Friday, December 18, 2015

The Star Wars Experience

A long time ago, we discovered a galaxy far, far away...

In a universe that spans seven movies and thirty-eight years, everyone has a different story with how they were introduced to Star Wars. Here are ours.

Isaac B. (20s)

I watched Star Wars for the first time when I was in 4th grade. We had been flipping through the cable channels, and there was a documentary about it. Everything in it caught my attention, from the hairy Chewbacca to Han in Carbonite. Even the lightsabers were so foreign to me, I was both interested and freaked out. Nonetheless, when my parents saw the documentary, they thought it was about time to introduce me and my younger siblings to the saga.

They picked up all three of the original trilogy from the video rental store, ordered a couple pizzas, and our watching experience began. As my dad began reading the scrolling text (for the sake of my younger siblings), I knew that this was different than anything I had watched before. Indeed, all the strangeness of what I'd seen in the documentary came to life to a new level. Odd creatures, ships, and even entire planets seemed to appear out of nowhere and draw my attention, and just as I felt I could wrap my mind around one oddity, another would be in front of me. It was only months later that I began to realize each oddity had a name: Tauntaun, Blockade Runner, Nien Numb. I think it was ultimately this initial intrigue coupled with the extensive world building and history of the Star Wars universe that has made me such a fan.

My first experiences watching it were only expanded upon by the "research" I could do on and Wookiepedia, not to mention that each new movie I saw added an entirely new dimension to the world. I think this is also why my experiences with the prequels often seem so much stronger in my memory, for I had already seen and learned so much, and yet there was more! Hallelujah, there was more! It's really entertaining to go back and watch the movies again (as of course, I have countless times in my childhood, adolescence, and now early adulthood), for I can still clearly remember the novelty of it all. These movies never die or grow old for me, just like the best of fandoms.

Kaylee F. (20s)

I was born in '92, so I missed the original trilogy. But they were my dad's favorite movies, and because he was a doctor, he was never home. On the rare occasion he was home, he just wanted to chill, so he'd throw on Star Wars. I'd climb up next to him on the couch so that I could actually get time in with my dad, so I fell in love with Star Wars too.

When Episode I came out, I was in first grade, floating on air because I was seeing this movie, in theaters, with my dad, and it was our favorite. I was completely enchanted with and terrified by Episode I. It was the most lifelike CGI I had ever seen. I was obsessed and began reading in the Extended Universe (which is now wiped clean).

And Episode II and III just felt like a massive disappointment. I was able to engage myself with some of Episode II because of repeated characters, like Boba Fett. But the story line stopped making sense. Episode III was extremely boring for me, as well as dark. I didn't, at the time, understand why things had to end on so dark a note. Nothing was scary or sinister the way Darth Maul had been, so it was more dark because it was murdering children, a pregnant woman, and all the heroes. Because I was so engaged with the books, I understood what was happening later on, but when I watched them in theaters, I didn't get it, and I was old enough to get it—I had read The Iliad and The Odyssey. I was capable of understanding Star Wars. It was terrible writing and directing, and it needed explanation.

The great thing about the original trilogies is that they were simple. You knew who was bad, you knew who was good... a four-year-old could follow along. Not so the later trilogy. Too much watery dialogue, too many extra characters that operated as their own person instead of a nameless pawn...

But Star Wars is still the greatest concept in the entire world.

Bennett D. (20s)

My first experience with Star Wars came at the very young age of 5 years old when my parents were watching TV one night and came across the first movie (I refuse to call it A New Hope). I only saw maybe five minutes of it, but I was hooked. As my parents said, in one night I went from Barney and Thomas the Tank Engine to obsessing about Star Wars. ALL the Star Wars, ALL the time. Drawing, gathering nuggets of info from library books, wanting the toys, begging to see the movies.... I was completely hooked.

A few years later I was finally allowed to watch the Original Trilogy, which only made me even more of a fan. Every time one of the episodes was on TV, I'd try and watch it. (This is back in the VHS and Laserdisc days, mind you. What are those? Ask your parents...) Around this time is when the Prequels came out, which meant a new array of toys and information to gather. I eventually saw Episodes I and II on TV and VHS after their respective theatrical runs and enjoyed them but not as much the older ones.

When Revenge of the Sith landed in theaters in 2005, I was 13 and finally able to see one of the installments in the cinema. I went, I saw, and I enjoyed... though upon further reflection afterwards, I realized it wasn't as awesome as the initial "cinema experience" had led me to believe. I had heard about how poorly the Prequels were and agreed they were not as good as the Originals, but it was only after Episode III had come and gone along with re-watches of the OT that I realized how lackluster the new trilogy had been. While containing interesting ideas, Lucas's writing and directing dragged otherwise good possibilities into the mire of overly reliant CGI spectacles with little of the emotional resonance of the Original Trilogy. Or the acting prowess for that matter....

As for the Expanded Universe and its plethora of books, games, comics and toys... I never got into it. Friends of mine did and would tell me about the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the gang, but the entire EU never interested me enough to check it out. I pretty well stuck with the viewpoint of everything mentioned in the OT was canon and that was that... except for my own musings and made-up adventures for the characters after Return of the Jedi.

Even though I'm not as huge of a Star Wars geek as I was in my younger days, I still remain a lifelong fan of the original trilogy and the amazing films George Lucas and Co. created in the late 70's and early 80's. As for The Force Awakens, I remain excited and cautiously optimistic that Abrams and team have been able to concoct a worthy continuation to Star Wars.

Anna Catherine (16)

My parents were my official introduction to nerddom in every way, shape, and form. I remember snuggling up on the couch with my dad while watching the original Star Wars trilogy over and over. After we got the Lord of the Rings movies, we stopped watching Star Wars so often. I remember asking if we could watch "those space movies" again. I'm excited to relive my childhood watching the new film with my dad!

Eli C. (20s/30s)

I can't remember the first time I saw the original trilogy. They were among the catalog of films that made up my childhood from my earliest memories. But I remember finally getting through Empire Strikes Back in one sitting and understanding what actually happened, particularly in the middle, and the story of the trilogy made me so much happier seeing the full arc of everyone's stories.

Shirley T. (81)
Jaime Heller's grandma

What I remember about the 1977 Star Wars movie. First of all, it was Star Wars...didn't know there would be sequels and prequels. Mark Hamill starred as Luke Skywalker. Never heard of Harrison Ford as Han Solo but liked him. He, Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2D2 stole the show. Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: I knew as long time British actor. Knew Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia because her dad, Eddie Fisher, was popular in 'my day.' Dumb part of movie was the shooting scenes where the 'enemy' in white armor suits went down by the dozens but the 'heroes' were unscathed. The bar scene with all the strange looking outer space people was different. Darth Vader is fuzzy in my memory due to the scenes in later movies.

Overall, the movie was exciting.

Cheryl L. (40s)
Erinn Leach's mom

1977, I was 10 years old and I remember seeing commercials for this new exciting movie that was coming soon to a theater near us. This was not like anything we've seen before, and we were going crazy! I remember me and my friends running all over the neighborhood collecting pop bottles to deposit, mowing lawns, doing whatever it took to get the money to see this movie.

The day it opened, we walked two blocks over to the Weslin theater in Massillon, stood in a long line for our tickets, then went inside to get our popcorn and Sugar Babies. We sat in the balcony and watched what I consider one of the greatest sci-fi films in history. Everything about it, from the music to the special effects and characters, had us glued to our seats.

I immediately fell in love with the dashing and witty Han Solo and his furry co-pilot Chewy. Princess Leia, for her brashness and not being a typical "Damsel in distress" was a great role model for us girls growing up in the '70's. Luke Skywalker's journey with guidance from Obi Wan as a Jedi. The duo of C3PO and R2D2, and of course the villain we all loved ...Darth Vader.

I have a confession...we hid in the theater to watch the second showing.

Michael T. (50s)
Jaime Heller's uncle

I also remember the launch of the 1977 Star Wars. I'm not sure if I saw it opening day in Ohio or not, but I remember that not many high school kids knew anything about it when it came out. I knew because I read Time Magazine and the Star Wars was already named as the Movie of the Year (see this article minus the really cool pictures here). The article was on 30 May and the opening was on 25 May somewhere, but I think that I read the article first. I remember the article talking about the amazing effects due to a computerized 'flying' camera -- and I loved anything computer at that time. I recall that article comparing to the 'previous' big sci-fi movie "2001" and "Whereas Kubrick had only about 35 different effects, Lucas has 363 special effects." I remember seeing the "text crawl" and thinking this is strange, but then the big ship (Star Cruiser) flew over and WOW!!! And Han shot first!!!

Oh, and I also remember that nearly everyone involved with the Movie and Special Effects were under 40 years old -- most closer to 30... and I thought that was cool! Doesn't seem as cool to me now!

Jaime Heller (20s)

For me, Star Wars has always kind of just been there. I don't remember the first time I watched it or heard about it. I've got glimpses of memories involving watching storm troopers doing something on the TV while at a relative's house. But for me, it's always been a part of my life. My dad and brother were huge fans, always raving about it. I watched the originals over and over growing up. I was five when Episode I was released. I know I must have gone to see it in theaters. I remember people discussing it, and my brother's friends talking about taking lightsabers to one of the older theaters to "lightsaber fight" in the balcony during it (though I bet they were lying).

I remember the Star Wars merchandise crowding our house from shoes and shirts to dishware to even markers and crayons. I had tons of Star Wars coloring books, which I would color for days on end (usually picking my favorites to color over ad over again). Everything was Star Wars. I remember seeing Episode II in theaters; people cheered when Yoda arrived to fight Count Dooku. I remember my brother watching the trailer for Episode III over and over again in order to analyze every detail. I remember seeing the moment when Anakin turns evil and feeling so sad.

For me, Star Wars was one of my earliest fandoms before I even knew what a fandom was. I read most of the kids books like the Jedi Apprentice and Jedi Quest series. I liked Ani, but I grew to love Obi-Wan. I liked Luke but I also loved Han. If asked who I would want to be when I grew up, I would undoubtedly say, 'Darth Vader.' (My sister wanted to be Leia, so I, of course, couldn't be. I was happy to be the masked dark lord though.) I played Star Wars with the neighbor boys. I had a collection of actions figures, which entertained me for hours. We played Lego Star Wars, and I would watch my brother play every Star Wars video game.

Star Wars has always been a part of my life, and it still is. Sure, for the past ten years I've discovered other fandoms while Star Wars kind of slid to the back of my thoughts. But with The Force Awakens, my love the adventure of it all has, well, re-awakened. And I'm ready to return to the Jedi, to the Millennium Falcon, to the galaxy... a long, long time ago.

Izzy Stevenson (20s)

I first saw the original Star Wars trilogy when I was a very little girl when my parents played their VHS tapes of them for me. I wasn’t old enough to understand all of it, but it left a bigger impression on me than I knew at the time. After going back and watching them again this year, I was surprised at how many scenes had inspired parts of my novels. They apparently left a pretty huge mark on my subconscious.

When I was growing up, the big thing was the prequels. I remember feeling the anticipation in the air when people started talking about a new Star Wars movie coming to theaters. Because I was so young, my parents had to sit me down and explain to me why this was such a big deal – especially the fact that it was a prequel. They reminded me that Darth Vader used to be a good man, and that the movie would most likely show him at that point and document how he went bad in the first place. They told me the movie would show what happened before Luke and Leia were even born.

I watched as all my friends’ and family’s time became consumed by slowly searching for spoilers on their sluggish 90’s dial-up internet. I remember being in awe when I saw my first leaked screenshot from the film, which showed a very mysterious woman who apparently would one day become Luke and Leia’s mother. But most of all, I was shocked when I eventually found out that, not only did the new Star Wars movie have a character who was my age (!!!),  he was said to be the child who would grow up to become Darth Vader himself! Star Wars was everywhere; it had taken over every conversation, every advertisement, and every fast food restaurant and toy store was carrying new merchandise. There was a puzzle being sold in Toys R Us where the finished picture showed a little blond boy walking in the desert, his shadow looking ominously like Darth Vader.

I must have stared at that picture a full ten minutes. I couldn’t understand how someone my age would be chosen to play a character who had been an iconic villain since long before I was born. I was thrilled and also jealous, even though I was a girl and couldn’t have played a young Darth Vader anyway.

When I saw The Phantom Menace, I was too young to notice the flaws, so all I saw was magic. It was the first movie I went to see in theaters twice. I even liked Jar Jar Binks (at the time). R2D2 had been my favorite character in the original trilogy, so I was thrilled I got to see his backstory. CGI was still very new to audiences as that time, and the visual worlds alone were enough to enrapture everyone. I wanted more than anything to visit that world. My friends and I would play Star Wars constantly, memorizing lines and acting out scenes. The political parts made absolutely no sense to us, so those were our favorites to act out. We couldn’t believe how grown up we sounded talking about such serious matters. You can imagine the expression on our parents’ faces as they watched us stand around, nine years old, blankets wrapped around us to look like capes or hoods, talking about the senate and trade disputes. My childhood best friend was obsessed with Queen Amidala and became famous to everyone we knew for her perfect imitation of her.

I liked the second movie even more when it came out. I was obsessed with the Kaminoans.

And I wanted to BE Zam Wesell. I was very upset she had such a short part in the movie, as well as the fact that I didn’t have the means to make a cosplay of her.

I was older and not as much into Star Wars by the time the third movie came out. But I enjoyed seeing Anakin finally turn evil, the birth of Luke and Leia, and I became a big fan of Ian McDiarmid after his performance as Palpatine.

A recent rewatch of the prequels proved that I don’t like them nearly as much as I did as a kid now that I’m old enough to see their (many) flaws. However, I recently rewatched the original trilogy and fell in *love* with it. It’s become one of my top fandoms. And I can’t wait for The Force Awakens to come out so I can experience the next stage of my personal Star Wars experience.

Steve W. (40s)
Sky Destrian's dad

What was life like before Star Wars? Well, let's see... first, the earth cooled, and then...

Seriously, I don't think even I truly realize how much movies change our lives. I could walk up in front of any audience in America practically, belt out, "Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya..." and get most of them to threaten my life en masse. When I was a kid, I remember the excitement of this "space movie" that had come out and that my folks were taking us to go see it. Everyone was excited, but my folks were still expecting to see rockets hung on wires and a plot that was tissue thin, a la Flash Gordon. They were totally surprised. and I can still remember the audience cheering as the Death Star exploded and Luke and Han (sorry Chewie, co-pilots don't count) got their medals and a kiss from the beautiful princess.

It was a "Local farm boy makes good in the space military and saves the day" kind of story. It was Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader. That's how we played it on the playground with my first grade elementary class. Everyone wanted to be Luke, too, or Leia if you were a girl. I had the most fun as Darth Vader every day at recess. I couldn't concentrate on my first grade assignments (heavy duty stuff, mind you) because I was plotting all the time how to trap Luke Skywalker and make him pay for his wanton destruction of my beautiful Death Star. I didn't force choke anyone. I didn't need to. I compelled them through my theatrical presence! Well, impressed the kindergarteners. A few of them. Okay, one or two of them cried when I told them I was going to get them with my lightsaber. But I was great!

There was no Empire Strikes Back for four years! No Yoda, which was one weird experience explaining to our mothers buying the action figures that this imp-like creature really was a good guy, even with the snakes in his figure's kit. No Boba Fett or bounty hunters. No creepy Billy Dee Williams trying to steal Leia or betray Han. No Obi-Wan awkwardly explaining his "lie" to Luke about Vader betraying and murdering Luke's father, which was Lucas retconning for a more interesting plotline. Star Wars was Star Wars, and having an X-wing or a Tie Fighter under the tree at Christmas was nearly every boy's hope in the closing years of the 70s.

The title's Episode IV moniker was confusing. Nobody knew what "Episode IV" meant. "Did we miss the first three, or were they not that good?" some people wondered. Nobody knew even when Return (Revenge) of the Jedi came out that it was anything more than a three-act story arc with some badly dressed killer teddy bears at the end. At the premier of VI, the joke was floated that Lucas wanted to do nine in total, but that would have taken forever. At least a decade or two.

Whatever happens with the new films, I honestly hope that Luke is true to his nature set in the first three, that Han and Leia are not merely token pieces from the originals to make us feel better, and that the story is much better than Jar-Jar's Basic. By the way, Han really did shoot first, and he really was a rogue who changed for the better because of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Leia. I'd bet my lost X-wing on it.

Sky Destrian (19)

I was nine when my dad showed me Star Wars. It was a lazy afternoon, and I was wearing my favorite pink sweater with dogs on it. (I don't know why that detail is important, but apparently it is.) I believe the first movie I watched was Attack of the Clones, and I was immediately drawn into the world of fast-paced starship chases and the story of a guy (Anakin) who really loved a girl (Padme). (Yes, their love story became weirder to me as time went on, but I digress.) I loved the dynamics and banter between the older Obi-Wan and his slightly-rebellious padawan, Anakin. I was particularly enamored with Jar-Jar Binks (yes, I will admit it) and the battle droids (roger, roger). Also, the arena fight in Episode II was my favorite thing ever. I often reenacted it with my brother and friends, and I was always Padme, whom I looked up to a lot.

Though I also saw The Phantom Menace, for some reason Attack of the Clones was always my very favorite. I rewatched it a year or two ago, and while some of the magic has faded, childhood nostalgia will always remain. I remember playing a pod-racer game on our old Nintendo 64. My brother and I still play Star Wars Battlefront, and many of my evenings have been spent watching my dad (who's also featured in this article--hi Dad!) play Lego Star Wars.

But even though most of my life revolved around the prequels because they were coming out during my childhood, I can't forget the original films. They are what started it all, paving the way for the prequels and now The Force Awakens. I remember wanting to ride in the Millenium Falcon. The ewoks were particularly memorable to me, and I remember loving Han, Luke, and Leia's outfits on Endor. (It's a weird thing to remember, but hey.) I also really loved the scene where they were about to get squished in the trash compacter because I was so genuinely afraid for our heroes' lives. So many scenes stick out in my mind as my favorites--Han and Luke pretending to be Storm Troopers, Lando Calrissian's introduction, Boba Fett's death... it's all so legendary.

That's what Star Wars is: legendary. I've never considered it one of my fandoms, but I've realized that's because it was part of my life. I lived it. Star Wars is also resolute. Even as I grow up and become an adult, Star Wars remains the same, as well as my feelings on it. I still mourn Qui-Gon Jin's death. Darth Maul still scares me. I wish I could visit a space pub wearing a Jedi robe. I still want to ride in the Millenium Falcon. And I still want to see the stars.

What's your Star Wars experience? Share with us in the comments!


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