I’ve come full circle, my geekdom is complete. I’ve had two revelations in life, both of which rocked my world. Latterly in 1990 whist driving down Eltham High Street in a friend’s car I heard the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. In Stones’ parlance the World turned on its axis. Having desperately been listening for music that touched me, and I knew it should somehow, I found plenty lacking and all of a sudden here was this vibe. The other, in remarkably similar circumstances happened on a sunny, hazy 70’s Saturday afternoon as my Dad stopped randomly to pop into a news agent and returned to hand me an impulse purchase, a copy of Starburst magazine. This was my introduction to Star Wars and a certain photo that instilled something into me. This still, dry day in the back seat of a brown Mk II Cortina (on the same high street as my Stones revelation), a few towns over from where I lived a life full of a peaceful intrigue, was suddenly shaken by the photo of a weather beaten, golden droid. Even at that age I was well aware that anything shown at my rare cinema visits or on the few television channels was made up and clearly understood that this robot was a character in some movie that I was yet to see. The urge to see the film didn’t exist as it would today for such a deep feeling the image threw up. I just knew somehow that this was important to me and it would take a few years before C3PO and I would finally meet properly. Time just didn’t seem to matter back then.
Media being so immediate these days nearly everything has lost its meaning. Seeing adverts online the minute they are released and podcasts or webisodes during production we seem to be overly saturated with something long before it’s anywhere due to come out. I was in no rush; I knew a little patience would eventually draw me into this universe created with a sense of warmth and reality that I hadn’t seen before. Being such a hoarder I am surprised that I haven’t still got this magazine, as with the boxes for all of the eventual merchandising my Mum probably threw it out to make space for lesser products that made my childhood. I was bought some of the toys before even seeing the film and it didn’t seem to matter, they all made sense to me. What never made sense to me was what happened to my Empire Strikes Back Luke, he just upped and disappeared on me, probably pinched by a certain infant villain and then best friend. Which, beside the point, is one of the things that bug me to this day. So as things happened I didn’t see Star Wars in the cinema and can’t claim the open-mouthed experience that some of you were lucky enough to have. I did see Superman around that time and can imagine what it would have been like with a box of Smarties and the cinema full of smokers tapping their cigarettes into the ashtray of the chair in front.
As it turned out I missed Empire too. My first actual look at George Lucas’ world was Return of the Jedi shortly around the time it came out. As one of the first families to have a video (have we got a video?) we very quickly consumed everything on the shelf of titles available to rent which was mainly crappy Disney stuff. But skirting around vaguely dodgy circles, my Dad came home with a few tapes that were amazing quality bootlegs and I finally had my hands on the third film of the trilogy. Return of the Jedi is probably the film I’ve seen most in my time on this planet and despite a slight dislike of the Ewoks, especially that poxy ginger one, I was watching something that I knew I was a part of. Everything just clicked. Again this is where my view of these films differ from everyone else’s, as I was offered these characters with no back story I just understood where they must have come from. I didn’t know Luke and Leia had kissed, Vader was Luke’s father and he was also already a Jedi Knight. Ben was dead and a glowy Leia was obviously into Han so I fancied the Twi’lek that provided snackage for a stop motion rancor and just bathed in the genius of having a wookiee co-pilot, the Millennium Falcon (by far and away the sexiest spaceship that has ever existed on the screen) and the banter between two droids back on Tatooine where I first discovered them in print. The film had an ethereal quality from the outset. The moment after Luke gave himself up and the conversation with Vader in the corridor of that landing pad was just a scene that (no matter how many times I saw it) still struck me as something that I had dreamed up despite it being there at the same time during every viewing. The film was just magical to me.
Next up was A New Hope, on the television and taped for posterity. Much like the film structure we are used to nowadays, I was offered the story in an order that gave me more than it took. The droids again drew me into the film and finally I saw the desert planet, Mos Eisley and a dead Krayt dragon for the first time, long after many of my contemporaries. It didn’t seem to matter back then. At least in my world we weren’t dying to see films, the toys were about and we just dug them for what they were; a design of pure tangibility. Or ‘so cool’ as we were probably describing them at the time, who would have imagined the Snow Speeder as a ship? The film just worked, from the Jawas to the award ceremony and grins at the end. Of course I wasn’t of the mind that I should view these films in the order that George Lucas had intended. Or that a few decades later disappointed in the order he intended, wild eyed optimism was the theme of the day I still had one more film to go and had no idea that the film would be perfect.
Empire Strikes Back was the most ethereal of the films, the darkest and most unconventional. I knew the characters now but I wasn’t prepared for this. If I was to get picky then I’d say Jedi was a movie, Star Wars was a movie that had filmic qualities but Empire was a true film. In hindsight I’m lucky that I saw it last. My trilogy was finished on a high. A tauntaun sleeping bag with tubular intestine, Han using a saber, AT-ATs, the Battle of Hoth, asteroids, Dagobah, floating away with the trash, the Cloud City, Lando’s eyebrow, Boba, carbonite and the dour ending that just left a gap in your heart. To this day I still enjoy a rendezvous, there’s something satisfying about separate adventures and convening for the next step of a plan. Incidentally I once worked in a camera shop and was badgered by a customer about details for a tripod he wanted to buy, he is currently the only owner of a tripod made from carbonite in the world. It’s probably still quite well protected, if it survived the freezing process that is.
The Star Wars trilogy was a work of genius and a part of my youth that I can’t deny. But then as we grow up we put away childish things. And then we pick them up again and never put them down. I left secondary school in the early 90s to a lack of work under the then Tory government as they were busy screwing up the country and selling it off to whomever they could (sound familiar?). So in one of my moments of boredom I suddenly felt a stirring in the Force. Compelled to see Star Wars again, I went out to buy the film. This time round I was going to do it right, get them in order and enjoy them all over again. A New Hope was easy enough, a copy in my local Our Price and a speedy walk home. Back again in the 4:3 world of Lucas and I was able to enjoy it all over. Empire posed a problem as I could only buy the rental through a friend who owned a video shop but the price was ridiculous. All of a sudden I was the only Star Wars fan around; they didn’t even sell all of the films. So having been behind with the times originally I was ahead of the curve of the comeback. A bit of bootlegging later I had the trilogy again and grumbled a bit at the quality but given the reception we used to have on TV you sort of lived with it. Then the eventual re-issue.
At this point I finally saw the films in widescreen. You mean there’s more to them? Pan and scan wasn’t even a consideration for its existence to me. This is the trilogy that keeps on giving, more to discover and again it didn’t seem real. Seeing them for the first time was almost dreamlike. It also threw up one of my favourite moments. As I poured over the new footage stuck to the sides of the original I noticed the character in Jedi sitting down at the briefing for the Battle of Endor. Just as Luke says ‘I’m with you too!’ and walks in, the guy sitting on the left of the screen rolls his eyes. All’s not well in the rebellion then. Right up to the point of the cleaned up films being released without little extras being squeezed in (Greedo shooting first? Sod off), I still had this tentative thread back to the first moment that I saw Threepio stare at me with those friendly, slightly illuminated eyes suggesting that life didn’t have to be mundane.
But as Lucas did intend to disappoint, probably not on purpose granted, I was happy with what I had. The prequels were pointless. Especially as when the last came out I was online playing a wookiee in Star Wars Galaxies which was my geekdom striking back against what should have been full on adulthood. I’d heard about the game before it was released and obviously was going to play it. I had, still do until I do some Ebay listings, all of the games on all of the formats released. I just couldn’t let it go. It wasn’t just Star Wars, I was a sci-fi geek all over again. The kid in the car all of those years ago had given over to the dark side and refused to really grow up. Admittedly it was mainly Star Wars. Trek, Who, most everything else didn’t really compete for my geekdom. 2000AD and hundreds of reprints by Quality comics dominated the 90s, a period of DC comics and a never ending love affair with graphic novels took me through to the new sci-fi genius Whedon’s output.
Galaxies for those lucky enough to play it at the right time was that kid’s dream come true. You could have the droids, you could fly about in space battles, visit the Pit of Sarlacc and get poisoned for your curiosity, jump on a speeder, visit Jabba’s palace, gesture at Vader to find yourself getting strangled by the Force and sit down in a cantina with similarly minded folk and wait for a fight to break out as they inevitably did. We all found the films in our own way but we all knew there was more to it than popcorn and the possibility of some toys later. Of course much like the rest of the Star Wars universe the time was limited on how long you could dwell in it before an uprising changed everything. The cyclical nature of Lucas’s creation and eventual destruction was always on the cards, the game just lost the plot and again we’re in that downswing of little good coming from the franchise. Yeah the Clone Wars animation looks great but it’s too aimed at kids which the originals never really were. So as my geekdom has mirrored the Star Wars circular nature, now I can put it to bed for a bit. I can enjoy the films that pour out of Hollywood that all owe Lucas credit for changing cinema and science fiction for the better and know that I can just feel nostalgia for the good old days of my sunny youth. The Starburst title started it all for me. I may even try and find that copy just for kicks if it weren’t just vivid imagery that sticks in my mind and not the actual cover of the issue. Writing this I realise I can again put away childish things, cherish my memories, revisit the films now and then and get on with my life.
Well until the Knights of the Old Republic comes out early next year. Face it, geekdom is addiction, my name is Bill Lynn and I am an addict. Starburst dealt me my first fix and George Lucas kept pumping out product, sometimes cutting it with something nasty or utilising the technology of the day for some designer version of the original 70s stuff we all got hooked on. Fortunately as a child of the 70s and the speed of releases via the then media I learnt patience. Yoda would be proud. I can throw a Stones album on, chill out with the making of Empire book and wait for the next fix as I know there’s no real rush.
One more time around?