This Will Be a Day Long Remembered…
August 9th, 2009

This Will Be a Day Long Remembered…

This was originally done for the 30th anniversary of the release of Star Wars – had I known about this back then I would have submitted my little ramble, but at least it gave me an excuse to draw some lightsabers and shit.

What is there left to say about Star Wars? Not much. Over the past thirty two years, the movie/trilogy/saga/merchandising phenomenon/pop cultural landmark has been examined, dissected, criticised, and praised ad infinitum, not to mention hipsters making snarky comments about how Chewbacca was gay. The temptation here is to talk about oneself, and what it is like growing up in The Shadow of The Empire (Nerd Reference #1).

Like The Beatles, Hendrix and Zeppelin, it is impossible to describe the impact Star Wars had originally, as the intervening years have been filled with inferior imitations. Young kids these days like the movies of course (they even like Jar Jar and the ewoks!), but it’s just another big franchise to them, probably no different from Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings et al. Maybe Harry Potter has that kind of importance to kids, but even that doesn’t seem to stand apart the way Star Wars did. There was literally nothing else that compared with it. There was also no World Wide Web, no home video and very little in the way of video games.

What we did have were comics, poster magazines, and action figures, and it was through these that Star Wars had an influence on our lives beyond the movie. Random digression: I vividly remember getting a Luke Skywalker action figure on the morning of my fifth birthday. I looked hard at back of the card and there were twelve in the series (shown as illustrations rather than photographs – for some reason this did not make me suspicious). My dad said that he’d go and get another one for me if I wanted to pick one. I picked either Darth Vader or Han Solo, probably because they looked the coolest. He returned with Artoo Detoo and Chewbacca – the complete range of action figures were harder to come by in those days. I swear I never even saw a jawa until the eighties!

The trouble with this treasured childhood memory is that it isn’t true. Star Wars was released in America just two days before my fifth birthday (I think it came out in Britain about six months later), and the action figures only appeared a year afterwards. I’m not mixing the memory up with my sixth birthday because we had moved by then and were in a different house. Ho hum.

Snaggletooth, yesterday

Over the next few years I got a lot more of those action figures. The great thing was that you got characters who were no more than background. I remember looking at the photo on the Snaggletooth card and wondering who he was, and what his part in the story was (I didn’t actually get to see the movie until 1981, when it was shown as a double bill with The Empire Strikes Back). Snaggletooth, like the similarly descriptively named Hammerhead, didn’t have much of a part in the story, but the fact that there was a toy got kids’ imaginations working overtime (a lot more than a figure of a more important character like Grand Moff Tarkin or Aunt Beru would have). (Nerd Reference #2: In retrospect it was a little questionable naming a toy “Death Squad Commando”, thus implying that his job was rounding up rebels/dissidents/jews and executing them. This figure was later renamed to the rather less gruesome “Death Star Commander”, and then “Star Destroyer Commander”, once the next movie came out as there was no longer a Death Star to command).

One of the genius moves of that movie was that you had these weird looking alien characters that were just glimpsed in the backgrounds of shots or in publicity photos. If you had seen those creatures in close up onscreen you would have twigged that they were fairly rough looking, immobile rubber masks (often bought from costume shops rather than made to order) – this became painfully apparent in The Holiday Special in that bit where Bea Arthur sings along to a slowed down Cantina Theme (Nerd Reference #3).

Incidentally I recently heard Bea Arthur singing Pirate Jenny from The Threepenny Opera on Spotify. It’s like what would have happened if things had gone really badly for Ackmena.

kill them now or later?

Many first generation Star Wars fans don’t rate the prequels, because they see a massive disparity between them and the originals. Simon Pegg, makes an impassioned, non comedic rant about The Phantom Menace in Spaced where he compares it to a “firework display”, which is actually reminiscent of a scathing review of the first movie (written by Michael Pye and Lynda Myles in 1978, and reprinted in their book Movie Brats), which concludes that it is nothing more than a game of pinball.

When interviewed on the official site Pegg is (understandably) less vitriolic, but makes the point that where the original trilogy was completely otherworldly, the prequels have many elements that are clearly earthbound (“death sticks”, camp race commentators and 50s style American diners). It’s a good point, but looked at another way, the first movie features a farmer from the American dustbowl, a samurai, a cowboy, a Black Knight, a medieval princess, nazis, a Mexican cantina, and American World War II fighter pilots. But that’s not what you think when you watch it as a kid; you just see an amazing adventure set in space. To a five year old, spice is a weird, cool thing that you smuggle in space. To a thirty year old it’s simply a sly reference to Frank Herbert’s Dune books. Likewise the fact that Star Wars borrows the plot structure of The Hidden Fortress, along with bits of Where Eagles Dare and 633 Squadron thrown in for good measure. Kids don’t know or care about the references to Frank Baum, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leni Riefenstahl.

Those of us who grew up with those movies still see them as a self contained mythology, although any fans with half an interest in the progenitors of that series should check out The Secret History of Star Wars, which outlines the development of each of the scripts, and debunks a few myths along the way (like the fact that Lucas wrote the whole thing in the mid seventies, and that he always intended there to be a familial relationship between Luke and Vader). That, to me, is infinitely more fascinating that spin-off fan fiction, (although as I grew up with the Marvel comics, I do have an affection for (Nerd Reference #4:) Tay Vanis, Shira Brie, and Jaxxon the six foot tall, green, smuggler rabbit.

Heh heh heh... fannies

When interviewed for Will Brooker’s excellent Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans, Simon Pegg proclaims that George Lucas was Luke when he made the first movies, and Jabba when he made The Phantom Menace. I think that’s half right. In the most mind blowing moment in the feature length documentary Empire of Dreams
Lucas notes the irony that he always hated corporations running the movie business, and yet, in the course of his career he has become the head of a corporation. And the idea of an individual fighting against a system which he then becomes a part of, and destroys what he once fought to protect is exactly what the story of Star Wars is. George Lucas has become Darth Vader. Small wonder that in his later years he made a trilogy from Vader’s point of view.

Well it blew my mind. But I’m a massive Star Wars nerd. For life!

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^ One Comment...

  1. Anonymous

    Oh, my God!

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