Recently, the Jim Henson Company sponsored a contest that would grant one unknown, aspiring author the prize of a lifetime: A contract to write the very first novel based off of the film THE DARK CRYSTAL. Being an unknown aspiring author myself, my heart raced with excitement at the opportunity, and I knew I had to submit a manuscript.
There was one small problem, however. I had never watched The Dark Crystal.
It was not that I never wanted to watch it. Quite the opposite, in fact. I really wanted to see the movie but whenever I had the opportunity, something would come up and I would miss it. There was a questionnaire on the submission page that asked, “What does The Dark Crystal mean to you?” to which I gave this honest reply:
Fate, it seems, did not want me to watch The Dark Crystal until the Author Quest contest was announced. I tried to watch it when I was younger, but for various reasons it never happened.
That was a blessing in a way, for everything felt fresh and new to me, and I was able to feel a bit of that magic that gets lost after you’ve seen a film countless times. If you’re four years of age or thirty-four, Jim Henson movies have the power to immerse, thrill and captivate.
In case you’re wondering, I have now seen The Dark Crystal three times and I absolutely love it.
A set of similar circumstances surround me and another film that has come to impact my life in exponentially increasing ways. STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE.
I was born in 1979, so Episode IV was already two years in the can by the time I made my debut on Planet Earth. It was long out of theaters by the time I was old enough to comprehend what was happening on the screen. Eventually it made its way to VHS, but I unfortunately lived in a household where such luxuries as a videotape player were deemed unnecessary expenses. If it were ever played on broadcast tv, I was never made aware of it. I once started to watch it at a friend’s house but my mother ordered me to come home just before Luke met Ben for the first time. There was even a moment when, on one of those rare awesome school days when the teacher rolls in the tv/vcr on wheels, that I requested we watch it. He made us watch SPACED INVADERS instead. I suppose he thought he was being clever. He wasn’t; nothing about Spaced Invaders is clever.
The bizarre thing is that I had seen both EMPIRE and JEDI countless times. It seemed that I could watch those two whenever I wanted. I knew that Vader was Luke’s father. I had witnessed time and time again the ferocious battle of the second death star. Heck, I could even hum the yub nub song. What I could not do, though, was tell you about poor Greedo, for I had not seen Han shoot him (first).
So when did I finally get to see Episode IV? My senior year of high school. I was seventeen years old. SEVENTEEN. Think about that. It took nearly two decades for me to see this movie.
I was in choir class (RIP Mr. Bullion) one day, discussing sciency fictiony nerdy things with a fellow student, and the conversation naturally turned to Star Wars. When I mentioned that I had never seen the first one, Captain Bill (that was his nickname; the guy was a big Star Trek fan but I won’t hold that against him) offered to let me borrow his boxed set of the original, unaltered (back then, the only versions to choose from were the unaltered versions) trilogy on VHS. I took them home and finally got to experience the thrill of A New Hope.
Less than a year later the special editions came to theaters, and I got to watch ANH the way it was meant to be seen- in a movie theater. My life was forever changed at that moment.
You can watch Star Wars on your sixty inch television, with your Dolby Digital 7.0 surround sound system cranked up to 11, while you lay back in your comfy loveseat, and it will be a great experience. But until you have seen it in a real movie theater, you will never truly understand its magnificence. I honestly believe that A New Hope should have a theatrical release every ten years or so just so each generation has their own moment to understand just how great the original film is.
And it might just save one or two of them from waiting a ridiculously long time for their first viewing.
-James Howell (aka yhop)