Star Wars tribute

While serving as a contributor to The Cinementals, I came across a topic I was completely ill-equipped to write about, Star Wars.  Being ill-equipped doesn’t normally stop me from opining as I often rant about topics I know little to nothing about, but I knew this much-beloved series of films deserved a proper tribute. It just so happened that Will McKinley (@WillMcKinley) a passionate writer and lover of film, was a very handy source I had available at The Cinementals site.  I asked Will to write the post in honor of Star Wars and he agreed.  Lucky me!  Following is Will’s wonderful write-up on Star Wars on the film’s special anniversary.  You’ll see why this deserves to be shared.

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For today’s Cinemental Journey I hand the intergalactic helm over to one of the original Cinementals.  A man with a personal connection to this special anniversary, a date which lives in film history.  Here’s Will McKinley to remember the release of George Lucas’ STAR WARS (1977) when it was called simply, STAR WARS.

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Thanks Aurora. And thanks for letting me walk your “beat,” if only for a day.

Thirty-five years ago today, STAR WARS premiered in movie theaters across the United States. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was not there on opening night on May 25, 1977, but I did see STAR WARS six times during its initial theatrical release that summer and fall, and many more times in subsequent re-releases over the next twenty years. I was seven years old when I first saw STAR WARS, and the movie (and its first two sequels, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI) played a huge role in my life until high school.

I played with the action figures, read the comic books, collected the trading cards, read the books, wore the t-shirts, hung the posters on my wall. I was all over anything that had anything to do with Tatooine, the Death Star, Hoth, Dagobah, Endor and all the distinctive worlds that George Lucas created.

I was even a charter member of The Official STAR WARS Fan Club. I still have all my copies of the fan club newsletter, Bantha Tracks. (Actually, I’m missing issues 1 and 17 if anybody can hook me up.)

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I have extremely mixed feelings about the three recent prequels. I’m glad that a new generation of kids has been exposed to something that played such an important role in my childhood, and that it remains a vital creative enterprise. My girlfriend Maggie’s four-year-old nephew Sammy discovered STAR WARS recently, and he’s obsessed like I was obsessed with the minute details of droids, aliens and space ships.

Periodically, Maggie will get a phone call from him, asking extremely specific questions.

“Which droid did Anakin build when he was little?” he asked her once. (Being four, Sammy has not yet gotten around to seeing all the movies. Four-year-olds, it turns out, are surprisingly busy these days.)

“Um,” Maggie said.”R2-D2?”

This is, of course, incorrect. Maggie is younger than I am, and did not grow up in the STAR WARS Era. She did see RETURN OF THE JEDI in the theater as a kid, but was only there for the “big teddy bears.” The problem, of course, is that Sammy eventually saw THE PHANTOM MENACE, where the answer to his question is revealed to be C-3PO, not R2-D2.

“Why did you lie to me?” Sammy asked Maggie afterwards, in a tearful deadpan that would break even Darth Vader’s heart.

Now he calls me with those sorts of questions, which is probably for the best. Would be be doing this without the prequels? It’s doubtful. And he loves those movies like I loved the first three, so who am I to judge? In technological terms, the new films are pitch perfect, but in human terms, they are sorely lacking the magic of the originals, at least in my middle-aged, get-off-my-lawn perspective.

There’s a soulless perfection to EPISODES I-III, only mitigated by the inspired casting of Ewan McGregor as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. But that’s the way I feel about most modern movies. I miss the days when special effects where less precise. They were more charming them, and more fun for a kid to attempt to decipher. They were also more real, I think, because the models that Lucas (and other sci-fi directors used) were actual, physical props. They existed. They were not digital cartoons.

Sammy, of course, could not care less about this. He just wants to have light saber fights. And I am glad to oblige.

In May of 2005, after nearly three decades as a fan, I was hired to cover the New York City premiere of STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH for a television news service. From my position on the red carpet at the historic Ziegfeld Theater, I met and interviewed STAR WARS cast members Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson and Frank Oz (the creator and voice of Yoda), as well as the actors who portrayed Darth Maul and Boba Fett.

It was an exciting night. I had to do my best to maintain my composure, as my inner child battled the outer 36 year-old professional for control. The high point of the evening was my interview with Frank Oz. George Lucas has said that EPISODE III will be the final STAR WARS film, so I asked Frank Oz if we had seen the last of Yoda.

“I doubt it,” he answered. “George really loves Yoda.”

“So do I,” I replied. “May the Force be with you!”

“May the Force be with you, too,” the creator of Yoda said, as he smiled and walked away.

For a few moments, I was seven years old again.

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