In five days, Star Wars, Episode VII : The Force Awakens opens. It’s difficult to believe that “Star Wars” is almost forty years old. I mean who would have thought that a cheap, niche movie would have such a colossal cultural impact?
For all intents and purposes, Star Wars was made for me. Okay, not me personally, but me being a twelve year old boy on it’s year of release.
My relationship with Star Wars is a bit complicated; I bloody love it, but that love didn’t come easily.
My parents had recently changed from The Express as their daily newspaper to The Sun (I know, I know – in their defence they always referred to it as ‘The Comic’) and in the movie reviews section there was a ‘coming soon’ article that featured some very fuzzy pictures that had what I considered to be very stupid names attached. I dismissed it.
A few months later, my friend Simon excitedly showed me something he had bought. I saw the cover and read the title “Star Wars Treasury Edition”. I rolled my eyes and said
“Is that that stupid thing where everyone’s got numbers and letter for names?”
“Yes, but it’s not stupid! It’s amazing!”
I was less than convinced but, agreed to read it. When I say ‘read it’, I mean that we were going through a phase of ‘reading’ comics, as you would when ‘reading a play’. We took different parts, did different voices for each of the characters and really cemented it into our psyches.
Pretty soon, having been absolutely blown away, I had my own copy. It went everywhere with me. I studied it intently, knew every frame and every single word of the script. I could recite it. No, really. I practiced and everything. Eventually I recorded myself reciting it onto a cassette and listened to myself reading it as I looked at the pictures. I know. You don’t have to say it. I know.
The treasury edition that I had was only part one of two, so I had no idea how the story ended. When part two eventually came out – and checking publication dates, it was only a three months between issues but it felt like over a year – I was practically rabid with excitement and again, I adored every word of it.
Simon and I bought absolutely everything that had Star Wars even mentioned on it. At that point, the merchandising machine hadn’t really kicked in which meant that ‘everything’ amounted to newspapers and magazines – sometime we’d even buy girls magazines like ‘Jackie’ for the posters and articles. Not what boys did in the seventies, but our obsession knew no gender barriers!
By this time, Simon and I was planning to go to the cinema and we could believe that it was going to be another five months before we could get to see it. Back in those days, prints of movies were expensive and there were limited numbers that ‘toured’ the country. The further you were from a large city, the longer it took to get to your local cinema. Being in Tunbridge Wells, we were going to get it relatively quickly, but then tragedy struck. After months of reading and planning and getting excited, my parents decided, quite unexpectedly to move away from Tunbridge Wells and back to Yorkshire.
That was the opening of a barrel of mixed emotions (and metaphors). I was thrilled to be going home, but I was going to miss seeing Star Wars with my friend and co-conspirator. Not only that, I knew that moving back north would mean that the time between that moment and actually getting to see it would be extended. I’m not sure which one I was more gutted by and begged my parents not to move house until I had seen Star Wars.
Understandably (now, not then) this didn’t happen and indignity of indignities, my collection of cuttings was thrown away as ‘just some rubbish you didn’t need’. Mercifully, I was allowed to keep my Star Wars Treasury Editions and the few issues of Star Wars Weekly that had come out.
We moved to a village just outside of Thirsk, I started a new school and I missed having someone to obsess about Star Wars with. No one at my school was really interested in science fiction. My parents, were aware that I wasn’t really integrating very well into my new school and surroundings and bought me the Star Wars novelisation to cheer me up.
Whatever I was missing from my new school, the novel made up for. I was as obsessed with the novel as I had been with the Treasury editions. I lived that book. It became my world. I understood Luke’s loneliness and yearning for something exciting to happen.
My parents do not like or approve of Science Fiction and despite it’s importance to me they told me, point blank, that they would not take me to the cinema to see it. In Tunbridge Wells, it was a short walk to the cinema, in North Yorkshire, it was about 45 minutes by car. They didn’t want to sit through two hours of childish rubbish and why couldn’t I see something based on the classics instead?
Salvation came in the form of my weird next door neighbour. While talking to my Mum in the kitchen one day, Monica made a reference to a Harry Harrison novel that I had read. It went over my Mum’s head, but I questioned Monica about whether it was a deliberate reference. She was delighted that I knew The Stainless Steel Rat. She showed me her entire collection of sci-fi books that took up most of the box room. It was a tiny room of heaven that I had free access to! She promised that when Star Wars finally made it to the local cinema, she would take me along with her kids.
Sure enough, Star Wars eventually comes to Northallerton and Monica, her two kids and me make the pilgrimage. I had been saving my pocket money up for ages as I had seen George Lucas on TV saying that every cinema showing Star Wars would have a merchandising stall. There wasn’t one. That wasn’t the only disappointment of the evening.
The big problem was that I had lived with this story for over a year. A day hadn’t gone by when I hadn’t read it, looked at the comics and gazed in wonder at the posters. That movie – or at least my imaginings of what it was – was more real to me than anything else.
When I finally got to see it, it was a terrible disappointment. It simply didn’t match up to my imagination; parts of the story were missing, characters that appeared in the book and comic weren’t in the film – I particularly missed Camie, Fixer, Deak, Windy and Biggs. I had hung out in the Tosche station with them for months. Where were my friends? Why wasn’t I seeing this with Simon? I was dazzled by the effects, certainly, but it didn’t seem as rich as our imaginings.
My love of the comics and the novel, now joined by the first official sequel “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”, wasn’t diminished at all and I continued collecting stuff and waiting for the promised “Empire Strikes Back” sequel. I didn’t mind about when it turned up at the cinema, I was happy with the comics and novels and didn’t really want to go through that crushing disappointment again.
Of course, when the Empire Strikes back was released, I was disappointed that neither Splinter of the Mind’s Eye not my favourite character from the comics – Jaxxon – were not even referenced.
It has to be said, though, that as a movie experience, I much preferred Empire and I got over my disappointment pretty quickly. I’d still love a movie that featured Jaxx, though.
I wasn’t until I left home and moved to Sheffield that I started really getting into the movies. It was shortly after I had moved there that it finally made it to TV. I didn’t have one in my dank little bedsit, so didn’t actually notice it had been on, but a friend of mine told me that he had recorded it off the TV – along with Doctor Strange, the awful TV movie – and I should go to his flat and watch them. Done deal. I had a bit of a thing for his flatmate, too, so a few hours in his company wasn’t going to be a problem. We got food in and ate while we watched Doctor Strange.
Then it was time for Star Wars. The passage of time and the loss of the obsessiveness served the movie well. I was able to watch it for what it was without the yoke of expectation dragging it down. I absolutely loved it. So did my friend and his cute flatmate.
So we watched it again.
And then a third time.
And then it got really silly as my friend said “Hey why don’t we just do a twenty four hour marathon!”
So we did. Eleven showings of Star Wars with toilet and rewind breaks. Three people blobbed out on the sofa throughout. Bliss.
From then on, my Star Wars-ness increased. I never quite got into the serious fandom that could have been a real possibility had I enjoyed the first movie on it’s first viewing in Northallerton. I think that’s a blessing, frankly, although I will admit to wearing a Stormtrooper uniform for an afternoon, once.
I don’t really engage that much with anything outside of the movies, though. I enjoyed Lego Star Wars on the PS3 and I’m currently playing through the Imperial Assault board game campaign – there was an abortive attempt at the role playing game a while back, but that fell apart pretty quickly.
I think my lack of excitement about The ‘Force Awakens’ stems from the almost ‘programmed in’ disappointment of the first movie and latterly the prequels. I want it to be as good as my imagination was when I was thirteen. The recent trailers have piqued my interest, but then so did the sight of all those creatures coming out of the mist at the beginning of the the trailer for The Phantom Menace. Look what happened there.
Actually, shortly before The Phantom Menace came out, I managed to reconnect with Simon after over twenty years and we planned to go and see it in the Cinema that we would have seen Star Wars in. Nice closure, yes?
Sadly, shortly after we arranged the day and date, he vanished off the face of the earth. I suspect it was probably something to do with his ALF activities, but whatever, it never happened, so the new trilogy was again tainted by disappointment before the actual disappointment of the movies took hold.
I do actually love Star Wars, although as I said, it has always been a rocky road. I will go and see The Force Awakens, but I’m avoiding as much of the hype as possible, confining myself to the trailers – and one unavoidable lapse into Star Wars Lego – prior to seeing the movie. Although I subscribed to a couple of sci-fi magazines, I’m actively avoiding the articles.
I want to see it in as virgin a state as I can to diminish any disappointment I might feel. I’m not even rushing to the opening night showings. I’m probably not going to be able to see it until after New Year now, but I’m happy to wait…
It’s peculiar that most of my recollections about Star Wars have little to do with the actual movie and more about the events that defined my childhood and my disappointment. Star Wars has always been there and I doubt I’d want it any other way.
Star Wars is basically my on-again-off-again boyfriend.