Friday, December 18, 2015

let me play among the stars

It was a few days before Memorial Day 1977 and my friends and I were looking for something to do. We had a three-day weekend ahead of us and, since the school year was winding down, we didn't have much homework (those of us that actually did homework, that is.) Three of us were just hanging around in Scott's room, on the second floor of his parent's Northeast Philadelphia split-level home, trying to figure out what could kill some time on an otherwise boring Wednesday night. Someone began thumbing through a newspaper and suggested we go to a movie. We had already seen Annie Hall, released just a few weeks earlier. We passed on Charles Bronson's White Buffalo and the dumb premise of the would-be thriller The Car.

"How about this one?" asked Scott, pointing to a quarter-page ad for something called Star Wars. I wasn't much into science-fiction. I watched a few episodes of Star Trek years ago without much interest. Scott campaigned for Star Wars and Alan agreed. I think they were just tired of hanging around and doing nothing. So we went.

We knew nothing about what we were about to see. We heard no advanced press, no pre-release buzz, no nothing. We were just three sixteen-year-olds going to a movie. We bought our tickets at the box office (23 years before the likes of Fandango and any sort of service charges and convenience charges). We paid $2.25 for our tickets. We probably bought popcorn and soda and still got change for a five. I don't remember any long lines or any crowds, for that matter. We entered the theater and had our pick of seats. We had no idea what to expect.

The lights soon dimmed and, after several teasers for upcoming feature films (Smokey and the Bandit would be coming out that weekend), the now-familiar and iconic preface scrolled into the screen. Everyone in the theater read it to themselves, a low murmur filling the air as some audience members were unable to whisper or keep their mouths shut. For the next 121 minutes, as the screen lit up with colorful flashes, booming explosions and other special effects, the audience was captivated.

Except me. I didn't get it.

When it was all over, the crowd erupted in wild applause (something I still find odd for a filmed performance). Some felt compelled to punctuate the clapping with hoots and whistles. The extensive closing credits filled the screen as the audience filed out, busily chattering about different scenes and different characters. Some repeated memorable lines. (How many times I would hear "Laugh it up, fuzzball." and "I'd rather kiss a Wookie." in the coming weeks!) Others re-enacted and analyzed key scenes to the best of their recollection.

Except me. I didn't get it.

Even Scott and Alan got caught up in the excitement. They were already talking about seeing it again. I scratched my head. Did I miss something? Did some hidden meaning pass me by? I just watched the same movie they did. It was basically a cowboy and Indian picture with lasers and aliens. Not too profound and certainly not earth-shattering. I think maybe my teenage mind was too old for such childish frivolity. I was more interested in girls and concerts and girls.

As the summer progressed, the buzz for Star Wars increased. My next-door neighbor — four years my junior — saw Star Wars 25 times throughout the course of the summer. He had little action figures of the characters from the movie and he recreated scenes on his front porch for his own amusement — until the next time he saw the film.

But, I just didn't get it. A few years later, I saw The Empire Strikes Back, hoping it would somehow strike a chord with me and it would all suddenly click. It didn't. In 1983, I saw Return of the Jedi, giving this whole Star Wars thing one last chance. By this time, I was 22, far too old to be moved by evil overlords and Jedi knights in shining armor. And still, nothing. No connection was made. Frankly, I found the trilogy boring and forgettable. I know. I know. I am in the definite minority.

When the second wave of Star Wars mania broke, it came complete with built-in recognition and shrewd marketing. Star Wars - Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released in 1999 when my son was 12, the prime target market. He, of course, loved the film. He had a slew of Star Wars-related toys and played with them often. He enjoyed the original trilogy in re-release and then the subsequent releases in the so-called "prequel saga." He was, like most fans, critical of certain sequences and certain characters (the annoying Jar Jar Binks comes to mind), but, he still considers himself a fan. He loves the Star Wars attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World and, while not a regular viewer (he's 28 now), has an appreciation for the Star Wars cartoon series and their place in the Star Wars canon.

Now, on the eve of the heralded release of the next phase of the Star Wars legend — The Force Awakens — the excitement builds. The Internet and all outlets of social media (something that didn't exist in the first go-round) are a-flutter with speculation, prognostication and anticipation. Disney, the multimedia entertainment powerhouse that purchased the rights to all things Star Wars in 2012, stands to rake in a ton of money from the new movie. Fittingly, they unleashed a meticulously planned marketing assault that began just moments after the ink dried on their contract with George Lucas. The previews are already garnering positive reviews and at least two more films are already planned. There are upcoming modifications to Disney's theme parks to incorporate both the growing and long-time interest in the Star Wars universe. Everyone is excited and delighted and enthusiastic.

Except me. I still don't get it.

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