Thursday, April 17, 2014

Star Wars: Part Two (Playing Star Wars...)

A quick trip through my house, reveals twenty things directly referencing Star Wars (plus another dozen that refer to Lucasfilm in general).

That's not even taking into account the boxes in the garage, full of books and toys and a few "priceless" treasures.

Star Wars is kind of a big deal around here.

It always has been.

And while Star Wars, the movie that started it all, is the focal point, when people my age age speak of Star Wars, we mean the first three movies: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

The first movie, in 1977, lit the candle but, for me at least, it was The Empire Strikes Back that turned that candle into a bon fire. The first movie was made, with no way of knowing how big it would be, and therefore no expectation of a sequel. We had never heard of such thing as a sequel. All we knew was that Star Wars was the greatest movie ever made...

And, suddenly, in 1980, along comes this movie...The Empire Strikes Back. Another Star Wars movie! All the characters, in an all new story, with new lands, and new creatures, and more of everything that we loved from the first film. And best of all...the story was open ended...

In 1977, we had never conceived of the idea of a sequel.

In 1980 -- after we saw Han Solo get frozen in carbonite, and Luke Skywalker get his hand cut off -- by his FATHER! -- we knew we were getting another one.

And, while we had "played" Star Wars, since the opening of the first movie, this time between the last two movies was a golden age. It was a time of speculation, and invention. It was a time for the imagination to run wild. And, if you're going to play Star Wars properly, you need three things:

A Luke Skywalker.

A Han Solo.

And a Princess Leia.

And we had all three.

Aaron and I were the best of friends, but we had a third musketeer too -- the only friend I've known longer than Aaron, the pretty dark haired girl across the street: Ami Quintero.

It seems that everything we played in those days, from Star Wars to Battle of the Planets to The Dukes of Hazzard, had two male and one female lead. It worked out perfectly. In my mind's eye, in those wonderful days, Aaron and Ami and I were inseparable. And when we were together, it was endless playing, and inventing and imagining what new Star Wars adventures lay before us.

We weren't even close. Return of the Jedi was nothing like any of us had imagined, but what an amazing few years it was to speculate. That was truly what Star Wars did for us, and you have to understand why -- it was a time of fewer distractions, and less to draw our attention away from our one obsession.

There were no multiplexes in those early days. You didn't have one summer blockbuster movie after another, to think about and to play. You, as a kid, got about one movie a year -- Return of the Jedi played on the only screen at the Villa Theater for an entire year -- so the movies had better be good. And they were. Even today, with the thousands of films that are released each year, nothing matches the run of films stretching from the late seventies to the late eighties. It's the platinum age for movies.

Aaron and I were so lucky to have Ami in our lives. I don't know how all the other kids managed their Star Wars logistics, but ours was perfect. Ami loved Star Wars as much as we did -- and she was a girl!

That's what you call a win/win kids.

Most of the immediate neighborhood kids circled in and out of our Star Wars universe. Aaron and Ami's little brothers, Daniel and Mario, along with other kids their age -- Joseph Owen, Daniel Crapo, David Ives, came and went as fringe figures -- often as the bad guys (what good is it to play a hero, if no one is playing the villain?), and Mario, literally the smallest kid in the world at the time (with the squeakiest voice), liked to play all the really tall characters...Chewbacca...Darth Vader...IG88. David Owen -- who played the little guys like R2D2, and the Jawas --  gave his own twist to the Yoda role. In his universe, the Force was an organic thing, and when when one of us was in need of a little boost, he would just go pick some Force for us.

My little brother, Tim, who was quite a bit younger than everyone else, was always available as a script consultant -- all he did as a kid was sit in front of that giant VCR, and watch the $100 VHS tape that we had of Star Wars.

It's because of Star Wars (or, more specifically, The Empire Strikes Back), that we loved the winter. We must have played out scenes from Hoth, for hours on end -- but I don't remember ever being cold... matter how many times I went face down in the snow, after escaping the Wampa.

"Yoda...Ben....Dagobah System..."

As for Aaron, Ami and I, we never switched roles. Ami was always Princess Leia -- partly because there are no other women in the Star Wars universe. Aaron always played Han Solo. I always played Luke Skywalker. There was never any debate. I don't even think there was ever discussion.

Aaron WAS Han Solo. He was brash, self assured, and cocky -- in all the ways that those qualities can be good.

Aside from the obvious fact that she was a girl, Ami was no shrinking violet. She was brave. She was MUCH smarter than we were, and she was no token. Ami was committed to Princess Leia.

And I WAS Luke Skywalker -- the wide eyed dreamer.

It was as though the universe had decreed it. It never occurred to us to do anything else. It was perfect casting.

And, together with the help of the occasional neighbor kid in a supporting role, the three of us lived the greatest adventure of all time. We swung over chasms. We navigated asteroid fields. We trekked the snows of Hoth, and walked the sunset skies of Cloud City. We learned about the Force. We faced down cool looking bounty hunters, and scary looking Sith lords. We traveled though the stars at the speed of light. We fought with light sabers, and stood by as Han Solo was frozen in carbonite. We swam through trash compactors, with walls that threatened to crush us. We blew up the Death Star...

And then we did a thousand things that we thought Han and Luke and Leia might do, which were never in any movies. It was the happiest way to be a kid -- creating the greatest story ever, with your two best friends, in a galaxy far, far away...

And we hung on any news of that next story, and eventually we heard the name whispered:

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