I just recently turned 40 and I’ve grown up with Star Wars. I am just old enough to have experienced most of it first hand and I began to think about how differently each generation will see and understand Star Wars as a whole. To someone of my generation, the reveal of Darth Vader being Luke’s father was a surprise. To younger fans, it’s always been common knowledge. Different generations have been and will continue to be introduced to Star Wars in different ways.
My dad was a fan and had made a Darth Vader costume for Halloween the year Star Wars came out, possibly the one before based on trailers and promo material. I remember a story he told me years later where he changed into his costume to show my aunt and cousin. My dad, who is 6’ 1”, now wearing boots with a lift and helmet making him about 7 feet tall, comes out of the bedroom just as my 2 year old cousin comes running around the corner and bumps into him. My cousin was terrified and my dad had to show him that it was just a costume. Unfortunately there are no pictures of my dad dressed in the costume. His German Shepard destroyed the helmet but to this day, I still have the cape he made. My dad has seen all the movies but nothing beyond that like the animated Clone Wars or Rebels shows, any of the books or comics.
I was born in 1976, so I was 1 year old when Star Wars: A New Hope came out (although at that point it was just “Star Wars”) and I had the toys for as long as I can remember. So Star Wars has always been present in my life although the details about certain things are hazy. For example, I don’t recall seeing A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back in the theaters. A New Hope was re-released several times after the initial run, which in itself lasted about a year so it’s possible I had but was very young. I probably saw The Empire Strikes Back as I would have been 4 years old at the time. I do remember being familiar with everything that happened though as I had both Star Wars and Empire on 33 LP record (and still have them today). I had much of the dialogue memorized… though not always correct! My dad busted up laughing because I insisted that Yoda had told Luke “You are webless”.
I was older when Return of the Jedi came out so the memories are a little clearer. I remember my cousin showing me a magazine with a few promo pictures in it months before the movie was out. There was no internet. Anything “news” was through magazines or TV. I remember there was a picture of Jabba, the Rancor with the bone lodged in his mouth, and the imperial shuttle launching from the Star Destroyer. As a kid and with no context to go from I thought the bone in the Rancor’s mouth was one long tooth and I was surprised to see that the imperial shuttle had a head-like cockpit in front as the picture in the magazine only showed it from behind.
Other things I remember feeling… Luke was bad ass, Han getting unfrozen from carbonite was creepy, Yoda dying was sad, and wondering who this other Skywalker was, only to be revealed in the next scene. I was at the right age for the Ewoks and I loved em. Still love em to this day. My favorite scenes were on Endor. My grandparents had a cabin in the woods that we’d often stay at on weekends in the summer, so to me that was my Endor. I thought the Emperor was a stupid villain. An old guy in a robe? Come on. And he didn’t even have a lightsaber. The scene with him shocking Luke was really intense and seemed to go on forever. I hated the fact that Vader killed the Emperor. Luke was supposed to be the hero and kill the main villain! It’s funny how you perceive things differently as an adult. I get it now and it makes for a better story but as a kid, your hero not defeating the main villain just felt… wrong. Then we had Vader’s reveal. That creepy version of the Imperial March playing as Vader’s helmet was removed. What are we going to see? Whoah, he’s seriously messed up! He’s not so scary as an old guy with asthma. I remember seeing Jedi twice in the theater. Once (or maybe twice) on its first release and then about a year later, when it was rereleased for a short time.
After Jedi, Star Wars entered semi-dormancy. We have two made for TV Ewoks movies and two cartoons in Droids and Ewoks. I ate them all up. After those ran their course Star Wars entered “The Dark Times” (see Matt White’s write up for more details). Most people assumed Star Wars was over. The trilogy was complete and had an ending. It wasn’t until the 90’s when Star Wars made a resurgence with books, comics, and toys. I dived back into all of it. Then the Special Editions arrived.
Finally a chance to see Star Wars on the big screen again! My friends and I made sure to be in line for the first showing for each film. For Jedi, they handed out exclusively carded Jedi Luke figures. I still ave mine to this day. Not worth much but memories. Now for generations younger than me, they may know nothing BUT these versions of the films. The Special Editions are a mixed bag for me. Some of the changes are great, others…. Not so much. In A New Hope, Greedo shooting first was horrible. Jabba looked awful and while interesting from a historical reinserted “cut scene” perspective, wasn’t needed as it almost repeated the same dialogue as the Greedo scene. The battle of Yavin blew me away. Awesome stuff. Empire’s changes were mostly positive such as the Cloud City additions. For Jedi, I hated the new party scene at Jabba’s palace. To this day I will fast forward rather than watch that abomination of a scene.
Little did we know that the Special Editions were just a precursor to the prequel trilogy. There was so much excitement for The Phantom Menace. The internet was a thing now too, so you could get news easier. I ate up everything I could. Sneak Preview action figures, magazine articles, rumors, and more. This was the first Star Wars film in 16 years! The anticipation was crazy. I think the action figures came out before the film and I bought them all. I saw the film opening day with a bunch of friends and when we left, were dying at the fact it would be another 3 years till the next one. “That’s too long!” we said. The prequels, and The Phantom Menace in particular get a lot of hate. Whatever a person’s reasons for disliking it, none of my friends and I cared. The CGI, which was a fairly new tool in filmmaking looked better than anything seen to that point and in my opinion still holds up. Getting to see Jedi in their prime was awesome and the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul was amazing. Yeah, I was almost wincing every time Jar Jar Binks was onscreen but the excitement of seeing new SW and the positives overshadowed the bad. I think I saw The Phantom Menace about 7-9 times in theater, more than any other SW film.
I followed Attack of the Clones as it was being made as well. However, my wedding was the same weekend and my wife and I didn’t get to see it till after our honeymoon. We honeymooned in Ireland and in our travels came upon a theater playing it. We went in and this was the smallest theater we’d ever seen. It was only a step above setting up folding chairs in a small auditorium. The movie starts and it was out of focus. On top of that the whole image was shuddering all over the place. Nope! This is not how we’re going to see a new Star Wars film. So we left right after the opening scene.
In between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, there was a series of animated Clone Wars shorts that took place between the films and ended right up at where Revenge of the Sith begins. Often referred to as “the Clone Wars Genndy series” after the director of the show, Genndy Tartakovsky, it contained the first appearance of Assajj Ventress and General Grievous. Grievous was so cool and such an awesome villain in that series. This series hasn’t really been recognized for some time and finding the DVDs are difficult. I didn’t care for the style of animation personally, but they were pretty cool. I’d suggest checking them out if you get a chance. Especially if you’re a Grievous fan.
For Revenge of the Sith, we attended a midnight screening. It was amazing from start to finish. I was however disappointed that Grievous was nowhere near as cool as in that first animated Clone Wars series. Even though we knew Anakin would turn to the dark side, the tension was enough that in my mind, I kept hoping he’d make the right choice.
After the prequel trilogy was completed, we all thought this was pretty much the end of Star Wars. George Lucas finally finished the Skywalker story. Sure there were still books and comics and merchandise to go along with it all, but the Skywalker story was over. But then we got The Clone Wars animated series, beginning with the theatrical released first story arc. This was the first film I did not go to see. As with the other Clone Wars series, I didn’t care for the style of animation and had the impression it was a “kids movie”. It wasn’t until the first season of The Clone Wars came to DVD that I watched any of it. I was immediately hooked. I liked many of the new characters introduced in the series, especially Ashoka who I thought I wouldn’t like yet did right from the start.
Now with the ongoing Rebels animated series and The Force Awakens behind us and even more Star Wars movies ahead, there’s sure to be other generations who will experience it all in their own order. They will have different favorite characters and moments. I’m thankful that I got to experience it all from the start.