Star Wars Scrapbook: Star Wars Kid

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Greetings Bothans! What follows is a post about the Star Wars memories of a long time fan, Stuart Tullis. Reminisce about battles set in a galaxy far, far away, at a time that we have long passed, with characters, creatures, and stories we shall always love. Many of you will know Stuart, a fan of RebelForce Radio, but he is also a podcaster over at TechnoRetro Dads, so be sure to check that out! With that, I’ll let Stuart take us a long time ago, to a galaxy far, far away…. ~ Bethany Blanton

Star Wars Scrapbook

On a warm night in northeastern Kentucky, three kids sat atop hood of the family car, captivated by the characters on the screen at the drive-in movie.  Although the sound came from a small speaker on the pole beside the car and the picture on the screen paled in comparison to today’s high definition resolution, the sights and sounds they saw that night would be forever imprinted on their minds as well as the minds of hundreds of millions of both children and adults since 1977.  And though I don’t remember whether I was four or five at the time (my age is dependent on whether my mother’s recollection that we saw it in 1977 is correct or my brother’s insistence that it was 1978 is the year), what I do remember is that I wanted to see more of that “galaxy far, far away”.

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I am a Star Wars kid.  Everyone was a Star Wars kid in the late ‘70s.  We reenacted that movie in the basement, in the backyard, at school, at our friends’ homes, in the park, at the camp, and at the playground.  Before we had any official Star Wars toys, we shot stormtroopers with tree-branch blasters and had lightsaber duels with sticks, tubes, and vuvuzelas.  We quoted lines (and probably misquoted lines), pretended we were on the run from the Empire’s sinister agents, and jumped off walls into homemade trash compactors.  We wondered about the Clone Wars, imagining a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi with the father of Luke Skywalker flying their spaceships on missions as directed by their commander Bail Organa.  When we played dodgeball at school, we thought we could hear the voice of Obi-Wan telling us to “use the Force” as we prepared to throw the ball.  Car rides were especially exciting, since the car behind us was most certainly a TIE fighter in disguise, waiting for the right moment to fire at us.  Star Wars was everywhere because we took it with us in our minds.

Of course, as time progressed, we saw other movies, played other games, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi came and went.  We moved up to middle school and high school, and some of us started playing football or cheering on the team while others marched in the band or joined the computer club.  Star Wars was always there, always part of our consciousness, but it wasn’t at the forefront of our culture any longer.  But Star Wars never left me.  I would see a blurb on the cover of Starlog magazine about episodes seven, eight, and nine, and my heart would skip a beat in anticipation.  A special would air on television about science fiction movies, and I would sit on the edge of my seat though the entire show just to catch a glimpse of something Star Wars related.  When other kids my age were getting rid of their old Kenner toys, I was there with a smile to take whatever they might have to complete my collection.

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Star Wars is in the collective consciousness of pop culture — it has been for nearly forty years.  But why is it that some of us were infected by our initial exposure in a way that others weren’t?  Why do some of us (thousands, in fact) actively seek out new ways of rediscovering Star Wars through books, magazines, toys, games, videos, podcasts, and conventions while others simply enjoy the movies and memories?  While I can’t speak for everyone, I can look back at my own “Star Wars Scrapbook” and get a good idea of why it had such an impact on me.  Maybe your story isn’t too different from mine.

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It began that night at the drive-in.  My older brother and sister sat on the hood of the car surely blocking our parents’ view of the screen and depriving them of any sound (since we were holding the speaker).  We looked up at the screen framed by the twilit sky and saw the now familiar words on the screen: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”  From the time the orchestra blasted the first note until Chewbacca howled in the temple on Yavin’s fourth moon, we sat and watched, virtually unblinking, for two hours.  Being very young at the time, my memories of this first viewing are admittedly somewhat sketchy.  For example, I still vividly remember a jawa popping up from behind a rock and saying, “mop top” before one of his companions stunned R2-D2 with a jolt of electricity — something I’ve watched for ever since, to no avail, so it likely never really happened on screen.  But I do remember several things I recalled from that first viewing way back in ’77 or ’78.  These indelible imprints are the foundation of my fandom since those days….

Star Wars had characters that connect with kids.  The archetypes used by George Lucas to create his characters in Star Wars were instantly recognizable and memorable.  I remember Darth Vader entering the screen as the foreboding black character surrounded by a nearly all white screen.  He was the bad guy, and we all knew it.  Darth Vader frightened me by his very appearance.  He was taller than everyone else, moved intentionally, assertively, but not rushed; he was in control, and he knew it.  Princess Leia was my older sister: capable of keeping up with the two boys in the group while maintaining a measure of candor, wit, and sassiness.  Luke was the child, uncertain of his ability, humbled before his mentor, but eager to make his mark on the world.  Ben Kenobi was the kindly old uncle with a mysterious past who knows how the world works.  Han was the cool guy — the one who gets by on skill and luck (and the fact that his dog, or gorilla, is big enough that no one tangles with him).  The ‘droids were humorous, hardly drawing any attention to themselves throughout the film, but always seemed to keep our attention focused on the screen; Threepio was the mother figure, always worried and trying to manage the kids, who were ably represented by the childish antics of Artoo.  The characters in that galaxy far, far away were in our own neighborhoods and towns.

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Star Wars had creatures that capture kids’ imaginations.  If any eyes were wandering about the desolate sand dunes of Tatooine that summer night, they were immediately drawn back to the screen as our heroes entered what we later called the “creature cantina”.  The radical shift in the soundtrack instantly informed us that we were in an entirely different world when Ben and Luke stepped inside to find a pilot to take them to Alderaan.  Although this entire sequence is just a few minutes long, and most of the creatures inside were only on screen for a few seconds, many of them were etched into my memory to reemerge in my dreams by day and night.  Strangely, I remember Greedo as having a much more significant part in the movie than the couple minutes onscreen would warrant.  Maybe it was because I related more to Han Solo than to the other characters.  Maybe it was because I had never seen an alien move or speak in a manner that was so life-like.  Maybe it was because I really, really liked green.  Whatever the reason, we seemed to all remember the various creatures that fleshed out the backgrounds and back stories of our characters, whether “gonk” ‘droids, “mouse” ‘droids, jawas, sand people, or hammerheads, Star Wars drew us into a world full of wondrous beings.

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Star Wars had scenes that set kids’ hearts in high gear.  The dangers faced on screen were real to us:  a Star Destroyer firing on another vehicle in space, a sand person surprising Luke with a fierce attack, narrowly escaping stormtroopers by jumping into the unknown, where Luke is pulled under by an ugly, one-eyed, trash-eating monster with tentacles, followed by a dangerous swing to safety across a nearly bottomless pit!  These perilous parts of the movie not only kept us anxious for the safety of the heroes, but they were relived when we would recreate them with our friends on playgrounds or in parks.  If our teachers could only capture the same intensity of the movie with their classroom lessons, we would have a generation of geniuses in the world today.  Somehow, the combination of new environments with clever characters in constantly changing circumstances (mostly hazardous in nature) affected us in a way that enabled our brains to “record” these scenes with such clarity that we could easily “rewind” them and remember every nuance of those iconic aspects of the film.  Who didn’t want to build secret compartments in their station wagons back then?  How many dads were tasked with hanging rope swings from tall trees in their yards?  Not to mention the TIE Fighter/X-Wing battles that took place on bicycles in the neighborhood streets all over the world.  We could remember it all with such clarity because we were there — we walked every step with the characters we felt we had known all our lives (and for some of us, that was very nearly true).

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Star Wars had themes that struck kids’ hearts as honest.  Whether it was the call to rescue the damsel in distress, the challenge of venturing into the unknown, the irresistible urge to return to help your friends out of a jam, or the classic trope of good versus evil, the themes of Star Wars were understandable even to a four or five year-old.  These are the things that matter in movies.  The plot simply enables the storyteller to convey and reinforce these truths to those who hear the stories he tells.  George Lucas nearly flawlessly accomplished this in the events recorded in Star Wars.  We felt Luke’s struggle of being under his uncle’s (our parents’) rule when he knew he should be doing something more important than farming.  We were heartbroken when Luke’s mentor was destroyed by Darth Vader.  We were overjoyed when the Millennium Falcon appeared in the blazing sunshine with a repentant Han Solo at the helm returning to fight alongside his friends.  We basked in the knowledge that justice had been served, not only at the explosion of the deadly Death Star, but when our heroes received their medals at the hand of the princess.  Not every movie can pack so much real life into its fictional universe, and even kids know the difference.

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I suppose the reason Star Wars has always stuck with me and continues to be a defining aspect of my personality is because it is built on a firm foundation of truths that we all inherently recognize.  Some force within us instantly connects to the characters, circumstances, and messages presented on a screen that’s larger than life in a galaxy far, far away with people and places we’ve never seen, but are strangely familiar.  And for some of us, it’s a world we can never leave behind.

~ Stuart Tullis

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