It’s hard to believe, but Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope turns forty this year. It seems like only yesterday that I was tromping around my backyard pretending to be Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Actually, I was doing that yesterday, but I mean as an 8-year old kid back in 1977.
A New Hope is a period piece and other than Luke and Han’s hairstyles it’s easy to forget that this film was released in the late 1970’s. While it’s never a bad time to be a Star Wars fan nothing compares to how good it is today. Every time I hear someone complain about Legends versus canon, or points out some imperfection from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I want to turn to that person and say you have no idea just how amazing the Star Wars landscape is right now.
Whether it’s the films, novels, television, costumes, or toys all of it is so much more incredible that what we had back in my day.
Let’s start with the films. Back in my day, we didn’t have multiple versions of A New Hope. There was just one, and Han didn’t shoot first or last, he just shot and we loved it. Also, the cantina patrons didn’t have fancy names and elaborate back stories. Back in my day, they had politically incorrect names based on how they looked. Snaggletooth, Hammerhead and Walrus Man. Do they even have walruses in a galaxy, far, far away? I don’t know, and back then we sure as heck didn’t care.
One thing we couldn’t do back then is re-watch the films once they left the theater. I have all eight films loaded on my phone, tablet and other devices. I can watch a Star Wars film wherever I go and whenever I want.
In 1977 there were no DVD’s or DVRs. VCRs were still in their infancy and the competing formats of VHS and Betamax were just dropping their cloaks to battle like Jedi and Sith.
Back in my day if you wanted to watch Star Wars once it left the theater you did it by listening to the soundtrack on your parents’ record player. Not only that but beyond the film additional stories were slim pickings.
Back in my day, we didn’t have this finely woven tapestry of tales, governed by an official story group. For a long time, we had one novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster. I’m not saying it was a bad story, but it is without question the square peg in the round hole that is the galaxy of Star Wars stories. The planets were bland. There was awkward sexual tension between Luke and Leia. R2-D2 was referred to as a Detoo unit, and Darth Vader had a blue lightsaber. Anyway, we read it, we liked it, and we didn’t question where it fit in the greater pantheon of Star Wars lore. Back then they were just stories and one of the few gateways that transported us to a galaxy far, far away.
Then there is television. I still have chills from the Twin Suns episode of Star Wars Rebels. Back in my day, we didn’t have a sophisticated animated television series that artfully meshed with the greater story and explored the mysteries of the Force. We had the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, and guess what? We liked it. Maybe not all of it, but some it to be sure.
On November 17, 1978, I gathered in the living room with my family and sat in front of the television, giddy with anticipation. I oohed as Boba Fett made his debut, and I cheered when Han Solo swooped in and saved Chewie’s family from the clutches of the Empire. I’ll admit the rest of it was a giant pile of Bantha poodoo, and it’s unclear if I suffered irreparable brain damage from watching it, but it’s all there was. The truth is if we wanted to experience a truly great Star Wars story we had to use our imaginations and create our own.
We didn’t have quality costumes from Anovos or replica weapons to aid us. If you wanted to dress up like a Stormtrooper you did it with a costume made of paper mache and chicken wire. If you wanted to be Han Solo, you put on your dad’s suit vest, grabbed your mom’s favorite hair dryer, and ran out of the house with her chasing you like a legion of Stormtroopers on the Death Star. You’d turn to the dog and yell, “C’mon Chewie let’s get out of here!” as you escaped to the backyard.
The one thing we did have that you kids have today were build-your-own lightsaber kits. Only we didn’t call them that. Back then they were called broomsticks and tree branches. Mine was from a nice birch tree we had in the front yard. Sorry, dad but the galaxy needed a hero and it chose me. Like Luke Skywalker and now Rey, we didn’t go it alone. Star Wars was something we experienced with friends. If we weren’t pretending to be the heroes ourselves, then we were making up adventures with our toys.
Back then, we didn’t keep our toys boxed up like they were the crown jewel of our retirement portfolio. Although I wouldn’t mind if I had. We didn’t put them behind glass like a museum diorama either.
We played with them, and we played hard. We played with them on the beach and pretended it was Tatooine. We played with them in snow and pretended it was Hoth. Want to know which ones float in water and which ones sink? I can help you with that.
If I were to sell my Luke Skywalker X-wing on eBay I’d have to label it as the special “Dagobah Edition”. My Millennium Falcon? The Return of the Jedi edition (the radar dish is missing).
I still have my “vintage” Star Wars action figures. Their accessories? Not so much. There’s a three-acre plot of land in Connecticut that is an archeological treasure trove of tiny blasters and lightsabers.
When we were done playing with our toys we traded cards. Back in my day, we didn’t have digital trading cards, we had actual cards. Trades were done in person, and it was often a tense meeting where diplomatic solutions could quickly turn into aggressive negotiations.
Completing a set was a big deal and I remember the day my friend and I were haggling over our Empire Strikes Back Series One cards. As he was flipping through his set, I saw it. Card number thirteen, Planet of Ice. Luke Skywalker aboard his trusty tauntaun. My friend had it and I didn’t, and it was the last card I needed to complete the set. It wasn’t easy but I convinced him to trade it to me. It cost me every duplicate I had plus I had to loan him my Death Star playset and my Atari 2600 copy of Space Invaders. It was totally worth it though.
A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away the world took its first steps into the larger universe of Star Wars. Forty years later the films are grander, the stories are more polished, and the costumes and toys are more intricate, but one thing remains consistent there is a deep appreciation and love by fan for Star Wars.
Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi releases in December. Perhaps we can return to this space in 2057 and reflect on just how primitive things were back in 2017. Seriously, if we don’t have real lightsabers by then, science will have failed us all.
May the Force be with you. Always.Powered by Sidelines