Star Wars does two unique things no other film series ever has. Each “Episode” pulls us deeper in to a story that, in George Lucas’ own words, is not first and foremost about flashy technology or science….but about family and friends.
But it’s the second thing Star Wars does that makes it completely unique in our culture. Star Wars pulls us into the story not alone, or in random groups of people….but collectively….and with our own family and friends.
Star Wars ties us back to a time when we were all more unified as a culture; or at least our perception was that we were. There were only three TV networks. There was no internet and downloading. If you wanted to go to a film, you went OUT to a film…..the only way to experience a film in 1977 was collectively…as a group experience.
So, that summer, we went with our family and friends. And we went back and back and back. And we’ve now done so over a period of 40 years. And this weekend, for the third time we are pulled back to this story of family and friends, with our own family and friends.
This allows us to not only take stock of how the characters have changed, but of how we’ve changed too. As these characters tell us their coming-of-age stories, we come of age too. We grew into adulthood, we look back at our own childhoods..the way Episodes 1-3 told in story-form a decade ago.
And now, as some of these characters grow old, we’re growing old with each other too. And we’re not only welcoming a new generation of characters, but also a new generation of fans too…our own children…adding generational layers of how this story of families and friends mirrors our own lives.
Think about it. No other film series in film history has been able to do both these things —tell a story of family/friends, while bonding families and friends— over such a long historical time. (Forty years) It’s a truly one-of-a-kind phenomenon.
It’s not only tale of “Long, Long Ago..”
It’s become a way to measure our real-life “Long, long ago,” too.
It was George Lucas himself who originally said that –before Star Wars is a series about technology and its dangers (and it’s definitely that)– it’s a story about how we are still human beneath it all. It’s a story of how we all have, within us, the capacity to embrace Spirit…or Intuition…or the Collective Unconscious….or whatever words you’re comfortable with for that “Force” that binds us all. Its a story about how you should always put your faith in your friends.
Like so many in Dallas, my own Star Wars history starts at NorthPark. I was a Preston Hollow kid in those days. The old NorthPark 1-2 theater was the closest theater to our house. And, like swarms of others, our family stood in the long lines that snaked around the theater, to watch that film in 1977.
My Dad hated movies. (Except for “High Noon.”) But his whole life was about space and technology. Star Wars is among the only films I can remember our family ever going to see together; in that huge, old theater. (They don’t make theaters like that anymore…) I would have been fourteen at the time. I soaked it in. I remember reading the Star Wars books, and buying more Star Wars merch than a kid should own.
Somewhere between the release of “New Hope” and “Empire,” we moved out to Far North Dallas. By the time “Empire” came out, I was hanging out with a new set of high school friends at FUMC Richardson. Stu Roberts and me were best friends. We went a lot of places in my ’65 Mustang, which we affectionately nicknamed “The Millennium Falcon.”
Like the real Falcon, it was amazingly amazingly fast. They don’t make cars like that anymore. 289 V8. You could mash the accelerator down and literally snap your head back. No car does that any more.
But, also like the “Falcon,” it looked crappy and tended to break down. It was a fifteen-year-old car by then. It was showing its age. Internal parts were wearing out. We’d get in to go somewhere sometimes, it just wouldn’t start.
“It’s not my fault!” I’d say….
During a Richardson/Pearce football game one year, Larry Truesdale had stupidly put a Pearce Mustangs sticker right on the hood…just to “stick it” to me (a Richardson Eagle). When I pulled it off, it pulled off the paint with it. That spot started to rust…there, and in other places too.
So, until a refinished it later, it looked pretty beat up…it didn’t go all the time…but when it did, my Falcon was glorious. We raced all over Richardson in that car.
It was with this new group of friends from FUMCR that I saw “Empire.”
A large group of us were hanging out at Heights Park, over a weekend we called “FISH.” For some reason, we decided to go see “Empire,” which was showing at the theater near the old Prestonwood Mall. (North side of the mall, just off Arapaho…just like NorthPark 1-2, neither the theater or the mall are there any more…).
Brian Wilson, Tracy’s Rahm’s brother, and me were somehow put in charge of getting tickets. This is, of course, way before “Fandango.” So, we collected the money from sixty-three…that right, sixty-three…kids, went to stand in line for tickets.
Whether it was this showing, or another, I’m pretty sure I saw “Empire” with some set of the following people: Stu Roberts, Frank Rahm, Tracy Rahm. I’ve seen pretty much every film since with them.
Brian and me got to the theater, and the lines weren’t as long as for “New Hope” (I think the film had been out for a while…) But there was still a line. We nervously hid the money, stuffed in our pants. We knew that when it was our turn at the front of the line, we were gonna piss off a good many people behind us.
The pimply-faced kid at the ticket booth said, “May I help you?”
“We’d like sixty three tickets to ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ please.”
“Let me see the money!”
We pushed the cash through the window.
We ran off with our handfuls of tickets, escaping the wrath of those behind us….
We’ve told that story to ourselves dozens of times over the past thirty years.
“Remember when we bought sixty-three tickets to ‘Empire Strikes Back.'”
Long, long ago….
By the time “Jedi” was released, we were all in college. Frank me and drove to college together. Me in the Falcon…him in his Chevy truck, nicknamed, “Old Reliable.”
I don’t know how we all got together to see it…maybe Stu remembers….but I know we did. Stu, me, Tracy…maybe Frank? I hadn’t met Dennise yet….Karen and Stu were just starting to date..our kids weren’t even the gleam in anyone’s eye.
By the end of college, even though we’d gone our separate ways after high school, we were all in and around the Austin area.
And then, the long break…sixteen years until the next film.
Somehow, we all made our way back to Dallas. By then, Frank had married Tracy. Stu had married Karen. I had married Dennise. Was Dennise gonna fit in with this group of aging Star Wars fanatics?
Her Mom took her out of school, back in 1977, to see the original. Just one of the ways I knew she was my soulmate….
So, back in Dallas, all those years later, we watched the three “Prequels” together too. I don’t remember which one it was…strangely, the memories here are less clear…but I do remember we saw one of the prequels at the AMC Theater off of Walnut Hill. (Again, like so many others, that theater is not there any more…)
We stood in line alongside dozens of Wookies and Yodas, watching film sequels we never dreamed we’d get to. And we re-connected with the stories again.
Of course, as years have passed, we have indoctrinated our children into these films. Dennise, Maria and me have rewatched every episode (except #1) over the last five nights.
And tonight, a multigenerational group of us will step back into this storytelling stream. Our Star Wars story continues…as Frank and Tracy Rahm, Stu and Karen Roberts, Dennise and me….and three of our daughters….Maria and Caroline Rahm….and Emily and her husband, Kendall…will all see the new film together.
These friends whom I have known since I was fifteen…who I graduated high school with…who I went off to college with….who we stood beside in each other’s weddings….who we found our ways into careers and watched our kids being born….who we have stood beside, as we have buried some of our parents….and married one of our kids.
I’ll be seeing “The Force Awakens” with those friends.
We’ve grown up… just like Han, Luke and Leia.
And I already know what’s gonna happen tonight. I’m gonna look at the screen and say…
“Geez….Han Solo looks OLD….”
And I’ll look at these friends —who I don’t see nearly enough— and say,
“O crap….we’re old too….”
But already, I’m also amazed. Amazed by other signposts of the time that has passed. Tonight, I’ll watch with my daughter, who is now older than the-me-that-stood-in-line for “Empire” with Brian Wilson.
I’ll look at these friends on the screen, and friends by my side, and think just what Han says outloud,
“It’s true….all of it…”
UPDATE: So, it’s now the morning after the movie last night. And I’ll have to say that the JJ Abrams film is amazing. A truly worthy successor to all that’s come before. And! It totally picks up on the theme of family and friends, in new a heartbreaking ways. Ten thumbs up, from our crew.
George Lucas may not helm this film, but his vision got us all here. He’s the one who had the original vision of a story of family and friends, that we flock back to, generation after generation, as family and friends.
When you dip into a story-stream long enough, and over this many years, you grow up and grow old with these character-friends. Their stories become your stories.
Palpatine was right. Luke put his faith in his friends. And that was a good choice.
Star Wars is an amazing phenomenon that invites us to do the same.
May the Force be with you.