One of the first movies I saw in a theatre was Star Wars. I can’t imagine a better film to have as my first. At that time lived out in the country, surrounded by woods, rivers, and lakes, and spent a lot of time running wild in dense Ottawa Valley wilderness, so making a trek into the city, Ottawa, was a big deal. I must have been about 10 years old. I had no idea where we were going or why we were going there. I paid little attention to anything my parents said or did. But we packed ourselves into our purple Dodge Dart and headed down a long, winding dirt road to the highway that would take us to the city. I sat in the back and fought with my brother as smoke billowed from my mom’s mouth and nose as she tugged greedily on her cigarette and my dad cursed as he inevitably got lost.
But we did eventually make it to the city, and it was a magical day. First we went to an arcade. Huh? We weren’t even allowed to watch tv and here my parents were taking us to an arcade. Lights and noise and games. We played pinball mostly. I loved it. We spent at least an hour there and when it was time to go, my brother and I wanted to stay. But my parents insisted we go now or we would be late for the movie.
I had no inkling of what we would see. We sat in our seats. The lights went down and then that iconic bold writing came on the screen. I was hooked from the first scene. My palms were sweating and the world around me disappeared. Luke Skywalker was everything I had ever wanted to be. A good boy who had horrible things happen to him. A boy who dreamed of leaving the small provincial life he led for adventure. His hair was awesome and his clothes were amazing. And Luke had Ben Obi Wan Kenobi, an older man who mentored Luke. Obi Wan taught Luke about The Force, and he was a Jedi Knight! And he was showing Luke how to use a light sabre, and giving him the tools to go from a boy who had things happen to him, to a man who controlled his destiny. Obi Wan was the wise, gentle, fiercely-proficient-with-a light-sabre father I had wanted. My own father had sadly been awash in religious fervor and broken dreams for as long as I could remember.
Luke had amazing friends: a couple of robots who were funny, loyal, and more human than machine; a beautiful princess who had a “my shit don’t stink” exterior but internally was deeply committed to the rebellion; a smuggler who called Luke “kid” and his co-pilot Chewbacca, a Wookiee, who was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I had a few friends but I had nothing like this gaggle of misfits in my life, and I thought if I was Luke Skywalker I’d never be lonely again. So it was all the more horrible when Han Solo decided to take his money and split before the final assault on the Death Star. What are you doing, Han? You bastard. Luke needs you. You can’t leave now. At least he had Obi Wan to guide him.
The assault was not going well. I felt sick every time an X-Wing fighter pilot would relay a desperate message of an enemy on his tail before being obliterated. Luke was the last hope of this desperate assault. Nothing less than the last vestiges of good in the universe depended on him finding his target, and he was woefully outmatched. He was being run down by Lord Vader and his forces; even R2-D2, who was riding near the back of Luke’s fighter, took a nasty knock.
I. Could. Not. Breathe.
And suddenly Vader’s TIE Fighters started blowing up. And with a jubilant scream like a cowboy who is having the time of his life, Han Solo, that glorious bastard, yelled, “Yoohoo! You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home!” At that moment, and in that time, it remains the single greatest cinematic experience of my life. He came back. Han Solo was able to rise above his own self-interest and be a part of something good. The act is punctuated by Han Solo’s reluctance to appreciate anything that may smack of romanticism. He demonstrates an ability to evaluate his world view, his actions and motivations, and changes the substance of his character. And so Luke is given his final lesson and is transformed from a boy, and reluctant hero, to a man of decisive action and competence. And he becomes everything that I could ever aspire to be.
Of course I have viewed Star Wars a few times since then, and the experience was never the same. But when I close my eyes and relive the moment, that first time in the theatre, I am almost always brought to tears.
The last three Star Wars movies are awful. The franchise has taken a soul-destroying turn to silliness. Jar Jar Binks is an abomination that is a blatant attempt to make the movies child-friendly piles of saccharine in the hopes of selling merchandise. The acting is bad, the writing is bad, the casting is particularly abortion-like, and I am, like many other people, so very disappointed at what happened to the characters I love. I will of course see the new installments of this franchise, but I have low expectations. But nothing can take away the moment in my life when I saw on the big screen a farm-boy who rose above his station and accomplished great things with the help of his friends and somewhere along the way became a man.