On the 40th anniversary of Star Wars' theatrical release, Shawn recalls his introduction to George Lucas' amazing world and the impact it had on his life.
I was six years old the first time I saw a Star Wars movie. My mom had invited some friends over for a movie night. The movie they’d selected was Return of the Jedi. I had no idea what a ‘Jedi’ was or where one might be returning from, but these things didn’t matter. From what I could gather, it had spaceships and lasers and I loved both of those things almost as much as I loved the Power Rangers.
But right off the bat, I could tell there was something different about this movie. Something about the way my mom and her friends discussed it - the hushed awe, the sense of wonder - indicated it was special. Usually, I wasn’t allowed to attend these movie nights. My mom would always shoo me off to bed so the ‘grown ups’ could have their ‘grown up talk.’ But when her friends learned I’d never seen a Star Wars movie (“What kind of mother are you?!”) I got to stay up late and hang with the adults. I felt so cool.
Once the popcorn and the sodas had been divvied out, they fired up the movie. I sat on the floor, scooting as close to the TV as I could without getting scolded. The infamous pre-title disclaimer faded in: ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…’ My mom’s normally talkative friends became eerily silent.
BOOM. The words ‘STAR WARS’ appeared on screen in that iconic yellow font, blasting off into the furthest reaches of outer space. The explosive opening notes of John Williams’ iconic theme exploded from the crappy television speakers. The opening scroll began: ‘Episode VI RETURN OF THE JEDI.’
I suddenly understood with stunning clarity the meaning behind the term ‘knock your socks off.’ It had only been a few seconds, but in those few seconds everything changed. My six-year-old brain, so limited in its experiences, could somehow detect I was experiencing a rite of passage. I knew I was watching something unlike anything I’d seen before.
For the next two-plus hours, I was utterly captivated. Everything about Return of the Jedi was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The lightsabers, the space battles, the droids, Darth Vader, even the Ewoks! (Hey, I was six.) I cheered on the heroic Luke Skywalker as he rescued his pals from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt; I let out a chorus of ‘ooo’s’ and ‘awww’s’ during the speeder bike chase. I specifically recall watching in horror as Emperor Palpatine blasted Luke with electricity near the film’s conclusion. My mom’s friends did nothing to alleviate the tension, making comments like, “Ooooh, he’s gonna die!” I remember being sadder than I’d ever been in my entire life. Luke can’t die! I thought. He’s the hero! I love him! I just about lost my mind when Darth Vader tossed the Emperor into that never-ending pit of machinery, saving his son and conquering the Dark Side.
Best. Movie. Ever.
For a long time Return of the Jedi was the only Star Wars film I had access to. My mom had recorded a TV version that started 30 minutes into the movie. I wore that tape out and eventually she hid it from me because I was spending more time watching Return of the Jedi than being outside with my friends. Eventually I got around to seeing the other two films in the Trilogy and I loved them just as much if not more so. I saw the Special Editions in theaters and collected all the action figures my feeble $10 a week allowance would buy. When The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, my mom let my brother and me skip school so we could all go see it together.
Star Wars has had an undeniable impact on my life. In fact, I could cite Star Wars, along with Christopher Reeve’s first two Superman films and Back to the Future, as the reason I became so passionate about films and storytelling. It’s given me and countless fans the world over so much joy, sparking our imaginations in ways few franchises are capable of. Hardly a day has passed since I first watched Return of the Jedi that I haven’t discussed Star Wars in some capacity.
So on this, the 40th anniversary of the original Star Wars’ theatrical release, I want to say thank you to George Lucas for creating this wonderful world that has brought me and my friends and family so much joy through the years. To Kathleen Kennedy, for taking up the reigns and steering the franchise to all-new heights. To the countless actors, filmmakers and storytellers who have expanded upon this world in such brilliant fashion. It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. I can’t wait to see what Rian Johnson has in store come December.