Let’s talk about what I was doing around this time twenty years ago exactly. It was a Wednesday. We’d moved from Columbus to Champaign County only about six months before, the house wasn’t even painted inside, and I was only just embarking on a decade of epic sulking about being removed from the house I was born in. I was eleven, loud and always in a hurry, emotional and easily frustrated, passionate about reading and spending every possible hour out in the woods.
We were never a very TV-oriented family. Didn’t even have a set until I was three and that was just because Grandma got a new one. However, shortly after settling in Champaign County, we got a television four times bigger than the old one, and we started getting a pizza once a week and watching a movie over dinner. Being a homeschooling family with a full-time mom and a dad working from home, we defied traditional “weekends,” and Wednesday was pizza/movie night by virtue of being the day we went to the store. Unbeknownst to me, Mom had picked up a movie that afternoon that would change my life.
We gathered round the TV, I was sitting in my usual spot on the Mission oak couch with my legs drawn up so I could balance my plate on my knees — pepperoni pizza — and I could look out the sliding glass door to the screened in porch and the yard beyond. February 12 was a cold snowy day and there were the remains of several miniature snowmen I’d made and painted that afternoon.
“Today I played in the snow. Made 5 snowmen (small ones) and made snow paint. Mom bought STAR WARS. We still have to get the other two in the trilogy. Played computer.”
I remember a lot of things very clearly about that first-ever viewing. Hearing the first lines and almost forgetting about my pizza. Being amazed that the first characters were so unapologetically robots. I thought the Stormtroopers were robots themselves. Actually I thought Vader was one, too. It was like a nothing but robots celebration! Like so many others seeing Star Wars for the first time, I was awed because it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. At 11, I’d seen very few movies at all, mostly animated or time-honored musicals like The King and I and Sound of Music. Definitely nothing like this 1970s scifi flick. I misheard half of what was going on (“Jedi knife” and “cologne wars,” for example) and thought Han and Chewie were the most interesting things in the whole film. I was impressed that the heroine looked exactly like me if I didn’t have bangs, though — I was going through a fit of being sick of every girl being a freakin’ blonde.
There’s a curious contradiction in the first time I saw Star Wars. On one hand, I was clearly struck by it enough that I recorded it in all caps and underlined in my diary. On the other hand, it was as much a footnote as the forgettable snow paint. I don’t remember being any more enthused about it than any other movie during pizza night (which included The Great Panda Adventure, a film about which I remember nothing except the kid said “American Gladiators” a lot . . . and there were pandas), but I must have expressed some extreme interest in it because in the two weeks between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, I watched every interview on TV that even remotely referenced Star Wars. I believe I’m the only person on the planet who saw the carbon-freezing scene for the first time on Oprah (or Rosie? I could never tell those two shows apart) during an interview with Billy Dee Williams before I even knew the name of the second film.
Yes, Return of the Jedi is the film that made my obsession bloom, but A New Hope gave me something. Over the years, it’s traded orbits with Attack of the Clones for being my least favorite of the six, but it is an amazing movie and it planted the seed of a love and passion that has been part of me for twenty years. Twenty years, beginning with stories scribbled in atrocious handwriting, making my own paper dolls because I wasn’t allowed to buy action figures, reading the books at the speed of light so I could get more; twenty years of anticipating new releases, of rewatching a film more than anyone could think possible, of buying books and toys and games. Twenty years of loving a film franchise as I’ve loved nothing else and as no one else has ever loved it.
Happy anniversary, Star Wars. Here’s to the next twenty years!