When I bought my current house a few years ago, I ended up, after a long time of envy & longing, with a spare room big enough to claim as an office- in reality, a man cave. Plans were drawn & redrawn for how this room would be furnished, with a particular emphasis on the artwork. I had a very fixed vision in my head of creating my Wall of Heroes, a series of canvas pictorial representations of some of the key cultural & sporting icons who had shaped me up to this point: at last count, and in no particular order of importance, this has grown to accommodate the cream of the crop as far as my childhood & adulthood idols go: Bowie (Aladdin Sane-era), Angus Young, Hooky & Barney, the Roses, Morrissey (representing the entire Smiths as the Salford Lads Club picture was out of stock at the time), George Best, and Our Lord The Blessed Henrik. However, there is only one canvas that has the honour of a whole wall to itself, standing out as it does as the first and longest-standing cultural game-changer in my life: Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and Han, blaster pointed over my shoulder as if to forewarn anyone thinking of causing me grief to think again. Star Wars, 38 years and counting as my first movie love.
As an 8-year-old kid back in 1977, I only really knew about this mysterious, glamorous space adventure that was coming to our shores from the occasional newspaper & TV reports as it swept across America, leaving a horde of excited kids & exasperated, skint parents in its wake. It was about 6 months between the US & UK releases back then, with no pirated home videos yet available to the masses, so everything I learned about the movie came from TV, papers, comics, Freemans catalogues, wherever I could get a wee bit info here and there. I knew who the bad guy was, some scary dude with a big head called Darth Vader, and had a sketched outline in my head of the good guys, as well as a strange little tingling sensation as I got to see pictures of the goddess-like Princess Leia.
I finally got to see the film in early 1978, a few weeks after it came out in the UK. My mum took me as a post-Christmas treat, which had formed part of my Christmas present: as a single parent family, going to the cinema was a big deal for us, as it involved a day trip into Edinburgh & expense we couldn’t normally afford. However my mum had pulled the stops out to make sure we could go & have our tea out afterwards, which again was unusual & the mark of a truly special occasion. On the day, we went in with the intention of seeing the 2pm show, but my heart sank when we arrived at the cinema (the ABC on Lothian Road) to find a queue halfway round the block and attendants telling the people towards the back they had no chance of making the 2pm. My mum went inside, emerging with a bag of sweets and a movie programme (yes, they used to have programmes!) and we made our way to the back of the queue, safe in the knowledge we were likely there for at least 2 hours, in freezing cold January rain, waiting on the 4pm showing.
We made it in for 4pm, just, and the rest is a blur: truth be told, I missed most of the subtle nuances that I’d come to obsess & debate over as an adult, just simply blown away by the scale & the noise & the sheer pantomime of it all. And, of course, by Leia. I treasured the programme for years after; its still in a box somewhere in my mums attic, along with the only two figures my mum could afford to buy me for my birthday that year, Luke & Vader, who hurriedly joined my improvised Rebel Force consisting of several Action Men, a model tank & my childhood teddy bear who ably stood in for Chewbacca as we fought to save the galaxy in my back garden all summer in 1978. Home video was non-existent then, and TV only showed movies 2-3 years after they left cinemas, but I remember the ITV premiere of Episode IV (as even then, us cool kids knew to call it) was only a few weeks before the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was due in cinemas. To say it whet the appetite was an understatement: by the time Empire was due, I was bouncing off walls with excitement.
Empire came out in May 1980, and I remember I was due to see it the week it came out but had blown the chance of that after being grounded for sneaking through to Glasgow with my pal to go to the Scottish Cup Final the week before: he’d told his mum & dad he was coming to mine to watch the game, I’d done likewise to my mum, while in reality we’d jumped on the supporters bus & travelled to the game, which Celtic won 1-0 over our then-rivals. All would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the pesky riot which broke out at the final whistle….anyway, this meant that I didn’t get to see Empire until the end of the following month, my birthday. By that time I’d read a few of the comics & novelisations & regarded myself as something of an expert in the ways of the Force. Even then, I was unprepared for the impact of Empire: it blew me away, not this time just down to the bombast, this time it was the story. The Han/Leia romance, Yoda & Luke, Han in carbonite…and Vader. Malevolent, terrifying, the baddest bad guy I’d ever seen on screen at that point. How the actual fuck could he be Luke’s dad??? My first philosophical discussions with myself were all based around this simple fact. I remember flying out to Germany the week I saw it, going to a football tournament with 40 kids, my first time away on my own, and all I could talk about with any enthusiasm or coherence was Empire. No wonder nobody wanted to sit beside me on the plane coming back.
Christmas 1980 was the first in the long-running “Have I Got The Millennium Falcon This Year?” saga. I knew in my heart of hearts my mum couldn’t afford it given she’d worked two jobs to send me on the football holiday, and I never asked for it either, but I secretly hoped some benevolent soul would take pity and give it to me. I’d have given literally anything for that. As I got older, and into the teenage years where you’d potentially slash someone for suggesting you’d like a toy for your Christmas, I still held onto the forlorn hope that I’d find it under the tree one year. As I moved out of my teens, into my early 20’s & married, I still dropped the subtle hints which, to this day and even after two fantastic kids who sadly like their mother wouldn’t recognise a subtle hint if it hit them between the eyes, it’s still an unrequited love. I could have afforded many times to buy it myself, either in toy or Lego form, but it just wouldn’t be the same. One day, one day…
By 1983, I was less obsessive about Star Wars, mainly as music and, latterly, girls had started to take up more of my time & interest alongside football. I wasn’t that bothered about Return Of The Jedi at the time, although yet again I was taken to see it by my mum at the end of June as a birthday treat and thoroughly enjoyed my day. It was a satisfying way to package up the trilogy in my mind, and I enjoyed the movie a lot, even with the Ewoks. I’d gotten past the stage by then of overtly courting & promoting the Star Wars universe as I’d calculated that (a) this would make me somewhat less attractive to girls, which I was already paranoid about & (b) more of a geek than I already appeared due to my glasses, obsessive musical interest & overall rubbishness in communicating with girls (see Point A). I got ready at that point to put Star Wars away & move on with the rest of my life…
I never really did though. Put the blame on VCR, as Buggles once said. By the time the movies came out on home video (none of your Lucas Special edition pish in those days, just released into the wild as nature intended), I had my own VHS player in my bedroom (my mum worked for Mitsubishi by now & got massive staff discounts on hardware) and the first three videos I bought from my first wages working in a bingo hall in Broxburn were the Star Wars trilogy. That’s when obsession kicked in. I only owned those three films, so I watched them relentlessly, to the point I could pretty much recite them verbatim on demand. These were my Bedroom Years, awkward teenager listening to The Smiths & watching sci-fi films is such a cliché, but that was how I spent my pre-girlfriend days then. As I got slightly older, and involved with members of the opposite sex, I weaned myself off the films slightly, but they were always there, throughout the 80’s and early 90’s as girlfriends came & went & then eventually became a wife who, unbelievably, liked to do other things outside watch Star Wars. Watching the movies became almost furtive, something done late at night or when Mrs T was out, and for a while I even flirted with Star Trek (TNG only!) but I couldn’t let those movies go. I never expected to see another one: the Trilogy was perfect as it was.
1999. I’d heard rumours of the prequels, then the title, The Phantom Menace, then the casting announcements, then the sickening realisation that the US would see it two months before the UK. Easily sorted: the US premiere coincided (kinda) with my 30th birthday: how about we take a holiday on the east coast to celebrate my big birthday? Don’t worry about the itinerary, I’ll sort that out…and so it was myself & Mrs T headed to New York for the first time, the first ‘big’ holiday we’d allowed ourselves since getting married, and in my mind only, totally contrived as an excuse to see Star Wars before my pals. I even booked a hotel in close proximity to the Ziegfeld Theater to ensure I could see it in as iconic a venue as possible, rather than the Times Square multiplexes. After a fantastic couple of days in NYC, interrupted bizarrely by an incident in the hotel involving a lesbian stalker, I finally sat down, excited like a stupid kid, to watch the movie I’d waited 16 years for…and it was pish. Total, unadulterated pish. To this day, I have no kind words or redeeming thoughts about the film. I’d flown the Atlantic, spent thousands manufacturing an excuse to be there, endured Macys & Saks & Bloomingdales…utter pish. Back to home, and to the trilogy.
I had a strange little interlude in 2001 when, through a friend at work, I ended up at an advance preview of the Star Wars exhibition that opened in Edinburgh that year, including a brief meeting with C3P0 himself, Anthony Daniels, who was opening the exhibition. From memory, he was, like his character, a bit of a dick. I also ended up being excruciatingly interviewed for BBC Scotland news that day, which thankfully was only broadcast once given how much of a total geekish prick I sounded on the day.
By 2002, I’d seen TPM again (and still hated it) but out of loyalty I went along to see Attack Of The Clones, nowhere more exotic this time than the Odeon Cinema on South Clerk Street in Edinburgh, taking a day off work to see it on the first day of release. It was marginally better than the first in the new series, but still pretty pants. The only redeeming feature for the geek in me was, of course, Yoda-With-Lightsaber, which thoroughly delighted me in a way it probably shouldn’t have. By this time, being internet-savvy in relative terms, I was aware of the general fanboy chatter around the whole saga & was growing to resent the name Rick McCallum in ways hitherto reserved for Graeme Souness. But hey, it’s a trilogy I reasoned, and being a prequel series I knew exactly where the story was going to end up. There was still fun to be had in getting there.
I went to see Revenge of the Sith, the then-final Star Wars movie, on the day of release in May 2005, coincidentally a couple of days before I flew out to New York again, this time for a U2 gig & subsequent Black Sunday watching Celtic collapse at the final hurdle at Fir Park, which I’ve previously documented in another blog. By this time I was a responsible grown-up, with a 4 year-old kid & a big mortgage & an important job pushing paper from one side of a desk to another. ROTS at least tried to take me back to the joy I’d felt watching the original trilogy: the story strands, although by this time much more convoluted than they needed to be, at least started to pull together, and the inevitability of Anakin’s descent into Vader, and the sheer horror that came with it, was quite moving. As a standalone movie its not great at all, but as a lead-in to the original trilogy it works well in setting the scene for what was to follow, although it actually preceded it by decades…again, a satisfying end to the series, something to share with the kids as they got older and started to understand what dad liked to watch when mum wasn’t watching Eastenders. I was happy at that point to say goodbye to it all again, and gently descend into middle age with the occasional rewatch & fond memories.
However…as I write this, over ten years after ROTS was released, and a week before The Force Awakens comes out, I’m back to being an unreconstructed fanboy. I’ve spent the last year voraciously reading & watching any snippet that has crossed my Twitter timeline on the movie, getting a lump in my throat at “Chewie, we’re home!” & getting involved with endless debates with similarly-geekish friends & acquaintances. And not a single fuck was given. I’ll be there next Thursday morning at the IMAX in Edinburgh, grinning like a Gary Mackay-Steven, hoping for the same kind of experience I had in 1977 but, even if it ends up like 1999, I’ll still be happy I’ve had this thing in my life all these years.
Oh, by the way…V…IV…VI…III…II…I. And I’ll be more than happy if VII comes in around the middle.