When I was a kid, I lived for Fridays. Of course, as an adult, I still live for Fridays–but the reasons have changed a bit. As a kid, I knew that Fridays were for going to the local video rental store. For those of you who don’t know, video rental stores were like Netflix except you could walk around inside, which is cool. The problem was once you chose your movie, you couldn’t just stop and switch to something else mid-stream.
Every Friday, my dad would take me to town so we could get a VHS and a pizza–well, two pizzas. I guess some families may call this “movie night,” but we didn’t need a label for it. We knew what was happening. We were watching movies.
I remember one of those Fridays vividly, and it’s strange that this one night stands out so much more clearly in my memory than the others. There is really no good reason for little Shane to commit this one to memory.
My dad and I had been searching the shelves at what was then a Video Warehouse for a while. I couldn’t decide on anything–a habit that carries over to today’s version of Netflix (the kind you can’t walk around inside). I can’t remember if I suggested it, or if he suggested it, but we decided on Star Wars: The Empire Strike Back. This choice implies to me that I had already seen A New Hope, but there is a good chance that my dad wasn’t a stickler for watching these in order. I remember saying something to him about lightsabers–specifically that I wanted to paint the blade of my toy sword blue–which would also imply a certain familiarity with the mythology of the series. (Also, I totally did paint that sword blade blue.)
I don’t know why I remember that conversation in the video store because I don’t remember watching any Star Wars film for the first time. I just remember Star Wars and the characters and stories being omnipresent to me in youth. I rented the movies all the time and watched them on TV. I was mesmerized by the music and the effects and by Vader’s power. The scene in Cloud City when the doors opened to reveal Vader and Fett–when Han Solo’s gun was snatched from his grasp by the Force–always stuck with me.
I was fascinated with the stories in those movies, and in many ways, Star Wars gave rise to my first attempts at creative storytelling. When I opened Christmas gifts in middle school and saw a video camera, I flipped out because it meant I could finally make my Star Wars movies. I drafted the neighborhood kids to help with our own trilogy: Episode X: The Fall of the Rebellion, Episode XI: The Kidnapping, and Episode XII: Remnants of the Clone Era). We worked our little kid asses off on those movies–editing them and putting music in–and even though the quality is very childlike, I’m still proud of the vision and the dedication we had as kids to finishing the story. We will take a look at some unforgettable scenes from these timeless titles in a bit.
Star Wars was important to me as a kid. I couldn’t articulate why back then, but I think I can now. The films were important because they demonstrated to me that a story is only limited by the author’s imagination. If there is room to imagine something bigger, then the story can be bigger. Star Wars taught me that anything could happen in my story as long as there was room in the world I created for that thing to happen.
What George Lucas gave audiences in the 70s and 80s was an incredibly large and sprawling universe with genuine characters. Those characters and those worlds were written and filmed in a way that made sense in the universe that was created. No decent person ever said, “hyperdrive wouldn’t work like that,” or “It’s unrealistic that Chewbacca can understand English, and Han Solo can understand Wookie, but neither of them choose to speak both,” or asked “If Obi Wan knew Luke’s father, why didn’t he tell him the truth in A New Hope instead of letting Luke get his heart broken?” Because within the universe and characters created, these things fall within the realm of realistic expectation.
Things got admittedly dicey when the prequels came around, though I’m not as much of a prequel hater as many. Much of the same wonder was present in that trilogy as well; it was just sprinkled with a little racism and way too much intergalactic trade talk. What spoke to me as a kid was how much fun it was to be around those characters. Anakin Skywalker and Padme just didn’t create that same aesthetic. And that sucks.
But with Disney–the manufacturer of dreams and fantasy–and JJ Abrams–the universal custodian for high-pressure franchises–on the case, I think The Force Awakens works more than it doesn’t. I know I’m late to the party on this, and I did see it a while ago, but this movie really did it for me. It made me care about its characters (the returning favorites and the new kids), its conflicts, and its future. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s based on recycled themes from the old trilogy–most of these stories are based on patterns deeply entrenched in the mythology of the Star Wars universe as well as Western culture (see George Lucas’s use of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell).
But I enjoyed The Force Awakens. It made me laugh and it made me sad and it made me cheer for the good guys. And it was fun, which is what I really think the kid in me needed.
What were your first creative inspirations? When did you first learn that a story could be much more than you originally thought? When was the first time a story blew your mind?
And now, without further ado, some highlights from the little Shane Star Wars saga:
While you’re at it, read about “New Godzilla and the Kid in Me.”