Princess Leia’s gold bikini. IG-88. Greedo shot first. Salacious Crumb.
If these words mean anything to you, chances are Star Wars took hold of your imagination at some point between 1977 and 1985. Maybe your husband or wife thinks you’re a bit of a nerd because of some questionable pyjamas? As a grown-ass person with a mortgage and recycling to put out; do you still find yourself twitching with excitement for the new one, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker? So, what gives? And is it time for this lightsaber obsession and Wookie wanderlust to really END?
They say you always remember your first time. Well for a generation Star Wars represented the first time the power of massive, wide-screen cinema hit them full in the face, transporting them away from daily cares. Bookish Californian George Lucas always intended his (then) weirdly different space opera to be mythic; tapping into universal stories that everyone could relate to. It was like Lord of the Rings: for people who might have sex with other humans. It was good versus evil. Not knowing your place in the world. The master and the apprentice. Rescuing the princess (and her saving you!). English accents in space. Men in robes. Small creatures in robes who say “Fruit-ini!” Star Wars had it all.
Something about this world was both grungy and futuristic at the same time. It shouldn’t have worked, and everyone associated with the film thought it was going to be an epic failure – especially Sir Alec Guinness who played Obi-Wan Kenobi and thought the whole thing was a load of codswallop.
The rest is history. Episode IV in 1977 launched a 100 million plastic figures, pants, playing cards, Wampa rugs, lunchboxes, Death Star waffle makers, Lego sets, t-shirts and anything you can print onto. The film’s impact was monumental.
Carrie Fisher puts it best: “It was one movie. It wasn’t supposed to do what it did-nothing was supposed to do that. Nothing ever had. Movies were supposed to stay on the screen, flat and large and colourful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollocking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theatre, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artefacts to stay connected to it.”
That. And it gave me something priceless as well: a love of cinema. The ability to be spirited away by the music, exemplified by the famous score from composer John Williams – now 87 and about to deliver his final Star Wars score.
With film itself – stories take a grip like a waking dream. For many, these movies were the first to ignite the fuse on that. To this day, the plots twists in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) are as powerful as anything in popular culture. The second instalment in Lucas’ original trilogy managed to deepen the mythology, as well as the characters and its downbeat ending is still the gold-standard for franchise films seeking to leave their heroes in a closing-credits pickle. See Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
Like this? Read our interview with Dave “Darth Vader” Prowse
But let’s not get too Po(Dameron)-faced about it. Star Wars has always been an emotional thing. Much is centred around Princess Leia. Her sassy lines and the spirit that Carrie Fisher gave that role. She was the heart of the rebellion, shimmering in that hologram, “Help me Obi-Wan…”. Yes, she also later shimmered into teenage fantasies as well. And then she became General Organa in the sequel series, leader of the new Resistance and matriarch to the new Force-sensitive hero, Rey. Carrie was a hero and a mensch before there was a justifiable push to include more female heroes in sci-fi and film in general. Carrie Fisher, daughter of two Hollywood legends, was feisty and challenging, hilarious and in-your-face.
She writes beautifully too and her account of filming A New Hope, The Princess Diarist is worth a read. Now, of course, Carrie Fisher died in December 2016 and all the emotion tied up that will play out, as JJ Abrams has cut footage of scenes from The Force Awakens into the new film released this week.
Yes, there always be Leia. And more besides; all the tiny moments that pop into your mind when you’re changing nappies, voting or stretching into the back of the car to scoop up dropped lego pieces. Things like the Sarlacc Pit. Boba Fett. The Cantina Band. The Stormtrooper hitting his head. “Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” “Do or do not, there is no try!”
They say you always remember your first time. Well for a generation Star Wars represented the first time the power of massive, wide-screen cinema hit them full in the face, transporting them away from daily cares.
The creature wrangler in Jabba’s palace: crestfallen when Luke crushed his pet. And when I say his pet, I mean Rancor obviously (the toy had a little trap-door you could drop other figures into). It would be worth about £1,378 now.
All this trips off the tongue like tears in the rain. Like your childhood memories wrapped up in the crispest packaging you ever saw, full of yearning and long afternoons not wasted.
Is Star Wars all about sound as well? Blaster noises, lightsabers. A million times cooler than Clint Eastwood, for my generation anyway.
And yet some of us find ourselves in our mid-40s. How did this happen? How did our waists expand, and our years sitting in darkened rooms (with unlimited cinema-time) come to an end? In the intervening years since childhood, Star Wars may have gone off our minds.
We went and found new things. Music. Girls/boys/whatever. And a whole panoply of cinema. There were French films. Mexican films. Spanish horror. Films about serious things. Naughty films. Timothy Dalton films. Pictures with Dame Judy Dench and that bloke from Love Actually. There was Driving Miss Daisy (and Driving Miss Daisy Crazy, different genre). And eventually, you get to Al Pacino. Al, who would have blown up the whole Star Wars universe in a galactic storm of sing-song spittle and shouting – had he not turned down the part of Han Solo.
Eventually, Jar Jar Binks arrived and we don’t need to talk about that.
The Prequels? Well, the backstory is backstory. It is less interesting than the main story because it is BACKSTORY. Got it, George? Never mind, we were cool because we also had The Matrix in 1999. Spandex and bullet time. Is Keanu Reeves the most zen person never to have been a Jedi?
In truth, the whole sweep of the Prequels was only there for the one line and one sequence involving Master Yoda and his antagonist (standing at nearly two metres) Count Dooku:“It is obvious this contest cannot be decided by our knowledge of the force, but by our skills with a lightsaber.” Cue, the biggest cheer for a spark-up sequence since the heyday of Cheech and Chong.
Which brings us to 2019. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is meant to bring the curtain down on the whole shebang. They are billing it as a close, not just to the recent trilogy but to all NINE films; including everything we once yearned for and enjoyed. I think it is time.
We did just about manage to dredge up childish excitement for a new set of films. Many moaned, but The Force Awakens was Star Warsy and it was great fun. Let’s finish it off and see what happens to Rey and Kylo Ren and put a bookend in it.
Maybe the biggest joy of all these films is that they allow us to reconnect with old friends, who have this shared cinematic-DNA-history. We can share excitement and hope that spans our whole lives. Plus of course, all of this get rebooted when you have kids and you infect their impressionable minds with it. My youngest is only two, and he loves General Grievous, especially my brilliant impression with spinning quadruple lightsaber. Star Wars gives my kids entertainment at bath time, what can I say.
You’ll see many people in fandom takes things too seriously. The Last Jedi proved that. Okay, it was 35 minutes too long and wasted the excellent John Boyega. But they can put that right in the new film.
The last word should be about Carrie. During those heady days filming Star Wars in 1976, Harrison Ford was a great admirer. He said: “You have the eyes of a doe and the balls of a samurai.”
Amen to that.
We will see her last performance, and it will be sad. But you know what, maybe it will be a fitting end to our own affair with Star Wars*.
*apart from educational screenings for the children