A ‘Star Wars’ virgin tells all
Peter Mayhew portrays Chewbacca, left, and Harrison Ford is Hans Solo in the original 1977 “Star Wars.” (Twentieth Century Fox)
Last week, I met with a friend and I told him my secret.
"I’m going to watch the first ‘Star Wars’ movie for the first time," I said.
"Oh, so you’re going to watch ‘Four’?" he replied.
"No, the first."
"Right, but like, ‘Episode Four’? And then do the prequels?" he said.
"Sure," I said, not sure, quietly carrying the burden of having existed on this planet for more than a quarter of a century without ever having watched a single "Star Wars" film.
Turns out, I would be watching the fourth. Or, as I now know it, "Episode IV — A New Hope," the 1977 movie, seen by most other breathing people, that began George Lucas’ ever-reigning empire. I wanted to see if I would love something that so many other people love. But, mostly, I wanted to be able to tell my co-worker to shut up the next time he pointed to a picture of the bronze robot on his "Star Wars" merch and said, "This character’s name is absolutely Fred the Robot."
It’s not that I grew up Amish or with a vendetta against the world’s largest fandom. Every other pop culture sensation that everyone was talking about found a way into my life: "Harry Potter," Pokemon, Beyonce. I liked sci-fi flicks and loved nerdom. But little did I know, while I was reveling in works of art like the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar," I was missing out on the greatest Space Opera of all time.
As the 40th anniversary of the film approached, I cleared my schedule on a Saturday night and popped in the DVD. And I started to watch a movie, for the first time, that I had already seen.
There was John Williams’ opening trumpet fanfare from school band. The opening crawl from "Little Shop of Horrors." A band of characters who explained years of Halloween costumes. By the final battle scene, I was transported back to the Disney Star Tours ride, where I quietly sat next to my friends and nodded along as they made jokes that I did not understand.
Lightsabers? Old news. Those glow sticks were all over childhood homes. And in "Arrested Development" with George Michael’s epic broom battle. And in a Drake "Hotline Bling" meme.
When Luke Skywalker became misty-eyed and said, about his father, "I wish I’d known him," I wanted to scream at the TV: "I know him, Luke! I know your father! And you would too if you had to suffer through years of people croaking out terrible James Earl Jones impressions!"
It’s like C-3PO (absolutely not Fred the Robot) says, looking into the future and foreseeing the lack of spoiler alerts for anyone who missed the moment when he says: "We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life."
What everyone failed to mention when they were shaming me for my "Star Wars" void is that its humor is closer to "Space Jam" than "2001: A Space Odyssey." Underage Luke walks into a space bar and then a creature is delimbed by a laser beam and no one cares? Wild. And then Han Solo laser-kills an alien that looks like it belongs at the shuttered Times Square restaurant Mars 2112? Awesome.
But where is Yoda? Why are the Sand People named Sand People when everyone else has a cool name like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Jabba the Hutt? Where can I get at least one of these Gremlins in hoods called Jawas? What are the preferred gender pronouns for Rebel droids?
Why is Carrie Fisher perfect?
As the movie goes on, I realize that I always imagined Darth Vader sitting on a throne, breathing heavily and making a dramatic entrance in the final scene. But there he was in the thick of it all, stomping around the space station, hanging out in the hallway and zooming around in his own laser-shooting ship. Who knew he was such an accessible evil warlord?
The dated effects didn’t bother me. I was more concerned with why there were only white people in a galaxy where almost anything else goes, like cross-fades to desert space villages filled with giant dinosaurs and something called a Death Star. Spoiler alert: I know the more recent movies have women and people of color in them because of the empire of think pieces spurred by the Make "Star Wars" Great Again backlash. I guess I’ll have to keep watching.
In the days after that first viewing, I felt our "Star Wars"-saturated world closing in on me like the walls in that trash compactor scene. I noticed a magnet on my desk that read, "Come to the dark side. We have cookies." I watched "Star Wars" characters sing Smash Mouth’s "All Star" in a Jimmy Fallon mashup on YouTube. In the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why," a character called his friend "Unhelpful Yoda." In the latest season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" there was an "Are too!" "D2!" joke. A New Yorker essay asked whether you’d rather have Han Solo or Senator Palpatine running things. (I’m going to make a now slightly educated guess and go with Han.)
As I was writing this in a coffee shop, a kid rode by on a bike wearing an R2-D2 helmet.
I assume he’s seen the movies.
Or maybe not. But he’ll probably be nostalgic about it all one day either way, latching onto an oddly familiar world where his madeleines dipped in tea are images of loveable British bots, quotes about dark forces and Rebel fighters and sounds from that jazzy cantina jam. And if he does eventually watch "Episode IV," he’ll find a galaxy that’s charming in its simplicity, a galaxy where there’s rarely a doubt that the good guys will prevail and a galaxy where, when you get mildly annoyed by something, you can haphazardly raise your laser gun and shoot some beams off, Harrison Ford-style.
Near the end of "A New Hope," Obi-Wan tells Luke, "The Force will be with you, always." For a lot of us, it always was.