I can still remember seeing my first Star Wars movie. It was Return of the Jedi and I saw it at the cinema at Broxbourne Civic Hall, at some point in late 1983, after all the proper cinemas had run the film to death. I went with my mum and little brother. I was 8, going on 9 and my brother was 6. One of the reasons I remember it so well is my brother had to leave the cinema during the big climatic battle as it got a little too much for him and the Tie-Fighters started “coming out of the screen” at him.
That summer and autumn, the playground was full of Star Wars games. Seth usually got to play Han Solo, one of the four Richard’s got to be Darth Vader, and I sometimes played Daft Ada, the Sith Lord’s slightly mad aunty. Yes, even back then I was somewhat eccentric.
I can vividly remember watching Star Wars (a New Hope in new money) on our wood effect vinyl TV at home, in all it’s edited for TV pan & scan glory. It didn’t matter it had been butchered for a 4:3 aspect ratio, the opening shot of the Star Destroyer flying over the camera sent shivers down my spine and to this day is one of my favourite scenes in cinema.
I can still remember seeing my second Star Wars movie at the cinema too*, it was in Stockport, in 1999 to see the Phantom Menace. I was 24 and we’d bought tickets to the first showing, full of excitement at a return to the world of our childhoods. In the interim 16 years my friend and I had both bought the original film twice on VHS, first in pan & scan and then in “letterbox” format. We were still 5 years away from being able to buy them again on DVD and 12 years from another purchase on Blu Ray. We were both excited by the new film; George Lucas hadn’t let us down at this point and we had high hopes.
We both desperately tried to like the Phantom Menace but it was hard work. Jar Jar Binks, a small irritating boy, and a reliance on CGI that somehow wasn’t as good as the original films model work didn’t help but the overarching feeling was one of confused excess- this was a man who had made the most successful cinematic trilogy of all time and nobody had said “No” to him at any point during the films gestation, shooting or post production work. It was a mess.
I went to see the other two films in the new trilogy and whilst I don’t fall in to the “George Lucas ruined my childhood” camp, I don’t really watch them or care for them. I think the biggest crime for me was the whole midichlorian thing; reducing the force to some sort of blood condition. For shame, the point of something mysterious is for it to remain mysterious.
There is obviously an element of what you see when you’re a kid being special to that time, place and circumstance, and it’s with that worry at the back of my mind that I prepare, 32 years after I saw Return of the Jedi, to take my 8 year old lad to the IMAX at the Science Museum to see The Force Awakens. He’s the same age I was when I saw Jedi but his world couldn’t be more different to mine. He’s seen all the films endless times, loves the Clone Wars animated series, and has been to the cinema dozens of times. I was watching Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers with him recently, and he made me pause the film so he could explain to me how they’d done the motion capture for Golem. I was impressed and the 8 year old me would have been blown away.
I’m 40 now and I desperately want the first Star Wars film released in my son’s lifetime to be special for him. I know it’s not going to be as special as the first trilogy was for me in the 80’s because the world’s changed but I know when I sit down in that cinema and Walter John William’s score blasts out as the scrolling prologue makes it’s way up the screen, I will be covered in goosebumps and have a slight lump in my throat.
*ignoring the special editions cinema release in 1997, I obviously went to see ALL of those!