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STAR WARS and the Tears of Disappointment: Part 2

April 2, 2005

Once upon a time a young boy bought a soundtrack album having no clue as to what he was actually purchasing. But, being a huge fan of a particular movie, he sought to add the album to his collection of movie memorabilia. The boy was not rich, but he saved and saved for many weeks until he could afford the double-album. On the evening of its purchase, he raced up the stairs of his parents duplex, ran into his bedroom, and shut the door behind him. He quickly removed the vinyl disks from the gatefold sleeve in which they were housed. He then removed the paper sleeves and placed the first disk onto the center-pin of a previously owned Panasonic turntable before lowering the balance arm into place. The twelve-year-old boy threw the switch and watched as the turntable began to revolve at 33.3 RPMs. Slowly the vinyl disk slid down the vertical center-pin and onto the turntable’s rubber mat while, simultaneously, the record player’s arm levitated toward the disk and gently dropped atop the disk’s outer edge as the record needle caught the first pre-etched grooves of the vinyl disk and a light crackling was heard. Seconds later, the recognizable theme music of 20th Century Fox exploded through the Panasonic’s modest twin speakers and was succeeded by the familiar Star Wars Main Title theme. The boy smiled and hummed along for a few seconds to the John Williams-lead London Symphony Orchestra—dum, dum, da-da-da dum dum, da-da-da dum dum, da-da-da dum. His anticipation increased with each passing moment, wondering what noises he’d be hearing next. He anticipated the sounds of laser blasts, explosions, and robots named R2-D2 and C-3PO bickering about whether or not they should jump into an escape pod in order to escape capture from the evil empire. But these sounds were not to be. Rather, the Main Title theme was quickly followed by the Imperial Attack theme, Princess Leia’s theme, and The Desert and the Robot Auction theme, all of which featured the violins, violas, cellos, basses, flutes, oboes, horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas, bassoons, and harps of the London Symphony Orchestra, and none of which featured even the remotest snippet of dialogue, the heavy and intimidating breathing of Darth Vader, or the indiscernible squeals of the trade-seeking Jawas. The boy began to wonder what the words “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” actually meant.

Side two track five began with the familiar sounds of the Cantina Band, the only tune on the soundtrack album that does not feature the London Symphony Orchestra but, rather, is performed by nine musicians, most of whom were schooled in jazz. The boy had sat listening to the first four tracks of side two with growing disillusionment. Side one had been a vast disappointment, and side two had proven to be equally abysmal. While the Cantina Band song was catchy, it lacked the dialogue the boy was hoping to hear—the bickering between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo over the cost of transport, and the calm words of Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi explaining his payment options to Solo. The soundtrack recording was many things, but one thing it was not—the boy sadly realized—was an audio recording of the movie. Rather, it was a recording of the film’s score.

He felt robbed—cheated. He’d saved his money, done extra chores, and mowed lawns in anticipation of this day. He thought for a moment about the many other Star Wars- related items he could have purchased with the money he’d wasted on this ridiculous “soundtrack.” Soundtrack. The word resonated in his mind the way bitter candy that being offered during holiday visits to estranged aunts and sisters burns upon one’s tongue. He’d been duped, of this he had no doubt. 20th Century Fox and its highly paid staff of tricksters had released a record that, from the outside, looked to be every bit as tantalizing as the movie from which it was conceived. But its innards…its innards were the stuff of classical music. Classical music performed not by a band but by an orchestra. In his world classical music did not exist; his was a world of rock, pop, and disco. He’d been duped good. Tears began to well up in the corners of the boy’s eyes and ran down his face like racehorses at the Churchill Downs. He thought about the many, many material goods he could have purchased had he not fallen prey to the Star Wars marketing machine and squandered his labor-intense earnings. Briefly—fleetingly—he thought and hoped that, somehow, disk two would be different from disk one. However, his hope was squashed upon hearing the first few bars of The Land of the Sandpeople and Mouse Robot and Blasting Off (a title that, incidentally, he regarded as being particularly dim-witted). The boy thought about the other twelve year olds in his neighborhood and wondered if any of them had been foolish enough to purchase a soundtrack album. Unlikely, he thought. Although he was pleased that the record’s gatefold sleeve featured a dozen color still images from the greatest science fiction film of all time, most of these he’d already seen on the Topps trading cards stored in a shoebox beneath his bed along with various other Star Wars merchandise.

Suddenly, a thought sprung to his mind at land speeder momentum. He would reseal the plastic shrink wrap—tape it back together—and return the album to the merchant claiming he’d purchased the wrong item. It was, he thought, a stroke of genius. However, this idea died faster than a womp rat trapped beneath twin desert suns as he assessed the condition of the original plastic wrap and found it to be beyond reconstruction. More tears streaked down his cheeks like foxes pursued by hounds but he wiped them away hard with the back of his right hand.
“It’s really not so bad,” he tried to convince himself. “It’s memorabilia. Every Star Wars fan will want this. Maybe…maybe I can trade to Mike or Tony.”
But neither Mike nor Tony were interested. Nor were Randy, Bruce, Richie, or any of his chums.
“Waste of money,” he thought, eventually shoving the record under his bed.

When I think back to 1977 and recall my disappointment in purchasing the Star Wars soundtrack I have to wonder what my life might have been like had a future version of me been able to step into my past and say to my then-twelve-year-old self, “Look, one day you’re really going to enjoy this music. And not only that, you’re going to enjoy real classical music—works by Dvorak, Schubert, Mozart, Berlioz, and many others—not just film scores churned out for the masses.” Perhaps if future-tense me had been able to implant these truisms into past-tense me, then maybe I’d have been more open and accepting of the unknown. Perhaps I’d have continued with my original plan of attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh; perhaps I’d have moved to New York in 1984. But as philosopher Ekhart Tolle would remind me, there is no benefit to pondering and making projections about the past—the path to enlightenment and true happiness can only be obtained by living in the “now.” I do, however, think there is a difference between living in the now and reflecting upon our past. My past is what it is. It cannot be changed, nor would I change it, for only through my past experiences have I arrived at my present, and really, my present is awesome. I am blessed more than many, and who is to say whether these blessings are or are not deserved? But I feel that I am blessed, and if you stop and reflect upon your past and your present, upon your life and the lives of those around you—if you open your eyes and actually look at all you have, perhaps you, too, will feel blessed. But, in the words of Peter David (among others), I digress.

Or do I? Star Wars shaped my future just as it continues to influence my present. I laugh now at my behavior in 1977 when I purchased the film’s soundtrack album with complete ignorance as to what a soundtrack album was. But such is life. I was raised on FM radio and Sunday afternoon polka programs. The door of classical music remained closed to me until my junior year in college when I took a course and fell in love with the genre. And I guess it all started with Star Wars,, a score that I listen to at least once a month (during work, as background music mostly). It’s a terrific score, and each note invokes memories—if not directly of the film itself, then of a point in my life either past or present. Sure, a lot of albums have that capability, but this one does it consistently, and without even trying. Not bad for 28-year-old movie music, and just another way that the 1977 film continues to be an influence upon my life.

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