Friday, December 20, 2019

space wizards.

"This is a movie about space wizards intended for children.” -PHW

I don't remember the first time I saw Star Wars. Kind of surprising for something that's been around as long as I can remember. My first memories - ever - are actually in my childhood backyard for my third birthday - which was Star Wars themed. I have other memories of being on a beach and losing a stormtrooper action figure in the waves. I remember going to a library in my grandparents’ small English town and seeing a bunch of Star Wars vehicles on display. I must have watched the original movie (III) tens - but what seemed like hundreds - of times, on an old VHS tape of the original movie recorded off TV. I actually don't remember ever seeing the Empire Strikes Back (V)as a kid. The earliest memory of actually seeing Star Wars in a theater is Return of the Jedi (VI) at the dollar movies with my Touchi Uncle. One of my prized possessions is still the X-Wing fighter my Dad bought me, though it is now missing a wing. 

In high school I finally watched ‘Empire.' In college I later discovered Kevin Smith movies - many of which often, and hilariously, referenced all of "the holy trilogy." In fact I'm pretty sure around then Empire finally became my favorite (sorry RoTJ, not the be confused with RTJ). I finally also made it to the theater for all the re-released “Special Editions" during those years. I even ate a little too much Taco Bell for some really cool toys. I read all of the original Timothy Zahn trilogy, which are still the best of all the books - which I can say with conviction, because I read ALL of the other garbage like only a true fan would. And when a local department store was going out of business, my valuable find was a NEW X-Wing fighter on clearance (which for many years sat atop my bookshelves). 

Then there were the prequels.

When the first trailer for Episode I came out, I went to some other movie just to see it in the previews. I eventually downloaded it on a 28.8k modem - freezing every frame for analysis, and making wallpapers for my PC. There's actually an old local news clip of my friend Paul and I skipping work from our engineering co-op to stand in line to buy our tickets for opening night. I had caught the hype and went to see it multiple times. Were they particularly good? That wasn’t the point. It was Star Wars - my old familiar friend.

Episode II came out during some hard times I faced in college, and the post-9/11 world wasn’t making much sense either. The film was particular troubling for me. Not just because of lackluster cliffhanger, or that it wasn't any good - but because of whatever was going on in my head. I almost didn’t make it through those years, but one of the many stupid threads that I hung onto was that I couldn’t miss the end of these new Star Wars movies - with the final chapter not coming out for another THREE years. And when Episode III did come out? I was actually in a much better place, so I don’t actually remember watching it, though I recall the movie well. Beyond the sadness of this being the last movie, there was a sorrow to some of the dark themes reflecting the politics at the time (which pales in comparison to our current situation). It even had it’s own “you're with us or against us” moment.

And then I was done with Star Wars at the movies.

And now a word from our sponsor. Please enjoy responsibly.

I became a real grown up - did some cool work, travelled the world, met the girl, and had lots of experiences. But my love of Star Wars was a lens through which I looked at a lot of things - not dissimilar to my love of comic books. These were cultural touchstones that were part of who I was. And as I became more comfortable in my own skin I was unabatedly unashamed of my love for all things Star Wars, Trek, and sci-fi related. It was a part of who I was. It did not so much define me, so much much is inform me. I later came to jokingly realize this was something I would soon call my own "comic book morality,” something I would frankly still argue is much more consistent than what many others apply from other sources (but that's another post).

Then a big mouse-obsessed corporation bought the rights to my beloved Star Wars. And they said they were going to make more movies. “Take my money, please,” I thought to myself. Around the same time, there were a bunch of cartoons that came out - most of which were more than pretty decent. Lightsabers, spaceships, and of course Obi-Wan - who would soon become my favorite (sorry Luke).

And then they announced the final trilogy. I won’t even begin to describe all the feelings stirred up in those months of anticipation of the first movie (VII). It was as if a friend had come back from a long trip (to a galaxy far, far away). When that first “new sequel" arrived - I went to a morning showing at a local mall with my then-pregnant wife. It was a thrill ride reminiscent of everything that came before it. As the credits rolled by, my wife turned to me and said, "We are not naming our daughter Rey." it's like she had Force powers, could read my mind and was pulling a Jedi mind-trick on me. That actually came a few months later after my daughter was born it's clear she inherited her mother's powers.

I actually wound up seeing The Force Awakens (VII) twice in theaters, the second time taking my dad and brother-in-law over the holidays. During that next viewing I found myself enjoying the film, but more enjoying watching my father laugh and clap his hands at something he was only vaguely familiar with (because of his son). Seeing him enjoy himself for an entire 2+ hours is not something I can say my dad admittedly does for many things - much less a Hollywood blockbuster. Everything was awesome (again).

When the The Last Jedi (VIII) came out, we had a new president and the tone of the world was quickly changing. My wife and I looked forward to seeing a new Star Wars, a distracting light at the end of a dark tunnel. We dropped my daughter off at daycare and went to go see a morning showing. All our old (and new) friends were there on the screen, but the tone was darker, the plot more winding. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. As we ate our went our North Vietnamese lunch afterwards, I kept playing back in my head everything that I had seen on screen. It was different and I was intrigued. It's probably how confused everyone felt after watching The empire strikes back, which I had never seen with raw eyes. While it turns out most people really didn't like it, I was ok with this new direction. I later I watched it again and knew this movie would hold up as the years went on. But I’m not sure the world has come around to my point of view yet. I’m patient

There were a few other "in-between" Star Wars movies that came out around the same time. And for me, they were mostly good! They entertained me by taking me back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - in a very different way. A few people were  more articulate explained why everyone just needs to get over themselves, or tried to figure out what we really want from a Star Wars film.

So this was the mentality I took into the final movie of the Skywalker saga (IX). There are no real spoilers here, so you’re safe to keep reading. I’d originally planned to go with a couple of friends - but they had an unfortunate emergency - so i found myself going alone on today's cold winter morning. At first It was really hard for me to turn my brain off for the opening scenes, as i could not stop thinking how this was really the end of something special for me.

The last new Star Wars movie that really mattered (because let's be honest - the big mouse company will make many more). But this has been a weird year, on so. many. levels. Beyond the current climate and my own happenings - this has been a year of many big pop/mono culture icons coming to a close, whether it be film about avenging superheroes, books about the walking dead, or shows about dragons and ice people. This Star Wars movie was effectively the last of them all for me. I'm sure there will be many sequels and reboots of so many other things from my childhood - some of which I will enjoy. But for me - staring down the barrel of adulthood - this is the last one of my childhood that I care about.

For me, it was another grand adventure, and it did not disappoint. It didn't stop - which gave me pause. So I decided to let go and just enjoy. There were moments that touched me (“I know”), and of course moments where I cringed. As the film came to its inevitable close, I had a feeling of satisfaction. That I got what I wanted after all these years. Nothing specific, but just a conclusion. As the final scene faded to credits, I felt the sense of closure. I walked out of the theater and started writing. 

There have been a lot of things going on in my life and the past few years in the past few months. They're more significant than anything set in a galaxy far, far away. But I'm looking forward to what's next.

Also, I’m waiting for my kid to get old enough so we can start watching Star Wars together. As I often tell her,

"May the force be with you."


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