It all started in 1977, when a creative genius with a grandfathery smile introduced us to a new universe of his own making, and my life was changed forever.
Star Wars, and the five other movies that followed, is more than just a cinematic phenomenon. It is part of the bedrock of modern day pop culture. Even people who have not seen the films are familiar with the iconic mask of Darth Vader, the symphonic masterpieces of John Williams, and the general premise of ‘using the Force’.
And that is why we’re here, celebrating Star Wars Day on this May the 4th. To borrow from Wikipedia, “the date was chosen for the easy pun on the catchphrase ‘May the Force be with you’—’May the fourth be with you'”.
But this Star Wars Day is unlike any that has been celebrated since, literally, last century. In 1999, Lucasfilm released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first of a three movie trilogy that served as a prequel to the original Star Wars of 1977 (that movie’s full title is actually Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). The sense of excitement for the new movie was overwhelming to say the least. People like me who grew up on Star Wars had been craving something new in the theaters since Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) in 1983, and the idea of sitting in a movie theater – as an adult – and watching a new Star Wars movie made my heart race with anticipation.
To put that wait into perspective, I was ten years old when Jedi hit theaters. By the time Phantom Menace was released, I was twenty-six years old and my wife was pregnant with our first child. That’s a lot of life to pass by in between installments of a fabled franchise.
But history has a way of repeating itself. I am now forty-two. My unborn daughter from 1999 is driving and finishing up her sophomore year of high school. A lot of life has passed since the giddiness of May Fourth in 1999, but now that same giddiness has returned. Although we are still a staggering 277 days away, this calendar year will see the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a sequel to the original trilogy. Although the script has been a closely guarded secret, we do know the story line for Episode VII takes place approximately thirty years after Jedi, and the movie will include appearances by Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill, the actors who played Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker, respectively, in the first trilogy.
And that is what makes this Star Wars Day so special. For the first time in a decade, we get to anticipate a new Star Wars movie. We get to look ahead to what’s in store as this epic story is carried forward, all the while allowing ourselves to be engulfed by the effervescent nostalgia of days passed.
…or perhaps it’s just me. Star Wars was such a huge part of my childhood – toys, costumes, bed sheets, posters, actually thinking I could use the Force – and the knowledge of a new movie allows me to re-live it all.
Still, it’s not without concern or a small sense of controversy. Episodes I – III, although box office successes, left die-hard fans with a perplexed sense of acceptance for the films. They were entertaining and did provide the much needed back-story for Luke and Leia, but they were also crippled by the casting of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, and the introduction of the CGI-created character Jar Jar Binks. And who can ever forget – or forgive for that matter – the Vader NOOOOO! at the end of Episode III? It’s as if George Lucas, the franchise’s creator, lost touch with the creative genius that birthed the original trilogy, and went for a safer, more kid-friendly approach with the prequels.
Enter J.J. Abrams. With Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 for a mind-blowing $4 Billion (yes, with a ‘B’), the reigns of the franchise were turned over to one of the greatest storytellers of our time. Known best as the creator of Lost, and the director of the Star Trek reboots, Abrams is perhaps the perfect choice for picking up where Lucas left off.
Abrams brings his brilliance to a universe already filled with magic and spectacle. What will be interesting is how the new story line will fill in the gaps since Jedi, and how this new movie will replace the expanded universe fiction that had been Star Wars canon but now is no longer. This may irk some EU loyalists, and it’s conceivable will lead to backlash if Abrams doesn’t deliver on the high expectations of the film. But if the trailer for Episode VII is an indication, it’s going to be spectacular. For me, the nuance in the trailer is the grittiness of the details, such as the texture of the leather padding in the corridors of the Millennium Falcon, and the orange, sand-filled feel of the scenes on Tatooine. If you’re feeling any doubts about Episode VII being able to live up to the original trilogy, take a moment to see Kevin Smith’s reaction to visiting the set of the film (language warning).
On this fourth day in May, I know I am excited like a kid on Christmas eve for the release of the new film, and December can’t get here soon enough. As a fan, I celebrate the goose-bump inducing feeling I get every time I see the words, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….”
Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth be with you.