STAR WARS and the Tears of Disappointment: Part 1
March 4, 2005
There are time points in each of our lives, key moments that, like a hand-written signature, become forever denoted on the stationary of the mind. These can be, and usually are, both good and bad. They can be anything—anything—that leaves an indelible mark upon us and helped dictate, or at the very least, influence, who we would become—who we have become. Let me reiterate—they can be anything, and here are but a few random examples: meeting a new friend, watching a film, hearing a song, losing a loved one, taking a vacation, being sentenced to prison, being involved in a theft or altercation, reading an especially good or bad novel, experiencing birth, driving in a snowstorm, oversleeping for a test. As stated, it’s but a random sample.
I’m probably not the only person to regard 1977’s Star Wars theatrical release as a key life point. Although it was made prior to the advent of CGI technology, it is a sci-fi classic; its socio-cultural and economic influence upon society continues to be felt nearly 30 years since its May 25, 1997, theatrical release date. Unfortunately I no longer have my original ticket stub, but the film clearly fueled my then 12-year-old imagination in ways no other movie has then, or since, done. That’s not to say I haven’t been influenced or inspired by other films and directors over the years; there have been many (from Stephen Spielberg [when his work was imaginative] to David Lynch, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, John Huston, Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Stanley Kubrick, and many others).
Likewise, there have been other pop-cultural moments in my life that have influenced me and shaped who I am today—comic books like Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, Moore and Gibbons’ WATCHMEN, and Seth’s magnificent Palookaville; music by artists as varied and diverse as Rush, Glenn Miller, Ivy, Dexter Gordon, Galaxie 500, and Dave Brubeck; comedies like SCTV, and Mystery Science Theater 3000, and years of positive and negative life experiences in general. But if I had to one phenomenon from my youth that both entertained and inspired my creative side, Star Wars is, without a doubt, the winner and still champion. Yes, it’s a flawed movie. There are dozens of mistakes, inconsistencies, contradictions, and impossibilities throughout the film. Critics still attack it on technical levels—such as its depiction of explosive sound effects in the vacuum of space. I agree with these criticisms on one level, but on another level, I realize that George Lucas was not trying to make a cinematic masterpiece akin to Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Certainly Lucas and his staff realized that they were violating one of the basic dictums of science fiction, but it didn’t matter. The dog fights “feel” more realistic because of the sound effects—at least I think so. And yes, Star Wars certainly “borrowed” from a variety of classic literature, the most blatant being J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Lucas instilled his work with enough deviation and originality (as well as humor) that one can forgive the Obi-Wan/Gandalf similarities, among others.
Have I mentioned that Star Wars influenced the Hell out of me? It did, but that’s a tale for another time. This reflection is more about the naiveté of youth and lessons learned.
Star Wars pulled me into a web from which there was no escape—the web of merchandising and memorabilia and an inescapable need to obtain and collect as much as possible. From a Ying-Yang point of view, I was 12 years old and had virtually no revenue but most of the memorabilia that interested me was under a buck. I loved trading cards. My trading card fixation dates back to 1971 when I became addicted to collecting baseball cards, which lead to collecting Wacky Packages which lead to collecting Marvel Super-Heroes stickers, which lead to collecting just about every other type of trading card I stumbled upon. Topps released a total of five different series of Star Wars trading cards in 1977 and 1978. Each series contained 66 cards and 11 stickers; a pack of cards cost 15 cents. The trick was to complete a series before it was out of print—not an easy task given that there were five series, one of which contained a notorious pornographic version of the protocol droid C-3PO. Marvel’s Star Wars comic debuted at 30 cents per issue. The Marvel Star Wars Treasury Editions, oversized collections of the first six monthly comics, carried a price tag of $1.00 each (a steal!), and the Star Wars Poster Monthly was a magazine that unfolded into a huge 22-inch by 34-inch poster—for only $1.50 per issue. There were countless other items, of course, everything from pendants to Mead school folders and folders to Kenner action figures. I was quite content with the comics and trading cards and the occasional souvenir magazine. Life was good.
Meanwhile, in a recording industry far, far away, Domenico “Meco” Monardo’s disco-fueled rendition of the Star Wars main title theme was climbing the Billboard charts faster than you could say “Womp rat.” Stricken with disco fever, I eventually plunked down 89 cents for a 45 RPM copy of Meco’s chart-busting Star Wars disco theme. It was while purchasing the Meco record that I became aware of an ominous-looking album. (A brief side note to those born post-1970s: If you grew up in the 1980s or later, you might not realize that one of the precursors to the compact disk was vinyl. Vinyl was big—big twelve-inch discs that could also double as Frisbees [though their airborne durability was certainly questionable—I can relate from personal experience the vinyl LP’s inability to rebound off a tree without shattering into dozens of pieces]. Albums, like 45s, played on turntables that rotated the discs at speeds of 33 and 45 revolutions per minute (hence the phrase RPM). Today phonographs are considered novelty items enjoyed mostly by post-war baby-boomers like myself or used professionally by DJs. But I digress.)
The Star Wars album was, in fact, a double-album; it was also (to me at least) a great mystery. And in 1977 there was no Amazon.com review page because there was no Amazon.com—there was no Internet, at least not as we know it today. Thus, obtaining information about a record, movie, or book was kind of challenging. And the packaging of the Star Wars album was no great help. The front cover was entirely black but for a white outlined logo. The back cover was equally black but contained a chilling depiction of Darth Vader as if seen through a star field. Pressed atop the shrink-wrap was an oval sticker that read “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.” This probably should have clued me into what was contained upon the grooves of the disks, but it didn’t. The Star Wars malaria that raged within me seemed to mask all common sense. I saw little else but the enticing SW logo. And my mind became convinced that the soundtrack recording was something I should, no—must—own (please pardon the Claremontian nomenclature). The problem was that the album was an expensive purchase—nearly twelve bucks (in 1977 dollars no less). My financial situation was such that it was difficult enough just scraping together enough funds to purchase the half-dozen or so comic books that I was addicted to reading. Funding for a double-album was going to require nothing shy of a small miracle.
As fate would have it there were plenty of lawns to be mowed that summer. Thus, for several weeks in July and August I set aside a few shekels whenever I had shekels to set aside, and eventually scraped together enough to make this desperate purchase. I remember the evening like it was yesterday, standing at the record counter of the now-extinct Murphy Mart, handing over my hard-earned $12.60 and watching as my purchase was placed into a protective bag and placed into my extended hands.
“What did you buy?” my dad asked a few minutes later as we, along with my mom who had just finished her evening shift at the store’s ice cream and beverage stand, began the ten-minute drive toward home.
“The Star Wars album!” I anxiously exclaimed.
They both shook their heads in bewilderment.
“That movie was terrible. I don’t know what you saw in it.”
It was my mom, prompted by many days of incessant whining by yours truly, who’d hauled my twelve-year-old butt to the Greengate Cinema 3 to see Star Wars for the first time. To say that the movie was torturous to her would be like saying that Jesus’ time on the cross was a bit of an annoyance. She disliked the film nearly as much as she disliked Speilberg’s sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which we saw together the following summer). But Star Wars bothered her on a much different level than CE3K—the bickering robots, the masked storm troopers, the strange-talking aliens, and the heavy breath of Darth Vader had mom rolling her eyes in annoyance for two solid hours. Little wonder she refused to front any money when I lobbied to see the film a second time.
“No, it’s a great movie,” I answered, as we idled at the Barnes Lake/Lincoln Highway traffic light. “It’s already a classic.”
“That film will never be a classic,” she said. “It’s crap.”
There was little point in trying to argue the point. My mom grew up on Laurel and Hardy, Humphrey Bogart, and Judy Garland. She enjoyed comedies, musicals, dramas, and mysteries. Science fiction was as interesting to her as the films of Sinatra were to me.
So rather than argue, I decided to remove the album from its bag and free it from its shrink-wrap prison. I pulled open the gatefold sleeve which revealed a dozen stills from the movie. It was difficult to see in the darkness except for those moments when we passed beneath a street lamp, but of course I recognized them all—Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie, Obi-Wan, Vader, and the shiny gold and silver robots. What sounds, I wondered, awaited me? Did the records contain the discotheque rhythms of the Meco single, dialogue from the film, interviews with the cast and crew? The answer wasn’t long in coming, though knowing what I know now, I wish it had been…
Continues next week.