I’ll be counting down the days until I see The Force Awakens with a series of remembrances and observations about the franchise. To start things off, we have the story of a stupid little boy who didn’t know what he was missing.
As far as raising a young geek went, my dad had been doing things right. He made sure Godzilla and Star Trek were in regular rotation on the TV (and this back when you had to scour TV Guide and hope someone was showing them). He’d bring comic books home from the grocery store (because you got comics from spinning metal racks in those days). I had G.I. Joes and dinosaurs and spaceships for Christmas. I was well on my way.
But for some reason, my first reaction to a TV commercial for some movie called Star Wars was, “Well that looks stupid.”
Now back then, movie marketing was not the sophisticated engine it is now. Trailers and TV ads were mostly, “There is a movie coming out. Here are some scenes from that movie. Here is when it comes out. Please go see it.” You didn’t have teasers and teasers for teasers and trailer debuts. They were what they really essentially are: commercials. And this one I saw for Star Wars was pretty uninspiring. I remember it showing the scene of Luke getting pulled under by the trash monster and thinking it looked cheap. I recall seeing the shot of Threepio rising from the oil bath and thinking the oil streaming off of him was actually the wires holding him up. It didn’t have any of John Williams’ recognizable music. And not many special effects shots. So, in my mind, it all added up to one giant pass.
To my dad’s credit though, he was persistent. He was working at the bowling lanes at the Naval Training Center here in Orlando at the time, and he kept talking about how all the sailors would come in talking about Star Wars. It was amazing. Fantastic. The best thing ever. Which didn’t mesh at all with what I’d seen on TV. But I could tell my dad was excited about it — I suspect most of the geek things he “grudgingly” took me to were things he actually enjoyed having the excuse of an adolescent son to go to — and so we bundled the family up in our station wagon and headed to the drive-in.
Yes, the drive-in. It was part economics (it was cheaper to pay for one car than for four people) and part practicality (if my sister or I fell asleep, no harm done). So we parked the car, put the tinny little speaker in the window, and waited for dusk.
And then Star Wars happened in the sky.
At least that’s what it looked like. The darkness of the screen merged with the darkness of the sky around it, and it looked for all the world to my eight-year old eyes like those opening titles were scrolling off the screen into the air. And then that seemingly-endless Star Destroyer soared overhead, and that was that. No more geek-in-the-making. I was firmly on the path.
The thing is, what that TV spot couldn’t capture, and what no two-minute trailer could ever hope to convey, was the sheer sense of fun that emanated from every frame of Star Wars. You had to watch the whole thing unfold before you to get it. Sure, now I can watch any scene from it and get that feeling again, but that’s only because it’s become so ingrained in me, it’s a matter of instant recall. Back then, trying to describe that feeling to someone who hadn’t seen it was like describing a skyscraper to caveman. You could get the details right, but the awe just wasn’t there. You had to see it for yourself. And as more than just snippets on a TV screen.
I’d have missed all of that if I’d let that first grainy impression stand. And so I owe pretty much the last forty years of my geek life to my dad’s persistence. And to that night sky, and the boyhood dreams that seemed to be taking place in it.