When I was about five years old, my parents took me to see Return of the Jedi in theaters, reasoning that I had shown interest in science fiction stuff. I was carried bodily from the theater about fifteen minutes in as I started screaming in uncontrollable abject horror during the scenes in Jabba’s Palace. I don’t even remember these events that have been relayed down to me, my mind as blank as some miskatonic explorer brought back from below the ruins of Antarctica, feeble mortal brain incapable of retaining the depthless horror of looking on the face of the Old Ones.
In time, I recovered. By the time I was in junior high, the original trilogy was far and away my favorite set of movies. I’d watch and rewatch them, Jedi in particular as I always preferred it, Ewoks and all. I had the dialogue of the entire film committed to memory, including droid chirps and alien language. I’d come home from school, and shove Return of the Jedi into the VCR while I did homework. Damned near wore the tape out at the climactic battle. Poor Lando was about as Nubian as Carrot Top in some scenes.
This of course is all in the days before DVDs, before commentaries, special features, and director’s cuts, so the tapes were all in full screen and being watched on a television smaller than the monitor I’ve got these days. And it was before the Internet gifted us with the rabbit hole of pop culture knowledge. See whippersnappers, in those days the way you found out a movie was coming out was by either seeing the trailer while at another movie, or by opening the newspaper (I believe you call them “grandpa blogs”) and seeing what movies were opening that week.
So when I went with friends to the opening day of Independence Day, and we settled in for the previews, my mind was blown by the trailer for the re-releases of the trilogy into theaters. It was the greatest trailer I have ever known, that tiny television centered on the screen, the familiar battle over the first Death Star, only half paying attention at all since this seemed like it must be an ad for something rather than a trailer. And then with the thunder of engines and the screech of blasters, that X-wing burst out of the television, roared at us, and invited us to see them as they were meant to be seen. More individuals orgasmed in theaters during that trailer than in every shady porn theater of the 1970s.
There was a disconnect too, for those of us of a certain age. Star Wars meant television sets, other than my brief forgotten foray into Return of the Jedi. It’s weird to think about now, but at the time, movies that had come out before a certain date were in a different category. The difference between home video and in-theater was really that large such that the experience was entirely different. In the case of movies we had seen in theaters but owned at home, those copies were something lesser, they were a reminder of what we had seen in theaters more than an independent and equivalent copy of it. Movies we’d never had a chance to see in theaters, were something less, like music that even if we had loved, we had never been able to hear in stereo.
We had these endless rumors for a decade that next year, there was going to be a new trilogy. The new trilogy had been two years away for going on a decade when news of the prequels finally dropped. And gods we were excited, especially as the details trickled out, the hints that while we weren’t getting the sequels we’d always imagined, that we were getting the rise of Darth Vader instead. It’s hard to believe now, but there wasn’t a geek in North America who didn’t think this was the greatest idea in the history of science fiction. There was absolutely no way that these weren’t going to be the greatest film experience of our lives.
I suppose at some point, some of us may learn to trust again. But that depends on J.J. Abrams now. But, you know, no pressure bro.
Bring us back that enormous universe, that sense of sheer size and complexity that was washed out in the prequels. Those first films weren’t just objectively better movies than the prequels, but had that extra bit of staring into infinity. They were the sort of movies that made you dream, that made you stare up at the stars and know that there was everything up there.
That’s what I really want out of the new films, and all the other little details that sound fun are second to it. I perk up when it’s announced that Han and Luke and Leia will appear, listen with interest to how the mistakes of the prequels will be avoided, how the plot may or may not shape up. But all that is almost beside the point.
What I really want is for Abrams to bring back that joy of a farm boy looking up at the stars and believing.