In 1977, I saw Star Wars for the very first time. It was pure magic, an escape into a fantasy world.
I was a teenager that summer, and moving from New Jersey to Florida. I sorely needed an escape from the upcoming challenge of packing all my possessions, facing a new school and making new friends.
My good friend Amy Frankel and I went to the movies to see Star Wars. We paid about $2.25 each to sit in a dark theater smelling of stale popcorn and mildew to view a movie everyone was talking about. Amy and I were geeks who loved sci-fi and we were deeply curious about all the hype.
I was blown away. The story and the characters were amazing! The feisty and spunky and pretty Princess Leia (although that hairstyle, WHAT were they thinking? How many jokes have I heard since about “hairy earphones?”) the mysterious and paternal Ben Kenobi, the scary, ominous Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, a favorite actor, loaned his voice for the part, I later found out), the naïve but brave Luke Skywalker, a reluctant hero if there ever was one, the sarcastic, sexy, blaster-toting smuggler Han, and the “walking carpet” Chewie. And the delightful metallic friends, C3PO and R2D2.
And there was the mysterious “force” that surrounds all of us – the power that some could tap into and release enormous magic for the greater good.
Or the greater evil.
Star Wars was a classic tale of good versus evil, with the good guys winning (temporarily) over the dark forces and being hailed as true heroes of the galaxy. An open and closed book, without any major cliffhangers (yet leaving the possibility of new stories, since the battle was won and the Death Star destroyed, but the war was far from over). I thought George Lucas was a demigod for creating such a fantastic world. I even bought the vinyl album because the score by John Williams (a favorite composer) rocked my world. I still have it in my collection.
To a teenager going through the angst of moving to another state, Star Wars became my “Linus blanket.” The “force” was a magic power I could tap into and use to overcome unknown obstacles awaiting me in the unknown deserts of Tatooine/Florida.
I thought about the movie constantly, escaping into my imagination to deal with the challenge of leaving the only home I had ever known. I was trading the snowy winters and hills of northern New Jersey for the intense heat and beaches of Florida. In a way, I was like Luke Skywalker, embarking on a reluctant journey, only this adventure was caused by my father’s new job.
After I moved to Florida, Amy and I wrote letters to each other to stay in touch. We mentioned the movie, our favorite scenes, pretending we were role-playing the part of Princess Leia and our conversations always ended up with the tagline: “May the Force be with you.”
On my first day at the new school, when I could not even FIND the cafeteria, let alone think of who I could sit with, I ate my sandwich in the bathroom and pretended I was Princess Leia tortured by Darth Vader. This was an apt parallel since I was eating in a bathroom that looked like it had been invaded by cranky Imperial Storm Troopers. Talk about needing magic powers, yeah, the Force was DEFINITELY with me on that day.
Gradually Amy and I lost contact with each other. I settled into my new school and new life. But I kept going to the movies and shelling out money (more and more over the years) with each new release of a Star Wars movie.
Star Wars (A New Hope, though I’ll ALWAYS think of it as the original Star Wars), is an example of the classic story-telling model of Joseph Campbell – the hero’s journey. Despite the special effects, the battles, and the flash and bang, at the heart of the movie is a simple story: Wide-eyed farm boy reluctantly embarks on an adventure. He resists the call (when Luke tells Ben he has to get back to the farm), then is shoved into it with no options (his aunt and uncle are dead). His mentor dies (Obi-Wan) and he must struggle along on the journey. Along the way he learns something about himself and grows in strength and maturity as he encounters adversaries and challenges and makes new friends.
What made the original movie so compelling for me wasn't the special effects, nor the action. It was the characters whom I bonded with, and cared about. Any author will tell you that creating characters readers care about is vastly important to the story.
Readers (and movie-goers) want heroes and heroines who are likeable and flawed and sometimes make you want to both slap them and hug them. Would we care about Gone with the Wind so much had there been no Scarlet, with Melanie Hamilton as the hero? Or worse, the wishy-washy Ashley?
This weekend I had challenges with my home, and to escape the constant drone of machines needed to dry out my walls, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Seeing this movie today, when I am in my fifties, versus seeing the original, was as much of an eye-opening experience as that long-ago summer of 1977.
I shelled out more than $8 for the movie. As the opening credits rolled, in the same style of the original, I smiled, lost in memory.
But the rest of the movie was different.
It was a wonderful movie and I’d go see it again. Yet I found myself analyzing scenes and plot twists, something I never did back in 1977. It makes sense. I've changed and I'm now an author who writes paranormal and romantic suspense novels. I always watch movies and critique them internally.
At one critical juncture (GIANT ENORMOUS SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE!)….
When Han faces “Ben” on the gangway and “Ben” sets down his weapon, I actually found myself thinking “Oh please. Don’t tell me he’s going to embrace the light. That would be so boring. WHERE is the conflict after that?”
But when Ben does that dastardly deed, I thought, "YES!!!"
That one heinous act MAKES the rest of the story. It cranks up the tension, and the stakes, especially for Rey, the heroine. And it makes the villain nearly irredeemable. Rey loses her mentor, just as Luke lost his mentor in the original. Rey is now fully committed, even if she doesn’t acknowledge it. She cannot turn back, no matter how much she resists continuing the journey.
The Force Awakens is an echo of the original Star Wars with all its plot similarities. But as a friend pointed out, now it lays the groundwork for the rest of the series. The world has been established, the main characters are set, and we shall see what happens after this. Anything is possible.
There are many questions left unanswered, more so than with the original Star Wars, which was a nifty little package all tied up with a big CGI-less bow. Along with many other fans, I will be impatiently waiting for the next movie. But for one Sunday afternoon when I sorely needed a break from plumbing problems, major reconstruction and adult concerns about the future, it was pure magic, an escape into a fantasy world.
Just like in 1977.