Star Wars Generation

by J.D. Roth

Lest my review of Attack of the Clones lead anyone to believe that I am anti-Star Wars, let me assure you that I am most certainly a member of the Star Wars Generation. My personal history is deeply intertwined with the Star Wars mythos. In the tradition of Wil Wheaton‘s “The Trade” and‘s “Star Wars Memories“, here are my recollections of being a part of the Star Wars Generation.

I was born on 25 March 1969. Star Wars was released on 25 May 1977. I was eight years, two months old.

My father took us to see Star Wars a few of weeks after it was released. The Sunday Oregonian had been running an ad for the film and the ad’s artwork was mesmerizing: a young man in a robe holding a torch over his head, a young woman wrapped around his waist, sleek airplanes flying through space, robots on a mountain, and behind it all some mysterious helmeted figure.

According to my brother Jeff, we were at my grandparents’ house when Mom and Dad came and told us that we were going to see Star Wars. Jeff remembers not being aware of Star Wars until´┐Ż

We entered the theater late, after the opening fanfare, after the title scroll, after the opening battle sequence. When we sat down, a shiny gold robot was walking across the desert and a little round blue robot was being zapped by strange midget aliens in capes. I loved this movie from the start. It was like my favorite TV show, Star Trek (shown every Sunday at 4 p.m. in reruns on KPTV channel 12 the entire time I was growing up), only better, faster paced, with laser swords and creepy aliens.

As the summer of 1977 progressed we were able to see the movie several more times, with family and with friends. Sometimes the lines to see the film were huge. I’d never seen anyone line up for a movie before. Each time we saw the film we noticed something new, we memorized more of the dialogue.

A year after its release, we were still going to see Star Wars in the theater. How many films stay in theatrical release for a year now? The Fellowship of the Ring has been around almost six months, but that’s atypical.

At school Star Wars fever had gripped all of the boys. We bought Star Wars cards and Star Wars action figures and Star Wars comic books. We had Star Wars bed sheets and Star Wars underwear and every boy had the same Star Wars t-shirt, our heroes with blasters at the ready. We orderd Dynamite! magazine from the school book service because the cover featured the Star Wars gang. We marveled at the holographic Princess Leia (“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!”). We were disgusted by the blue milk. We dreamed of light-sabers and X-Wings and Princess Leia. We acted our favorite scenes over and over and over again.

For three years, Star Wars cards were our prized possessions. We coveted them: the blue cards, the red cards, the green cards, the yellow cards, the orange cards. Each pack of cards ($0.15/pack) also contained a Star Wars sticker and stick of hard, pink bubble gum. We put these stickers all over everything. We chewed the gum with gusto.

Star Wars cards were used for currency at school. If I wanted a classmate’s toy or book or comic, I’d offer to trade him Star Wars cards. I remember coveting The Star Wars Storybook, a glossy paperback filled with a plot summary and stills from the film as well as information about the sources of George Lucas’ inspiration to make Star Wars. (Specifically, the book traced his inspiration to Saturday morning serials from forty years earlier, and to pulp science fiction — this was actually my introduction to the idea of pulp science fiction.)

We also played with the Star Wars action figures, which were sold everywhere. We bought many of our figures from the local Coast-to-Coast hardware store ($2.50/each). When Dad went in for vegetable seeds or nails or anything else, we stood entranced before the display of Greedos and Hammerheads and Walrus Men.

We conducted many spectacular battles on the harvest gold shag carpet in the living room of our trailer house. We developed clever games that required switching the capes on the various figures, swapping the lightsabers from one Jedi to another. As The Empire Strikes Back approached, we sent in for the Boba Fett figure. (I believe to this day that the primary reason for Boba Fett’s popularity is that his figure was the first one from Empire to be released — thousands of young boys saved proofs of purchase in order to send away for this figure.) (Here’s a link to a guy in Wisonsin who kept all of his action figures…)

When we didn’t have our Star Wars merchandise with us, we would improvise. When Mom or Dad drove us places we’d fight for the chance to sit in the front seat. We wanted access to the dashboard which would be transformed into the controls for our X-Wing fighter.

We’d flip the tuning knob on the radio: “This is Red Five, I’m going in.” We’d press the buttons to change the preset stations in order to fire our turbolasers. We’d open and close the vents to change the configuration of our wings. We’d scout for TIE Fighters in the mirrors.

Those confined to the back seat would sulk while the lucky bastard in the front seat single-handedly held off Darth Vader and his evil minions.

The Star Wars comic books ($0.35/each) were another source of adventure. The stories were imaginative and seemed like natural extensions of the film. The over-arching plot line related the Rebel Alliance’s quest for a new base. This search required our heroes to visit new, exotic locales: water worlds, giant space stations filled with gladiatorial arenas, industrial planets, etc. The humor and the adventure of the movie were always present.

Once we tried to dramatize the issues in which Luke and company encounter a civil war on the water world, Drexel. This was more difficult than we had anticipated (what we could have done with a modern PC!), so we abandoned the project after only half an issue.

My parents gave us the Star Wars soundtrack for Christmas. We listened to it constantly, all four sides. We loved every track from the opening title sequence to the cantina band to Princess Leia’s Theme to the End Celebration. We wore that vinyl out.

In the fall of 1978 my father purchased an Apple II computer. The machine came with two games on cassette tape: Star Wars and Star Trek. In the Star Wars game, two players using game paddles co-operated to target and destroy TIE Fighters. The toughest TIE Fighters to destroy were the curved-wing “Darth Vader” TIE Fighters. We loved this game.

When VCRs came to prominence in the late-70s and early-80s, the first film we watched on tape was Star Wars.

The Oregonian carried the Star Wars comic strip. The daily strips and the Sunday strips tracked separate stories, both of which were exciting. The strip eventually became Sunday-only and the stories took on a sort of Flash Gordon feel, especially the stylish art from Al Williamson.

In the summer of 1980 we went to a rummage sale at Eccles School in Canby. David Carlson and his brother Paul were there. Paul found a copy of Star Wars #35, an issue that I didn’t have yet. He went to ask his mother for money, and I promised to watch the comic for him, but while he was gone I bought it for myself.

The Star Wars comic book was the first periodical to which I ever subscribed. I saved my money until I could afford to go to the post office for a money order, which I mailed to New York. A few weeks later the first issue of my subscription arrived: Star Wars #39, the first part of the Empire Strikes Back adaptation. I was a subscriber for six years, until the title ceased publication.

The Empire Strikes Back was released when I was eleven. My family went opening weekend, stood in line, sat in a crowded theater. When Luke, sitting on his Tauntaun, lifted his goggles, the crowd cheered. We watched, amazed, at the Battle of Hoth, the attack of the Imperial Walkers. The chase through the asteroid field was like a ride on a roller coaster. The cloud city of Bespin, though clearly derived from the Star Trek episode “The Cloud Miners“, was beautiful to behold. Boba Fett captured our imagination. And — horrors! — Darth Vader revealed that he was Luke’s father!?!

The Brown twins, Sean and Cory, were lucky enough to receive The Empire Strikes Back game cartridge for their Atari 2600 one Christmas. What a fantastic game! Here were Imperial Walkers live on our television screens.

Though the Empire Strikes Back cards weren’t as cool as the original Star Wars cards, we collected them. We also bought the action figures, though these too had lost some of their charm. My Yoda figure was awesome, with its little fabric cloak and little plastic stick. I kept that thing through high school.

The week before Return of the Jedi was released, the fledgling USA Today revealed several important plot points. The most shocking revelation was that Luke and Leia were siblings. Blasphemy! It was also my first experience with a “spoiler”, advance information about a movie.

Later that week, in gym class, when I revealed that Luke and Leia were related, and that I knew this because I had read it in the newspaper, nobody beleived me. Except one little guy who taunted me and said I only knew this because I had already seen the movie.This caused me great offense. I hadn’t seen the film already, I told him, but had read about it in the paper. He told me I was a liar.

We were in the locker room, eighth-graders standing around in jockstraps, and this kid just kept pestering me. I threw him up against the lockers and told him to shut up, that I hadn’t seen the movie, and that if he didn’t leave me alone, I’d beat the crap out of him. It was the first and only time in my life that I ever threatened anyone. And it was because of Star Wars.

The Saturday that Jedi opened, Darren Misner’s mother drove us to the Westgate theater at 6 a.m. She sat in line with us for five hours, a saint of a woman if ever there was one. Darren and I were eager with anticipation. I had brought my father’s microcassette recorder. (My obsession with microcassette recorders started a long time ago.) One of the young men in line had brought a boom box (these were still novel in 1983); he played his Duran Duran tape repeatedly. We listened to “Is There Something I Should Know” a dozen times that moring.

The first half of the movie was thrilling, if contrived, but something happened midway through. Luke and Leia were in an exciting speeder chase through a dense forest and Leia fell off her vehicle. Miraculously she survived.

And then it happened: the turning point in the history of Star Wars.

As Leia came to, she encountered the Marketing Tool. Darren and I, only fourteen, were not impressed. And worse, the Marketing Tools (there turned out to be an entire village of Marketing Tools) somehow managed to defeat the mighty Imprerial Stormtroopers and their advanced weaponry. The Rebel Alliance had been crushed by these Imperials in the Battle of Hoth, but somehow a group of primitive teddy bear-like Marketing Tools were able to do what an organized rebellion could not.

There were other problems with the film, too (much of it felt contrived, strung together in order to get from Point A to Point B without any care for the logic of the actual path), but none compared to the presence of the Marketing Tools.

My enthusiasm for the Star Wars universe has never faded. Throughout high school and college, I watched the films regularly. (I’ll admit that near the end of my college career I sold my comic book collection for money, including all of my Star Wars comic books (of which I had multiple copies of most issues). Where were my priorities?!? I’ve spent the past several years piecing together a nearly complete run of the series again.)

During the nineties I read various Star Wars novels, most notably the almost-good series from Timothy Zahn. I continued to buy various Star Wars comic books, including the Dark Empire series from Dark Horse. I bought the only issue of “Star Wars Generation”, a quality fanzine.

When I purchased my new Apple Macintosh 640CD-DOS compatible personal computer in the fall of 1995, the first game I got for the machine was Star Wars: Dark Forces. I played it through three times. Soon after Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight was released, I bought a PC. (In no small part because of that game.) Dave and I spent one memorable Saturday at his office hacking each other apart with light sabers. More recently, I spent last month under the spell of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast.

During the past five years I’ve pieced together a nearly-complete run of Marvel’s Star Wars comics (thanks largely to Excalibur Comics’ semi-regular 50% off sales). They’re great reading. (I look forward to the impending Dark Horse trade paperback collections with will gather these stories into more easily accessible volumes).

On 31 January 1997, Star Wars was re-realeased with fancy new effects and added scenes. Kris and I took time off work that day to see the show. We watched it twice. It was fantastic.

As Phantom Menace neared release, I downloaded both trailers and brought them to work. We watched them over and over, awestruck. This new movie was going to be better than all three of the previous Star Wars films combined! When Phantom Menace action figures began to trickle onto the market in March of 1999, Kris and I bought one for Paul Jolstead as a birthday present. Custom Box Service bought a bagful. We put together little Star Wars packages which Tony took around to our best customers. When the movie was released, we bought tickets for one of our clients.

Kris and I bought tickets for the 12:01 a.m. showing. We stood in a rowdy line at the Hilltop Theater in Oregon City, we cheered as the scroll crawled across the screen. Then we sat in a muddled mixture of terror and amazement as the story unfolded. The next day I took time off work to go see the movie twice more. I could barely sit through the third showing. This film worse than could have been imagined, worse than Jedi, far worse than the trailers had led us to believe. This was a black mark on the Star Wars universe. The ending was inconceivably bad. Sure, the pod race was fun and Ewan McGregor did a fine job, but the rest of the movie was a failure.

I thought Attack of the Clones had to be better, but the trailers revealed that this wasn’t likely to be the case. And then I saw the film…

Star Wars has been a defining force (heh heh) in my life for the past twenty-five years. It galls me to see it reduced to a mere shadow of what it once was.


On 21 May 2002 (05:17 AM),
Dagny said:

Well, JD – it galls me that you were responsible for such pain in Paul Carlson’s life. He probably needed therapy over that, you know.

On 21 May 2002 (05:29 AM),
Dagny said:

Oh yeah – I almost forgot. If you want to see vintage Star Wars wall paper, give Mike Groff a call and arrange a tour of his parents’ house. The upstairs bedroom that used to be Dave’s is still resplendent in heroes.

On 18 June 2005 (05:50 PM),
Rich Handley said:

The Star Wars strip never became Sunday-only. It ran seven days a week from the beginning to the end. It’s possible the paper you read them in only carried the strip on Sundays, but it ran every day of the week until the last week of the series.

Updated: 21 May 2002

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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