To paraphrase Trent and Mike from Swingers, "VHS baby!"
That's right, I've got Star Wars on tonight, finally. And I will be refusing for the purposes of this blog to ever refer to it as "A New Hope" because however much that episode title might have been part of the opening crawl, that is not what we called it back in the day... Did I just say "back in the day"? I should apologize. As I would tell my Public Speaking students, that phrase is vague. What I meant to say was that between the first time I saw Star Wars circa it's time in the theater (maybe when I was just a few months old but I'm guessing months later or the next year in some rerelease; all I know is that when The Empire Strikes Back came out, I knew Star Wars even though I was only four. I dont' actually remember seeing Star Wars for the first time. (Some of the first movies I specifically remember seeing in the theater are Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi and Halloween.) I just remember knowing what Star Wars was. It's like God or Santa, except I wasn't raised on Santa Claus, but I imagine that kids who celebrate Christmas probably couldn't tell you when they first heard of Santa. It's just something they know before they can even formulate memories of knowing it. For me, that innate knowledge included Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca, Stormtroopers, Tarkin... Seriously, before I could legitimately formulate memories, I had these characters in my head. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest they may have had as much of an influence on me as that other fictional character, God, did, maybe more.
And, VCR bonus, this VCR I've got has a mismatched remote--I had to buy a multi-brand one to make it work, and there is no noticeable tracking control, which if you grew up with VCRs, you should know that means, there's some graininess to the picture (which also could be because I'm watching VHS tapes from before the special editions existed) but also a little bit of the image from the bottom is up at the top.
Sidenote: it also just occurred to me that my need to name every last character in stories I've written, or to name all the NPCs when I'm DMing Dungeons & Dragons, could come from knowing all the Star Wars characters' names. But, just now, I wasn't sure if the Imperial officers that were on the Tantive IV with Darth Vader had specific names--so many minor characters got not only names but also action figures, and one of them was speaking rather boldly to Vader, and that's risky as fuck, in the modern nomenclature.
And, I had the action figures, of course. I never had all the ships, because those were more pricey. From this first film, the only vehicle I ever had was the Millennium Falcon. From Empire I had a Snowspeeder and Slave I and an AT-AT, from Return of the Jedi a Speeder Bike... Vehicles didn't matter much, but I had the special figures you had to mail away for--Palapatine, Anakin. I swear I even had the missile-launching Boba Fett but never knew it was worth money, eventually lost it, probably buried in the yard where I dug a hole to fill with water for some makeshift Dagobah action...
But, I get ahead of myself. Boba Fett doesn't exist yet. Neither does Dagobah. It is May 1977, I am only a few months old. And, according to my mother I even met George Lucas in those intervening months at the beach. He saw she had a baby boy and told her about the new movie he'd made. At the time she probably thought he was just some weirdo.
Alec Guinness supposedly read the script for this film in between scenes working on Murder by Death. And, he acts the crap out of a script that almost doesn't deserve such effort. Lucas was always good at creating worlds, imagining creatures, but I'm not sure his scripting every rose above mediocre. Fortunately, an adventure story like this, a fantasy one no less, doesn't need a script that rises above mediocre; it just needs actors willing to commit, good creature designs that the audience can accept along the way. The one saving grace here is that Lucas didn't feel the need to show us the senate. When we first hear about it, we hear that the Emperor has dissolved it. Younger Lucas was far more streamlined in his story structure.
And then the amazing thing happened. I just noticed something new. Now, lots of people (nerds especially) probably know that the bounty hunter (a Trandoshan, by the way, but I actually only remember that detail because I recently used a bunch of Trandoshan artwork for Sarkrith pawns in my D&D game, and if you understood everything in that sentence, I salute you) Bossk in Empire wears a spacesuit that was previously used in a Doctor Who episode called "The Tenth Planet." The thing is, I just spotted that same spacesuit, ever so briefly, on someone sitting at a table in the Chalmun's Cantina. Rewound, paused, did some frame advance action, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't Bossk. I didn't expect it to be Bossk as I figure the reason you don't see the guy's face very well is the spacesuit was the important background visual. If he had the whole Bossk face, Lucas couldn't have helped but make sure we saw it in that scum and villainy montage.
Except, for the record, I just got that screencap off YouTube. The VHS copy I'm watching is not widescreen.
More like this:
But with angled lines of static.
And, I just learned something new about Chewbacca. My daughter asked about the sounds he made, and I mentioned the bear that made a lot of his sounds. Googled it to doublecheck and apparently some other bears, lions, and badgers were mixed in, but the interesting thing was why they used a bear for the primary sound. The Chewbacca mask didn't have articulated lips; the mouth just opened and closed. They used a bear because bears vocalize from the back of the throat, and don't move their lips much, they just open their mouth. (One version of this information comes from Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas... A book I think I used to own. I guess it was in that box of books I lost when I moved briefly to Tennessee back in 2000. And it just occurred to me that I may have spent less time living in Tennessee (most of the month of December 2000, and a few days of January 2001), than I have spent watching Groundhog Day. There's a non sequitur for ya.
And, it's interesting the things I know, or remember knowing when I was I don't even know how young. Like behind-the-scenes footage of Obi-Wan climbing on the thingy with the power switches for the tractor beam, and it was really only like two feet off the ground. Or that Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill enjoyed swinging across that abyss so much that they did it an extra time. I mean, when did I watch that footage? When did I learn about them having a good time swinging? I certainly had a good time swinging from things as a kid; had a rope with a loop at the bottom hanging from a tree in the front yard, and a tire swing. The dirt under that rope was where I dug one of my swamps, actually. I had a model (not a toy... I'm not even sure if there was a toy version) of Yoda's hut, and take out the oversize Yoda and Luke and it worked pretty well with the action figures, especially if you stick it in some swallow muddy water...
And, there I go drifting into Empire again. But, these movies do blend together for me. Mostly because I liked to watch them back-to-back, like when I was home sick from school. And because when I would play with the action figures, I was not faithful to the plot as it was. Jabba could easily interact with the wampa, Leia could ride a tauntaun to Yoda's hut, and find some ewoks there.
And really, I could talk a lot about this movie, about what I took from it as a kid, what I added to it when I wrote myself some weird sort of fan fiction as a teenager... Or whatever. This ought to be fun.