Like a promiscuous cheating lover, it may come and go but â€œStar Warsâ€never truly goes away. Itâ€™s always here in some shape, form, fashion or feeling. And in my case, itâ€™s been with me my entire life.
With the anniversary of â€œStar Warsâ€ last week â€“ not to mention â€œFanboysâ€ finally opening in Australia this week, plus a â€œStar Warsâ€ exhibition at ScienceWorks museum here in Australia – itâ€™s had me thinking a lot about my old friend, the â€˜Warsâ€™.
I havenâ€™t spent a lot of time with it lately. Thereâ€™s really no excuse. I just havenâ€™t. But I should â€“ after all, itâ€™s been such an influential, important part of my life, and Iâ€™d love for my daughter to know and love it as much as I did (I can only imagine when I try and get her to watch “Dirty Harry” or “The Outsiders” or “The Karate Kid” – she won’t have a bar of it). And I know it sounds like a clichÃ©, but I seriously doubt Iâ€™d have such a woody for films if it werenâ€™t for those amazing movies. Itâ€™s because of you, George Lucas that Iâ€™m making minimum wage and loving it.
Where do I start? My first viewing? Returning to watch the original trilogy at the cinema some twenty times? My massive collection of action figures? The first time I met Princess Leia and Darth Vader in-the-flesh?
How about we go back to 1980, Doc. Thatâ€™s about the time â€œStar Warsâ€ took hold of young Clint James Morris, then the son of a travel-agent and accountant, respectively, and set him off on a mission in search of a career in the movies.
From about the age of 5, I was dressed top-to-toe in Skywalker garb, swinging about a butter knife that some older kid probably convinced me was a lightsaber â€“ albeit, one of those brand-new silver ones â€“ and sprouting lines from George Lucasâ€™s surprise science-fiction smash (â€œI don’t like you either. You just watch yourself. We’re wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systemsâ€). I was Lucasâ€™s target market. And it didnâ€™t take much for his tractor beam to pull me in. But I wasnâ€™t alone â€“ every other kid my age was buying â€œStar Warsâ€ toys and wearing the T-Shirt too. It was a phenomenon you couldnâ€™t get away from (â€œTwilightâ€ has nothing on â€œStar Warsâ€ let me tell you!) and didnâ€™t want to. In fact, if ABBA hadnâ€™t already grabbed you, â€œStar Warsâ€ did. Thatâ€™s just the way it was.
We pan in on a big-time city hotel. I remember it being something to the equivalent of the Hilton â€“ but then, it couldâ€™ve easily have been a Motel6, everything seems much bigger to a kid than it actually is; all I knew, it was bigger than our house. And it had more TV channels. We country folk were in town. Donâ€™t ask me why. We just were. And on this particular night, my grandfather was taking me to a â€˜double featureâ€™ at the cinema (or â€˜the picturesâ€™ as he fondly recalled, and probably still does, the theater). But before then, Iâ€™d been promised a trip to MYER (the great big shopping center in the heart of the city) to buy some new â€œStar Warsâ€ figures. Back then, they cost about three dollars each.
And being 1980, I came back to the room with a bag of â€œEmpire Strikes Backâ€ figures. I recall Lando being the favourite. But I had yet to see the movieâ€¦ that would happen later that night.
It was early evening. We were going to a Melbourne cinema that no longer exists (in fact, most of the city cinemas I attended as a youngster have since closed down) to watch â€œStar Warsâ€ and â€œEmpire Strikes Backâ€ â€“ the latter being a first-run release at the time. I recall having Pancakes before the film. And like â€œStar Warsâ€, I remember they were something new and special too. Iâ€™m guessing The Pancake Parlour had just opened in Australia. And if memory serves me right, the restaurant was adjacent to the cinema â€“ they usually are.
But anyway, as I said, we were there to see â€œEmpire Strikes Backâ€ â€“ and as a bonus, â€œStar Warsâ€ (we didnâ€™t refer to it as â€œA New Hopeâ€ then, like all the kids do now â€“ fuck that shits me) was playing before it.
Iâ€™d seen the first film on TV, and recently on the new-fangled video contraption (god, Iâ€™ll never forget our first video machine â€“ it was bigger than Roseanne Arnoldâ€™s butt!), but it was even better at the cinema. Those space battles, the lightsaber duels, Lukeâ€™s shriekingâ€¦ it was a movie meant for the big screen. It was just marvellous. I still remember being in awe of the animated chess game that they play onboard the Millennium Falcon â€“ it just looked so much more impressive on that big mesh screen.
But when â€œThe Empire Strikes Backâ€ started my heart raced, my tiny hands clapped uncontrollably, and the hollering kicked in! It was the best goddamn day of my life. It was the most exciting thing Iâ€™d ever seen. I donâ€™t know whether I was alarmed by anything in it â€“ it was quite a dark chapter â€“ just that I loved every minute of it. Cloud City blew me away. The moment where Lando betrays Han also stayed with me. It was just magic.
Iâ€™d gotten to see â€œStar Warsâ€ and the new sequel, â€œThe Empire Strikes Backâ€ the way they were meant to be seen. And god, Iâ€™ll never forget it. I really wonâ€™t (I feel sorry for those who were born in the late 80s, early 90s. For them, â€œStar Warsâ€ is a toy commercial, or the widely-panned prequel movies, or â€˜Something the guy that played Willow was inâ€™. These kids â€“ now in their early twenties – didnâ€™t get to live through the magnificent original trilogy of films that George Lucas released sequentially between the years 1977 and 1983. Sure, they may have caught the special-editionâ€™s when they were released theatrically in the late 90s, but that wasnâ€™t half as joyful an experience as witnessing the films first-hand, on their initial run was it?). If any film turned me into the movie buff I am now (and though films like â€œThe Outsidersâ€, â€œGremlinsâ€, â€œAnnieâ€, â€œExplorersâ€, â€œRaiders of the Lost Arkâ€ and â€œFlash Gordonâ€ can also be attributed) it was â€œEmpireâ€â€¦ or â€œStar Warsâ€. Or both.
And before â€œEmpireâ€ finished its run â€“ which, mind you, didnâ€™t happen for about twelve months; films used to play and play forever at the theatres; it then took another two or three years for the film to hit home video (I remember asking every week when it would be available) â€“ Iâ€™d see it a bunch more times. And it still rocked me like Amadeus! I was bloody young, but somehow I knew this was the better film of the two â€œStar Warsâ€ films. It seemed to have more in. More characters. More action. More thrills. And probably didnâ€™t hurt that it had a Muppet in it either!
A couple of years later â€œRevenge of the Jediâ€ was before the cameras â€“ only it was called â€œBlue Harvestâ€ during production (trick title) to deter on-lookers â€“ and, being that this was before the age of the internet, most of us knew jack shit about it. In fact, all we really had to go on was a teaser trailer (My friend still owns a nice 35mm print of that original â€˜Revengeâ€™ teaser) and a month or so out from release, a terrific little poster â€“ which I recall was taped just above my bed; Iâ€™d stare at it every night (Leia was, after all, in some sort of bikini).
And then the day came. I was in line to see â€œReturn (they changed it from â€œRevengeâ€ because Jediâ€™s donâ€™t seek a settling of scores) of the Jedi”. If my little friends and I were still in diapers (and fuck, for all I know, a couple of them were), weâ€™d be soaked. It was that exciting.
I rememberâ€¦ the TCF theme. The Lucasfilm logo. The Title. The Music. The Crawl!
As we sucked down our Jedi ice-creams (I kid you not, they had ice-creams at the time called â€˜Jediâ€™ â€“ anyone else remember them?), and witnessed the final battle between good and evil, something told us this could be the last time weâ€™d ever see â€œStar Warsâ€ like THIS. Were we right? Well that’s an argument for another time.
Iâ€™d return to the cinema the next year to see â€œCaravan of Courage : An Ewok Adventureâ€ (what an underwhelming event that was), and a year or so later for â€œBattle for Endorâ€ (no wonder these things premiered on telly in most territories, they were as dull as Ferris Buellerâ€™s teacher), but nothing really did the trick (Iâ€™m also thankful my video player wasnâ€™t programmed correctly the day it was supposed to record â€˜The Holiday Specialâ€™). But thankfully video had kicked in by that time, and I could watch the original trilogy over-and-over-and-over again. And I did. And I continued buying the toys (right up until some mischievous cousins decided to behead them all), the books (where art thou beloved pop-up book!?), the cups (whenever I drink Pepsi, I drink from a Vader mug), and yes, even the Jedi ice-creams. Even if it was going to give up on me, I wasn’t going to give up on it.
In my later years, Iâ€™d have the pleasure of meeting and getting to know a lot of the â€œStar Warsâ€ cast â€“ Carrie Fisher, David Prowse (who I was mates with on-and-off for quite a few years there; we caught up again in San Diego in 2006), Harrison Ford (though I must confess I was never that keen to talk about â€œStar Warsâ€ with him), Anthony Daniels (what a fun guy he is!), & Warwick Davis (again, lovely guy), – and most of them are as proud to have been involved with the series, as we are to have it in our lives.
My pre-pubescent years were spent with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and I tell ya, they were the best babysitters you could hope. I didnâ€™t have the easiest childhood (nobody wants to hear about that though) and having â€œStar Warsâ€ in my life really gave me a great escape. As it did many kids. And to his day, Iâ€™ve probably insulted George Lucas more times than Iâ€™ve thanked him â€“ which is what Iâ€™m going to do right now.
GEORGE. THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME THE BEST CHILDHOOD IN THE GALAXY. WITHOUT â€œSTAR WARSâ€, Iâ€™D ONLY BE HALF AS MAD ABOUT MOVIES, NOT THE LEAST BIT INTERESTED IN THE OSCARS, AND, A MOTHER-FUCKING ACCOUNTANT. YOU SAVED ME YO!
(And a big thanks to my friend Kyle Newman for reminding me just how important “Star Wars” has, and will always be, in my life)
FANBOYS screens at the ACMI in Melbourne from Friday.