Nerd Classics - Happy Birthday to the 800 lb. Gorilla

A month ago, I turned 30. Today is another 30th birthday. On May 25, 1977, Star Wars (just plain Star Wars, as it was known at the time, no Episode IV: A New Hope) was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. For a certain generation (older than mine), being in line at what was then Mann's Chinese Theatre on that day is a sort of Nerd Woodstock - "Dorkstock," if you will: a huge event, a cultural milestone, and far more people claim to have been there than actually were. Regardless of who was there and who wasn't, it is a fact that Star Wars went on to become a fairly popular movie, selling a few tickets and all but inventing the modern concept of movie merchandising. The Shrek the Third "collector's item" glasses at McDonald's? The unholy gobs of Spider-Man 3 toys and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End t-shirts and beach towels taking up every inch of floor space at your local Target store? All a direct result of Star Wars.

How popular was Star Wars? Put it this way: the poster pictured here (a true collector's item, by the way, highly sought after and prized by Star Wars nuts) was issued to theaters that were still showing the movie on May 25, 1978. Its first run lasted an entire year in some places. That's just stunning. Admittedly, in the era of cable TV and home video, things are different, but still...can you imagine Titanic or even the Lord of the Rings movies running for a year? Can you imagine what those theaters' prints of the movie must have looked like after a year? Yeesh.

Obviously, I wasn't old enough to see it in its first run, even as long as it was. But in 1982, the original was re-released in anticipation of the following year's Return of the Jedi. My Dad took me and my best friend Jonathan to see it. It's my earliest clear memory of going to the movies, and it's fair to say that it pretty much set the tone for all of my favorite bits of pop culture. For many years, I watched the entire trilogy on video at least once a month, if not more. In the mid-'90s, Lucas released a re-mastered box set of all three movies. When I bought it and brought it home, my Mom was confused about why I was wasting my money. I already had all three movies on video, why would I need to buy a new set? Well, first off, my copies of Empire and Jedi had been taped off of HBO in 1985, and the first three minutes of Jedi had been cut off. So the video quality was much higher, which was important. The boxes had a little "THX" logo on 'em and everything. I tried to explain, but I don't think she understood. I never told her that a year later, working at Ballbuster Video, I discovered that there was a letterboxed set, and bought that one, too. At least I got an employee discount on that one...

I bought yet another trilogy box set a couple of years later when the "Special Editions" were released on VHS (after seeing all three movies in the theater at least twice), and still another when they were released on DVD. That makes...five...complete sets of the Star Wars trilogy I've owned. My nerdiness doesn't usually embarrass me, but Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, that's a lot of dough I've forked over to George Lucas over the years. I guess I should consider myself fortunate that I never got into laserdisc before the format died, or that would be a sixth. I guess it is six if you include the complete set of prequel trilogy DVDs. Add to that the books (mercifully, only a very few of the hundreds that have been published), the toys (some of which are currently proudly on display in the bedroom that I, a grown-up 30-year-old man, share with my fiancee), the comics (there are no words for how excited I was when I discovered all six issues of the original Marvel Comics movie adaptation in the quarter bin at my favorite comic book store in Ft. Collins one snowy afternoon), the role-playing games (four different editions to date and, God help me, eagerly anticipating the forthcoming fifth), the t-shirts, and that's a good, healthy crop of wallet lettuce I've spent on Star Wars over the years, and I'm not sure but I think I may at one point have agreed to give George Lucas my first-born son...

So what's the appeal? Why am I not just not alone but one of hundreds, thousands of fervent Star Wars fans out there? Why does this one movie inspire such devotion and love to the point that my own fandom is, in fact, pretty darn tame by comparison? Hell, I don't know. I could go on at great length about the connection between Luke Skywalker and Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces and the primal power of myth (and truly, the only other piece of modern popular fiction I can think of that is also a nearly-perfect distillation of Campbell's ideas is the also-phenomenally-popular Harry Potter series and to a lesser degree, The Lord of the Rings), but you probably don't care. The truth is, I don't really know why Star Wars has endured and only very briefly flagged in popularity over the last 30 years.

It will have to suffice to say that Star Wars has meant a lot to me, that, much like I said of The Prydain Chronicles in my previous post, it has been cinematic comfort food full of old friends, that it never fails to thrill me when Luke turns off his targeting computer and trusts to the Force to destroy the Death Star or when Darth Vader toys with Luke during their duel in Cloud City, leading up to the ultimate "Who's your Daddy?" taunt, that I think it's kinda cool in an exceptionally nerdy way that I can listen to a Star Wars soundtrack album and identify precisely what would be happening on-screen from just a few seconds' worth of music, that working "That's no moon, that's a space station!" into everyday conversation makes me happy, that naming a real child "Anakin" is just cruel, naming a child "Luke" is played-out, but that maybe naming a child "Chewbacca" could work, that despite the shittiness of Jake Lloyd and Jar-Jar Binks and the incredible feat of making Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman look like terrible actors, I absolutely love Star Wars and I always will.

And yes, goddamnit, Han shot first...but does it really matter all that much?