Monday, June 25, 2007

30 Years, 30 Memories

Hmmm...it's been pretty quiet here on TFT. I have no excuse. Basically, we like to write about football and basketball a lot here (and I mean real basketball, not the NBA's testicle-challenged version of it). Without college bball and pro/college football to write about, I've been struggling in trying to find material.

And then it hit me. There's tons of stuff I could write...movie and DVD reviews, a Star Wars retrospective on 30 years of glorious space battles, a movie script based on the G.I. Joe toy line. So, I'm going to try to do it all a little at a time.

First, the world changed 30 years ago. I was not of this world yet, my birth still three years away. It was May 1977. The movie was Star Wars. I'm told back then it was simply Star Wars, no "Episode IV" in the prologue, no computer-generated insert shots of Jabba the Hutt, no rontos.

I've talked to several people who knew the world before Star Wars, and they all tell me the same thing: at the time, no one had seen anything like it. They didn't know how to describe it to friends; they were only able to order them to go see it. New words began to enter the world dictionary, words like "the Force," "lightsaber," "Darth Vader," "Jedi," "Death Star," "Millennium Falcon."

It's hard to imagine it, isn't it? A world without these things. I saw Return of the Jedi when I was three years old; STILL remember seeing it with my parents and my brother. So from a very young age, all these things, from Obi-Wan Kenobi to Jawas, were already part of my vocabulary. I never had the thrill of "discovering" that Darth Vader was Luke's dad; I saw Jedi first, so I already knew and accepted this. Empire was no big shocker. In fact, when I was younger it was by far my least favorite of the Star Wars movies. Too dark, bad things happen to all my favorite characters, and the Dagobah segments seemed to move oh-so-slowly. Now, I understand ESB is a terrific movie, even though I steadfastly cling to calling ROTJ my favorite.

My Star Wars tribute begins right here, 30 Years, 30 Memories.

1. My brother and I loved ROTJ, but in our youth we didn't understand the hero's sacrifice Anakin Skywalker made in the end. So when we recreated the end of the movie, Darth Vader found a way to survive, only to fight crime with his son. It was all punctuated with really bad lightsaber sounds, of course.

2. My brother has a charitable side to him, and he gave many of our Star Wars toys to Toys for Tots. It was a noble gesture, but I was not happy. I couldn't understand why he wanted to throw all those toys away! Couldn't we at least have kept the Leia as Boussh figure and Slave I?

3. Excitement for Star Wars really built up in 1991, when Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire book came out. I don't know how many times I read it, but it was a lot. As as a fifth-grader, I read a 320+ page book. My parents were so proud.

4. As a side note to #3, my fifth-grade teacher Mr. Bennett had a policy of reading each book his students read so that he could write up questions about the book. When I delivered Heir to the Empire to him, he had no idea what was going on. He'd never seen Star Wars! So I wrote the Star Wars dictionary, explaining and illustrating all the little details, places, and characters that he didn't know. Months later, I read the Empire Strikes Back novelization, and I think Mr. Bennett died a little inside. At least he had that handy dictionary for reference!

5. The dictionary, by the way, ended up getting sent to Lucasfilm. I mailed it to George Lucas, who sent me a letter in reply saying how much he enjoyed the dictionary. He also said, or rather his secretary of whoever ghost-wrote the letter for him, that he hoped I'd turned my teacher into a fan.

6. Buoyed by this success, I sent another letter to Mr. Lucas asking him if I could write a book based on Star Wars. You see, one of my favorite books was something called The Jedi Master's Quizbook, which had trivia about characters, dialogue, and scenes from Star Wars and ESB. I wanted to "complete" it by writing Kenobi's Quizbook, which would cover Return of the Jedi and Heir to the Empire. Lucas replied yet again, this time letting me know about the mysterious world of publishing rights. At least I tried. Actually, I wrote a bunch of trivia questions, which remain unpublished to this very day.

7. I wrote Lucas one more time, telling him I'd make the perfect Anakin Skywalker for the prequel trilogy. This was long before the name Jake Lloyd ever became associated with Star Wars.

8. During a class project on North and South Korea, my friend Kevin and I repeatedly showed scenes from the Empire Strikes Back instead of real footage of the Koreas. We actually got an "A" on that project, if you can believe it.

9. In high school, Kevin would reunite with me and our friend Brian would join us to direct a series of stop-motion fights featuring Star Wars action figures. One-on-one fights, these were incredibly bad (but in a good way), featuring matchups like Stormtrooper vs. Han Solo in Carbonite and the most uneven match of them all, Shoe vs. Ackbar. If you wondered, Shoe wins.
10. I saw each Special Edition double-digit times in the theater. I went with friends, my parents, my brother, anytime I could find an excuse to "see it again for the first time," I did.

11. Tootsie Rolls were a popular snack for my dad and I. We went through TONS of them during our Special Edition run. My gosh, our dentist should kill us both.

12. My brother was running late when I went to see Star Wars with him in 1997. We ended up about four rows back on the right side on opening night. That Star Destroyer looked HUGE.

13. I had an underpowered 286 computer that would BARELY run the X-wing computer game. I could play it, but there was no sound and most of the cutscenes were choppy. I still played the crap out of it, even though I was terrible.

14. I finally got an upgrade my sophomore year of high school, and as a Christmas gift Santa brought me a Star Wars CD-ROM collection. Rebel Assault II, Dark Forces playable demo, TIE Fighter Special Edition, I HAVE YOU NOW!

15. I couldn't play Rogue Squadron on my Compaq Pentium because it lacked a 3D video card. Ah, but once I went to college, my new 400 MHz Celeron could handle it AND Podracer!

16. I was so excited about the premiere of Episode One that I even saved KFC buckets and Pizza Hut boxes, both of which boasted Star Wars designs.

17. While sitting the bench during a baseball game for no reason, my father walked up to me and wondered if I'd rather go see Star Wars instead of sitting the bench. Um, this was during a HIGH SCHOOL baseball game. I wonder what would've happened if I'd gone through with that...

18. After the baseball game, I did catch a 9 o'clock showing of Phantom Menace with my buddy Andrew. I went in my baseball uniform, which wasn't dirty because I didn't play that night.

19. Over the years my Star Wars collection has become pretty big. It currently fills 12 plastic totes tucked inside a storage space my parents rent.

20. I loved it when QVC, yes the shopping network, had Steven Sansweet on for Star Wars Collectibles. My mom bought so much stuff from there, it's really not funny.

21. My friend Brian and I dressed as Jedi for the premiere of Attack of the Clones. Our mutual friend Kevin went with us, but refused to dress up with the crazy people. Workers at the theater and a few little kids thought we were cool, at least.

22. I combined my love of Star Wars and Neil Diamond into the "Neil Diamond Star Wars Concert Tour." The song parodies included Sweet Palpatine and I am...Emperor. Sweet Palpatine won a Max Rebo award for best song parody in the Star Wars Insider magazine! I was credited mysteriously as Studicus, and darn proud of it.

23. For a time, my friend Brian and I contemplated building Stormtrooper armor. Then we realized we had things like rent and groceries to pay for instead.

24. I attended both Star Wars Celebrations in Indianapolis. Guess who went with me? Oh, yeah, my friend Brian. We missed out on the exclusive action figure and didn't have the patience to stand in line for the Rick McCallum Spectacular, which featured Episode II footage. We fared better three years later at Celebration III, getting those exclusive action figures.

25. For a time, I had every Star Wars comic Dark Horse had ever published. This is no longer the case.

26. I wore out several copies of the original trilogy movies, so my mother bought a backup set of the digitally remastered THX editions from 1995. We were told it would be the last time Star Wars would be available on home video. Of course, we ended up hearing that a lot....

27. I made a friend really happy by giving him a copy of Star Wars taped off TV in the 80s. He had Empire and Jedi, but not Episode IV (which had be rechristened Episode IV by then). I had a tough time letting go of that tape (that little droid and I have been through a lot together...), but it went for a greater good.

28. I swear to goodness, the Empire Strikes Back game for the original NES was impossible. I reached Vader ONCE on Cloud City without cheating. At least the Force powers were cool....

29. For several years, it was a family tradition over Christmas vacation to watch all the original Star Wars movies. My family still loves them!

30. I almost used $1,000 that I'd saved up to buy one of those giant Han Solo in Carbonite statues. Seriously. I had the money, I even had the blessing of my parents. But I decided to save the money instead.

There it is...30 Years, 30 Memories.

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