For those of you who listen to Theme Park Thursday with Dillo’s’s Diz (and, if you’re not, what in the Wide World of Sports are you waiting for ???), you know that one of the common themes is that I’m very, very… OLD. Not necessary old in age (well, maybe a little) but old in being. I am in fact old enough to have seen all nine episodes of The Skywalker Saga in the movie theater. So, I thought I would quickly breakdown my experiences with each Episode of Star Wars according to that most trusted source – my memory.
Star Wars (1977): before it was Episode IV, my mom and aunt took me, just north of two and a half years old, to see this very popular space odyssey. To this day, we argue about which theater this happened in. They claim it was the Great Neck movie theater on Long Island. I say it was the defunct-for-decades Glen Oaks movie theater (now a Walgreens or something). My first memory (ever) will forever be the Star Destroyer entering from the top of the screen.
Obsessed l would become. I have faint memories of the Holiday Special (thought I dreamnt it for years) and Mark Hamill on The Muppet Show (kindergarten sandbox talk the next day). I cried following the re-release in 1979 because the movie had ended… and I lost the neat toy pamphlet they handed out. I also remember the Time magazine sitting on the pediatrician’s end table promoting the next episode in the saga.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980): perhaps a slight exaggeration of my childhood memory, I claim to have seen Episode V over 30 times in the theater; many of which immediately followed my kindergarten session at the Massapequa movie theater (Massapequa, a magical place). Not really sure if the number is this high. The Vader reveal was confusing for this 5 year old but Yoda was where it was at for me since I was a Muppets kid.
Oh, and I didn’t watch the carbonite scene until I was 41 years old.
Return of the Jedi (1983): I didn’t see this nearly as many times as ‘Empire’. Was it because I was busy with school? Little league? Was it because of the Ewoks? GI Joe, the World Wrestling Federation, oh and Disney were also waiting in the wings to consume my life. To this day, every time I watch Episode VI, I am reminded how much I enjoy the movie.
When Star Tours came to the Disney-MGM Studios at the end of 1989, it was as if well… a force awakened. I had forgotten how much of an impact Star Wars had made on me and shaped me now at age 15. The Special Editions also did not bother me as much as others when they were released in 1997. I get why people are angry, and Han stepping on Jabba’s tail is THE WORST, but I was just so happy to see the original trilogy on a big screen again.
The Phantom Menace (1999): The trailers were amazing, I bought the toys at midnight when they were released, I was ALL. IN… and then… about halfway through the podrace inside the AMC in Downtown Disney, I asked myself if I was enjoying the movie; and I don’t think I was. The final twenty minutes saves the entire movie in my opinion. After seeing it three times in the first five days, I would go on to defend Episode I for the next 15 months by labeling it as merely exposition – the first chapter of a big book. The folks who thought The Matrix was the style of movie this should have been were my greatest opponents. I kept saying if Episode II is great then it’s totally fine.
Attack of the Clones (2002): I saw this movie 5 times! FIVE TIMES! Why? Why did I put myself through this? Because I didn’t understand? What was not resonating? Was it an extension of my quarter life crisis? Was it that the movie was just really this bad? Why wasn’t that kid from Spider-Man that played the goblin’s son not cast as Anakin (lol ask me sometime how I feel about James Franco)? The only thing I tolerate is the Obi-Wan – Jango Fett sequence. Everything else… sheesh… why do the last forty minutes happen in eight minute cycles?
Revenge of the Sith (2005): Ironically enough, I saw what I thought would be the final Star Wars movie ever at midnight in the Great Neck movie theater that my mom and aunt claim was where I saw the original. Saw Episode III twice more after that. This is where I learned about my expectations. I had built up Anakin turning to the dark side in my head for nearly eight years – since the announcement of the prequels. And those expectations were just not met. The movie is fine. Ewan McGregor is the saving grace of the entire trilogy, but my expectations were most definitely not met.
The Force Awakens (2015): i am now claiming this is my second favorite Star Wars movie. I was awakened. My personal enjoyment of this movie is off the charts. The ‘feeling’ of VII erased the downers that were the prequels entirely. It was the first time I felt like I was watching a Star Wars movie since I was 8 years old. Loved, loved, loved the pace – probably similar to the pilot for LOST (which I also loved). I was surprised by those who feel this is a rehash of the original. I guess I don’t care since I love the theme of repeating history. It’s something we all struggle with.
The Last Jedi (2017): Much like it’s predecessor, I saw Episode VIII on the Thursday night before Opening Day. I left the theater having enjoyed the movie but feeling empty about… I know not what. Two years later, I find myself still enjoying the movie but wishing perhaps a decision was made about Leia’s fate in this movie and then move Luke’s destiny to the final chapter. His showdown with Kylo was so great in my eyes. About halfway thru the scene I was on the edge of my seat predicting Episode IX. Ten minutes later I fell back in my seat wondering what just happened. The choices were fine. The movie not going the way I thought was… fine. But I think there was too many cooks in the kitchen and they brought JJ Abrams in to get them out of the corner they were painted in.
The Rise of Skywalker (2019): All three films in this trilogy I saw at my local theater in Queens; the same that I saw Attack of the Clones the first time. I purposefully came in with less expectations than TLJ. I purposefully came in knowing the possibility existed that all the characters could be spun off on Disney +. And I’m really good at suspension of disbelief so I could forgive certain things for the sake of the story.
In this trilogy, I cared most about Kylo and Rey’s story (together and individually). In VII, I found myself all in on Rey’s story. In VIII, I became invested in Kylo because of Rey. Everything involving Luke, Rey, and Kylo makes TLJ a hit for me. To me, there was no alternative to go with a returning Emperor in this movie. He was the only antagonist that could place all of the other characters in the necessary peril. You could have gone all the way with Kylo as a big bad villain, but it may have been a challenge to get to his necessary redemption. Maybe that could have happened in the shadow of Palpatine’s legacy of Exegol, with his spirit looming over all the character choices. Maybe it would have been a more difficult road to take story wise. Not sure.
First time through the movie, I knew I would enjoy it more the second time. And I did. My small expectations were gone and I could enjoy the movie. That’s how it will go until we see all of these characters back again.
Because we will.
Because it’s never over.
Because there’s a lot of money.