Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
This week’s question is in honor of today, the 40th anniversary of Star Wars’ initial release to American theaters:
What’s your earliest Star Wars memory?
There’s no way I can pin down my earliest Star Wars memory. I was born exactly one week before Star Wars premiered in 1977 (Happy 40th anniversary, me!), and according to my family, Star Wars was the second movie I was taken to—The Muppet Movie being the first. So Star Wars was folded into my developing consciousness alongside the standard lessons on not eating cat food or the general expectation of wearing pants to the grocery store. It’s just always been a part of my life. Since lack of home viewing technology made actual viewings of the film dependent on the occasional free showings at the library, most of my earliest memories revolve around all the stuff. Staring out the window with envy as my brother flew his TIE Fighter through the yard, or my excitement at getting the Bespin Luke action figure for Easter of 1982. Mostly, I remember perpetually thumbing through the giant, magazine-size collection of the Marvel movie adaption. Like a wizard obscured behind some arcane grimoire, I perpetually scanned over that comic for hidden wisdom. Like, apparently Jabba’s some green dude.
Like Nick, my earliest Star Wars memory may as well be my earliest memory; in pinning down a time before Star Wars, I’d have to go prenatal, so suffused was my childhood with Kenner action figures and play sets, building model AT-ATs and X-wings, obsessively listening to John Williams’ scores, and even writing my own fan fiction, years before I was aware of what that was. I was born a year after the first film premiered, so while I don’t recall exactly when or where I finally saw that one, I do distinctly remember my dad taking me to see both Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi in the theater. (My brain has since conflated this experience into one double feature, though there’s probably no way that’s true.) More specifically, I remember us walking out to the parking lot and me asking him to explain the Dagobah cave scene, and why it was that Luke saw his own face in the phantom Darth Vader’s mask. My dad—apparently not wanting to discuss the long-established motif of the cave that runs throughout Greek mythology with a tired 5-year-old—simply said, “It means he wasn’t ready to fight Darth Vader,” and just left it at that. But as satisfying as that answer should have been to a dumb kid, I recall turning that scene over and over in my tiny mind for weeks. It was my first brush with the idea of symbolism, and my first inkling that stories could have meanings beyond the superficial. I hesitate to say that this was some pivotal moment that eventually led me to a career of picking those meanings apart. But it’s safe to say that the richness of the Star Wars universe—and the room it created for tangential discussions and endless debate—had a huge impact on my developing appreciation for pop culture. I should probably call my dad and thank him, then tell him how that was a huge oversimplification.
I went to a slightly bizarre but genuinely wonderful elementary school where teachers were fierce advocates for storytelling and creativity. (Our most famous alumnus is probably Crispin Glover.) So my first encounter with Star Wars came in Room 2—note they weren’t called “grades” they were “rooms”—thanks to Ms. Brown. I wasn’t actually assigned to her class, but I knew she used Star Wars in the lesson plan. For her, George Lucas’ films were a way to teach 6- and 7-year-olds about good and evil. In retrospect, it’s funny that I first encountered Star Wars as an educational tool, but it speaks to how elemental the franchise is—and the power of awesome educators like, say, Yoda and/or Ms. Brown.
I have no idea how old I was, but I have these images burned in my head of the first time I saw the Death Star trench run at the end of Star Wars. I’d never felt anything like that slight dizziness my young little brain got when the X-wings swooped down into the trench, trying to keep out of the line of fire of those lethally accurate TIE Fighters. (I obviously didn’t know they were called that at the time, they were just “Yippee, spaceships!”) A million years of new movies and special editions has never quite recaptured that roller-coaster feeling, those blistering-fast first-person curves as Red Squadron throws itself into its suicide mission. My love of Star Wars has waxed and waned over the decades, but I still get that “Yippee, spaceships!” feeling every time I watch that scene.
Hi, Old Millennial here: Remember when Star Wars wasn’t everywhere? By the time my parents brought home the original trilogy on VHS—with its bombastic CBS/Fox logo card and goofy “The First Ten Years” intro—the franchise had receded into the cultural background, its stars having moved to another Lucas franchise or kicked off second careers as authors; its supporting cast rendered into cartoon characters, TV-movie heroes, and theme park attractions. At the time, I’d watch E.T. and wonder why I never saw Elliott’s Star Wars toys or the trick-or-treater’s Yoda costume in stores. It felt like I’d missed something. Yeah, I was reducing beloved movies to pieces of junk based on a piece of junk, but c’mon: Merchandise is how my developing mind engaged with Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I wanted the same experience with Luke, Leia, and my perennial favorite, Darth Vader. The Lucasfilm licensing machine roared back to life when I was in middle school, but that turned out to be a bit of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario: The thrill of buying a Darth Vader with removable helmet giving way to the feeling of being buried in Phantom Menace tie-ins.
I have vague recollections of watching the original trio of films on VHS when my age was still in the single digits, but my first true memory of Star Wars was cutting class in the fourth grade to see Star Wars: Episode I on opening day. My sister, brother, and I were so damn excited about it. It’s both the first time I remember really watching Star Wars and really watching any film. The daylong wait in line culminated in that palpably electric air of excitement specific to entering a theater to watch a new Star Wars film. The atmosphere is thick with it. And while time has not been kind to The Phantom Menace, my siblings and I loved it. We returned to theaters 10 more times to watch it again and again.
I know I saw the movies on VHS when I was pretty young, but the first real memory I have of Star Wars is seeing the special edition of A New Hope in a theater with my dad in 1997. I thought the new CG garbage was cool, and I was aware of Star Wars enough to think it was awesome that Boba Fett made an appearance, but I don’t really know when I first learned about that stuff. Either way, I very clearly recall listening in during our showing as a guy leaned over to his young son early in the film and said, “That’s a Jawa,” as the kid gasped in amazement. I’m sure it was a touching display of the magic of introducing Star Wars to a new generation, but as someone who already knew what a Jawa was, I just remember the thrill of realizing that I knew more useless information about Star Wars than some other kid. Naturally, I’ve been trying to recapture that thrill ever since.
I guess this is short, but my earliest Star Wars memory is a handful of the classic Kenner action figures at our house, all of which had had their light sabers replaced with toothpicks. Apparently either my older siblings or I had played with them enough that the original retractable sabers had come out, and my mom had replaced them. Either that, or these were the rare “wood light saber” variant? I also remember throwing a Boba Fett figure into the fireplace to see if it would look cool once it melted. (It didn’t, really.)
Like Sam, my first Star Wars experience in a theater was the special edition of A New Hope in 1997. And while it was a delight, the only reason I had so much fun watching it was thanks to a childhood inundated with the toys, the VHS cassettes of the original trilogy, and in particular, hours spent playing the Battle At Sarlacc’s Pit board game from Parker Brothers. The big appeal of the game was a large cardboard fold-out version of Return Of The Jedi’s Sarlacc Pit (original version, not the special edition’s Audrey II version). The game basically consisted of collecting cards and trying to knock enemy figurines off the board and into the pit. It included little, barely recognizable versions of Han, Chewie, even Boba Fett, which was always a treat. And to say that little boys enjoyed playing a game that involved knocking people to their death into a giant mouth of a pit is a massive understatement. I relished it. It didn’t even matter that it was made of crappy materials—each and every time it came out, I was happy. Perhaps some day I’ll set it up again, and spend hours of fun knocking Blu-ray copies of the prequels into the Sarlacc’s hungry maw.
This is Star Wars, get-offa-my-lawn edition: I saw Star Wars in 1977 in the theater. That summer it was just the thing you did. You might go see Star Wars once a week. You might go see it and then get back in line immediately to see it again. The blockbuster movie had already been created a few years earlier with Jaws (which I was way too young and scared to see), but Star Wars was an explosion. It was a lifestyle. I bought the comic books and bubble-gum cards. I had the novelization so I could reread it when I couldn’t get someone to take me to the movies again. I remember everyone in the theater audibly gasping, being straight-up shocked by the giant ship at the beginning, and that my favorite moment in the entire movie was when Han Solo (my favorite character) returns in the Millennium Falcon to help Luke out in the Death Star battle finale. The whole theater went crazy. Like Raiders a few years later, it just finally seemed to be a movie made by somebody who loved movies as much as I did. Before Star Wars, I hadn’t realized that such a thing was possible.