wars remained my favorite movie for years. Even after my tastes matured, and I would cite The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest as favorites, I always saved a spot in my top ten for Star Wars…until 1997.
Fun Factoid: Titanic had only the eighth biggest opening weekend of 1997. However, it had way more staying power and managed to rack up fifteen consecutive weeks at number one in the US box office, becoming the first movie to ever make more than a billion dollars, and then two billion dollars, worldwide.
Before Titanic ate up all the money in the world, George Lucas decided to re-release Star Wars as a Special Edition, all cleaned up and with added cosmetic alterations. The changes did little to improve the movie and, I would argue, they often took away from it. Lucas defended his decision, citing improvements in technology since the 70’s, and stated that the Special Edition would be the new definitive version. The original would no longer be available to fans. This did not sit well with me. I had no problem with making explosions more explosiony, and adding a dewback or extra X-Wing in the shot didn’t bother me. However, most of the changes needlessly drew attention to themselves as if to say, “Hey! Look at all the cool things we can do twenty years later.” They added little or nothing to the scenes, much like changing the wallpaper in a haunted house movie. The worst change, though, involved the introduction of the iconic Han Solo. Lucas felt the scene made Han look like a cold-blooded killer and asserted that his own clumsy direction misinformed the audience. So he changed it. The new version looked bad and, for me, it entirely altered several aspects of Han Solo’s character. It made an icon of cool less cool, diluting his character and made little sense from a story perspective. Later decisions and the rogues’ motivations became less surprising or interesting. Originally, when Han loads up his reward and says adios to Luke, you believe that’s his last scene. When he shows up at the end it’s a great movie surprise. Special Edition Han suffered the ignominy of being a man of reaction instead of action. This detracts horribly from his rogue, brash, and cocky demeanor. Of course “New Han” shows up at the end. He’s an okay guy. *yawn* With my nerd-rage at maximum I refused to support Lucas and his shenanigans anymore and I turned my back on Star Wars…for two whole years.
Fun Factoid: Lucas created a production company called Lucasfilm which in turn developed divisions in movie/theater sound systems/sound design (THX and Skywalker sound), visual effects (Industrial Light and Magic), and computer animation (Pixar…yes, THAT Pixar).
Why am I talking about a thirty-five-year-old movie anyway? Well, I let the Star Wars fanatic back out of the box in 1999 when The Phantom Menace was announced. I attended a midnight showing and…was disappointed. Again. Lucas compounded this with two more atrocious movies, trading story for special effects, and giving his actors so little to work with that almost every performance was either flat, dull, or, in the case of Hayden Christensen, downright annoying. This time I was done. No more. Fool me once, shame on me etc. Except…Lucas sold Lucasfilm, the whole kit and kaboodle, to Disney for $4 billion and, before the ink was dry on the deal, new sequels were announced. I refused to care. I didn’t care. JJ Abrams signed up to direct and promised more practical effects and less green screen. I was having none of it. Then in April, Disney released a second teaser trailer for the new movie and I decided to check it out. From the opening notes of John Williams’ music I was transfixed. There is something absolutely primordial about the effect music has on me and the opening notes of “Skywalker’s theme” reached down inside and pulled the young boy I used to be out of my cynical shell. The trailer starts slow…a speeder zooms across a desert landscape, a massive…wait, you should just watch it yourself…
This teaser reminds me of the adventure of the original. And I knew, even before the Millennium Falcon roared across the screen, there was no escape. The juggernaut had caught me. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be destroying box office records at Christmas. I’ll be there. Will you? And this is easily one of my favorite trailers of all time. Do you remember any that made a movie a must see for you?
A 5th Dan black-belt in Nerd-Fu, Gareth writes books, collects comics, and watches movies like he’s getting paid to. (He’s not. A 25-year association with railroads is what keeps the electricity on in his house.)
In 2010, he published his first full length story, a mystery/suspense novel called Monsters, and in the summer of 2015 will release Dynamo City: The Wolves of Dynamo, part one of an audacious YA urban fantasy series.