It started with Star Wars. I wasn’t a sci-fi kid. I was watching Emergency! and The Six-Million Dollar Man on TV, minding my own business. If anything I am wired more towards fantasy, mythology, Arthurian legend.
And then came Star Wars. I was five years old and saw it in Easton’s Avalon Theater in 1977. And that movie changed everything. Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi defined the next six years of my life, revamped my imagination, and continue to set the bar for world-building and movies.
This isn’t a knock on Star Trek. I dig Mr. Spock and I scream “KKAAAAHHHNN!” with Captain Kirk, but the TV series didn’t grab me. I never watched The Next Generation. When it comes to storytelling, books and movies, I am pulled to the epic more than the episodic. One story, at first spread out over three movies and six years (and how many more since) was something to wrap an elementary school-aged brain around–the anticipation of the next movie, and let’s not discount Star Wars figures, ships, the Death Star; they didn’t miss a chance to take over pop culture in a way not known before, and replicated ever since. In successive years for Halloween, I was a Jawa, a Sand Person (Tusken Raider), and Boba Fett, before moving on to Ace Frehley of KISS, in full make up and costume.
Part of Star Wars’ broad appeal goes beyond sci-fi–it’s storytelling, it’s characters, it’s relationships, dialogue; was an epic showdown between good and evil, but not really, the lines became blurry, between the established power and the rebels who wanted change; it was sword/lightsaber fights, swashbuckling, shoot-outs, spaceship chases; and the balancing of a mysterious Force that made the Jedi out to be a kind of mystical samurai class. In other words, it brought in elements that reached far outside of the standard sci-fi appeal.
The mythology that’s been created since the first movies–books, comic books, prequels, sequels, cartoons, and now original series, including the Mandalorian on Disney+ (which again borrows heavily from samurai stories and movies and westerns, and is great), has created its own culture and even a theme park.
Star Wars is still one of my few science fiction indulgences–comics, history, mythology and fantasy are where my mind and reading spend more time.
But Star Wars started it all. For a kid who didn’t read much, it came as a movie. It didn’t try to answer all the questions or explain the science–it just told a great story, one that has reached across generations. As a father, I have daughters who have asked to binge watch all the Star Wars movies together. And as we get set for The Rise of Skywalker to complete this saga, we’re watching again. And as we talk characters, memorable lines, and storylines, I tend to watch the movies still with the eyes of a child.