My buddy recalls being 5 with crystalline clarity. One day, anyway; a two-hours-and-change period that’s burned into his brain.
“You remember that day?” I ask him on the phone.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “Yeah.”
Even over the phone I can hear gears clicking in his head as he drifts back in time almost 40 years to 1977. That’s the year “A New Hope,” the first Star Wars movie, was released. That’s the year my buddy became a franchise fan, the year he saw his first movie in a theater.
It’s not just a vague memory, either. It’s a recollection collection. When the Rebel Alliance’s blockade runner sprints through space, chased by a Star Destroyer, he remembers wondering if the chase lasted the whole movie. When Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie are trapped in an ever-slimming garbage compactor with some godless slithering swamp beastie, he remembers being scared and looking to his dad for reassurance.
When – spoiler alert – the Death Star explodes seconds before its nuke laser turns Yavin 4 into a memory, he wanted to cheer. What 5-year-old boy doesn’t want to cheer when the good guys win, really?
“I was sold,” my buddy says. “I was definitely a Star Wars fan from the moment.”
I’m telling you his “A-New-Hope-In-The-Theater” story because I don’t have one of my own. I didn’t exist when my friend took a journey to a galaxy far, far away. I came along six years later. My first movie in a theater was “Follow That Bird.” As in the Sesame Street movie.
See, I watched the “Star Wars” movies on VHS on a TV smaller than my work computer monitor. It was in a childhood pal’s basement during a sleepover. No thudding sounds pummeled my eardrums, no larger-than-life images of X-Wings and Y-Wings duking it out with TIE Fighters took up my entire field of vision. This was a placemat-sized screen in a basement.
That’s how people in jail watch “Star Wars.”
Of course I still loved it, but upon reflection, I didn’t get to experience it like my buddy did. My consolation prize was the dreaded trifecta of prequels, the goofy ones with too much CGI and terrible acting and this shrieking pit beast who must not be named.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend’s introduction to Star Wars and how it compares to my own a lot this week for a couple reasons.
The first is obvious: a new Star Wars movie dropped this week, and it’s neck in neck with Donald Trump for most-discussed news topic.
The second is because of a movie that has nothing to do with Star Wars. Here, look:
The trailer for “Independence Day: Resurgence” was also released this week; a poor choice in timing, in my opinion, overshadowed by, well, you know. “The Force Awakens” has become a geek black hole this month, angrily devouring any other nerdy stars that try to shine.
But overshadowed or not, I appreciated it. That’s because the first “Independence Day” was my memorable theater moment, the ironclad one that’s buried so deep it’s practically part of my DNA.
I saw it on my 13th birthday with my dad, basically my go-to guy for epic sci-fi flicks because he’ll listen to me blab about absolutely everything I thought post-credits roll. He’ll even chip in his own thoughts, draw comparisons, point out the points where the filmmakers “borrowed” from authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov and Philip K. Dick. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to aliens and lasers and giant ships that can leap between stars before you’re done blinking, and it’s fun to ruminate out loud with him.
Like my buddy’s 5-year-old self, I remember being affected by “Independence Day” on such a fundamental level that I was afraid to blink for most of it. It’s massive. MASSIVE. The alien ships. The wanton leveling of cities. The dog fights between F/A-18s and funnel clouds of alien fighters.
My dad agrees.
“The scenes of those things coming into the atmosphere and then settling over cities…that was new,” he tells me. “It was like ’2001.’ It was something new for me.”
There are quite a few characters, but screenwriters Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich develop them all beautifully. Moments of darkest-before-dawn bleakness are balanced with cramp-inducing humor.
It’s stacked with homages to other classics that came before it, winks directed at “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Footfall,” and “War of the Worlds” (duh on the last one). Among others.
Then there’s this speech.
Sorry, Trump/Sanders/Clinton/Cruz, et al. This speech ruined presidential candidates and elections for me. Can any of you give a speech like this? Didn’t think so. Move along. #BillPullman2016
I think plenty of those of the Nerd Persuasion have near-and-dear movies like these, those bigger-than-life cinematic hurricanes that pounded them into the ground and set the tone for what kinds of stories they love. “The Terminator.” “The Matrix.” “Inception.” Not meant to be viewed on a TV you can wrap your arms all the way around in a muggy basement, but on house-sized, bright screens you can see just fine from the nosebleed seats.
People like us all have our “Star Wars” to bear, even if it isn’t actually “Star Wars.”