Like so many others, I have a real soft spot for the first Star Wars trilogy. I have some weirdly vivid memories of my first encounter with this immensely popular film universe at around the age of eight or nine.
I remember watching a neighbour play a video game which required you to throttle an Imperial officer in character as Darth Vader, and having a reaction of equal parts horror and fascination. I also remember spotting the attractive VHS cover of A New Hope, with its promise of adventure and romance and outer space and cool costumes, on one of our weekly trips to the video shop down the road. Dad was a bit dismissive of the film, I’m pretty sure he said it was overrated, but his usually treasured opinion didn’t matter to me this time. I was so excited to get home and watch it.
Once my sister and I finished the first film we picked our preferred suitor of Leia (hers was Luke, mine Han) and went back to rent the other two films as soon as we could. Over the weekend we finished the trilogy, and once I was done gloating at my sister about having been right I sought out anything else related to the films I was now slightly obsessed with. I ordered a book of glossy images from Return of the Jedi from the school book club, and borrowed any original stories I could find at the library. I didn’t actually read the books but that was beside the point, I was glad that there was more beyond the films for me to devour. The same principle applied to the prequels when they came out a few years later – I don’t think I enjoyed them all that much but I bought the stickers and posters and collectible pins anyway. My love of Star Wars wasn’t just about the films, it was about the mythology, the humour, Harrison Ford’s smirk, outer space, the design of the logo, the sound of lightsabers – I think it was the first time I realised that full immersion in a cultural object could be deeply gratifying.
This potent reserve of nostalgia for the first few films that most audience member have is exactly what the makers are banking on. At first I thought that was a cop out, that it would have been nice to see a more complex plot for The Force Awakens, a less referential and similarly plotted film. But then I rewatched A New Hope, and saw the new film a second time, and and I realised that it’s supposed to be simple – its a story about good vs. evil ad finding a place in the world and being in tune with the universe. And I embraced how satisfying the new film is, how exciting and funny and well cast. So, I’m a happy fan. And I’m more aware of the debt I owe to my early experiences with Star Wars in shaping my love of film, and my understanding that escapism and nostalgia are an absolutely essential part of the cinema experience.