Today marks 45 years since Star Wars debuted. While I didn’t see the movie opening day in 1977, by the time I did, I was hopelessly immersed in a galaxy far, far away. Not only that, but it opened up the broader world of science fiction for me, a world I’ve loved and appreciated these past decades.
I got to thinking about Star Wars and what it meant throughout the years so I did a fun little exercise: how did I perceive Star Wars every five years for the past forty-five years.
Star Wars at 5 Years (1982)
This was a year from Return of the Jedi—was the title already announced in 1982 as Revenge of the Jedi? This was the spring of my 7th grade year. I had many, many Star Wars toys, the bulk being from the Empire Strikes Back collection. Legos were still a thing as was other science fiction properties, especially Star Trek. I was gearing up for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan debuting in June 1982. Star Wars was always on the radar but with the last movie a year out, it was probably not front and center.
Still, I was and remain a charter member of the Star Wars Generation. It changed me and helped to shape the things I enjoy watching and reading and listening to.
Star Wars at 10 (1987)
I was a senior in high school thirty-five (!) years ago this month. I was heading up to The University of Texas at Austin in August. Music, including high school band, often took center stage of my life, so much so that I tried out for and joined the Longhorn Band.
I actually have no conscious memory of Star Wars from May 1987. The Marvel Comics run had been cancelled in 1986. I still own most of that run, but can’t barely remember any of the storylines. An interesting sidenote to 1983, the year Jedi was released. I was all in on seeing the movie—even paying extra to see it the day before its premiere—and saw it multiple times throughout the summer. But I never bought any Jedi toys. I was moving on from eighth grade to high school. Things were changing for me, just like they were in May 1987. Star Wars, for all intents and purposes, was done. It was wonderful and great and a vital part of my formative years, but that was in the past.
Star Wars at 15 (1992)
Star Wars was back…at least in print. May 1992 saw the publication of Dark Force Rising, the middle book of a new trilogy by Timothy Zahn. 1991’s Heir to the Empire reignited my love of Star Wars, bringing back wondering memories of the franchise and that time of my life. I started talking about Star Wars with college friends and reminiscing.
But, after I’d read Dark Force Rising, that was about it. Batman Returns was a month away and I was eagerly anticipating it. Interestingly, my other childhood favorite thing—KISS—had released their new album, Revenge, in May 1992 and I was spinning that CD constantly.
Star Wars at 20 (1997)
Star Wars was back…on the big screen. I owned the movies on VHS (still have them) but hadn’t seen them on a theater screen since the early 80s. Now, new special effects were being added to all three movies with the biggest expectation being the Han Solo-meets-Jabba scenes in Mos Eisley. This was awesome stuff. And I really wanted the Biggs/Luke scenes from early in the film to be in there as well. Alas, it wasn’t, and now Han shot second?
But here’s the thing: I loved seeing the old movies again, relishing in my past life, and shrugged off the weird nesses. I knew the movies backward and forward so instantly knew when changes had been made. And I realized during these viewings that this franchise, especially the first two movies, were time capsules. If I let myself just sit and watch, I could be transported back to my younger self. It was magical.
Star Wars at 25 (2002)
Yay, a new movie—Attack of the Clones—in the Prequel trilogy. Surely it was going to be better than The Phantom Menace, right? I mean, there’s Anakin as a teenager. Obi-Wan as a badass Jedi. Jango Fett. Samuel L. Jackson and his purple lightsaber. And Yoda as CGI?
Well, AOTC had its moments, but was it better than Phantom Menace? Not really. Looking back to 1999, it is difficult to overstate how excited I was about a new Star Wars movie. That first trailer was so good, but it didn’t live up to expectations. Could it have? Probably not, but at least we were getting new Star Wars movies, right?
I did not follow through and watch the animated series however. Not sure why. I had long since stopped trying to keep up with the novels as well. I read the big ones—especially the novelizations of the movies because they went into additional detail and made for a better story—but that was about it. Star Wars was still important, but it had become one of many things I loved.
Star Wars at 30 (2007)
Honestly, when I think of this year, no Star Wars thing pops into my mind. 2005’s Revenge of the Sith was the best of the Prequel movies. This movie’s novelization was itself the middle book of a little trilogy and I listened to all of them. A nice tidy little story, but then I didn’t read another Star Wars book until 2013’s Scoundrels.
I had finally started reading the Harry Potter books, and in May 2007, I was reading all six then-existing books leading up to the publication of the seventh book in July. Star Wars just wasn’t on my pop culture radar. It was Pixar movies (Ratatouille was in 2007) and things my young son enjoyed.
Star Wars at 35 (2012)
More of the same, to be honest. I’d pull out the soundtracks from time to time and give them a listen. The novels of the Extended Universe were still being published at a rapid rate and I was reading none of them.
I can’t remember exactly when I showed Star Wars to my son. Maybe it was in 2012. But in May 2012, The Avengers had been out a month and I was enjoying the new Marvel cinematic universe. And there was a new Batman movie coming out in July. Star Wars was just one of the things I enjoyed, and mostly not on a day-to-day basis.
Star Wars at 40 (2017)
In May 2017, we were seven months away from the next movie in the sequel series, The Last Jedi, a movie I enjoyed immensely. The trailer had dropped in April and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker was back (and speaking!). We were about six months after Rogue One, one of the four most original Star Wars movies made to date. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the brand-new Marvel movie and Wonder Woman would debut in June.
Had Star Wars been the only major franchise to vie for my attention, it would have earned more attention. But it was just one of many. Perhaps that was one of its lasting legacies.
Star Wars at 45 (2022)
Forty-five years ago today, it started. Ironically, just this past weekend, Colin Cantwell, the guy who designed the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and the Death Star passed away. We’re getting a hotly anticipated new TV show, Obi-Wan Kenobi, something I’m really looking forward to, not the least of which being a new theme by John Williams.
Television seems to be the place where Star Wars shines nowadays. You have the chance to see new characters, allow them to grow, and not always show the vast galaxy only from the perspective of a single family. I’m happy to follow along with every new Star Wars TV show, watching all the live-action ones (still haven’t started any of the animated series). And I might pick up a book or two along the way. But, like in the heyday of the Extended Universe, I just can’t keep up. It’s a good thing (?) that there is so much because you can drop in here and there, picking up things that interest you and letting other things rest. I know that there are folks out there who memorize every little detail like I did back in the day, but it’s so much more difficult.
Star Wars is special. It’s one of the pop culture cornerstones of my life. It’s a joke in my family that I can’t remember to call a plumber but can still (!) remember random facts from the first movie (like the trash compactor number). Star Wars just is. And it always will be. My interest may ebb and flow, but it never disappears. It’s a part of me, just like it’s probably a part of you, too.
So let’s celebrate Star Wars for what it *is* and not necessarily what you want it to be. It is a multimedia franchise that started forty-five years ago today. It was and remains a story about a boy, a girl, a pair of robots, an old man, a scoundrel and his best friend, and an evil dark lord who welds a mysterious force and a laser sword. It is good vs. evil, the call to adventure, the hero’s journey with a sublimely wonderful soundtrack, and the willingness to stand up to the bad guys, even when all hope is lost. Because one person can make a difference, be it a pilot in an x-wing who can guide a proton torpedo through a 2-meter-wide exhaust port or a film director who has an idea about a movie he’d like to make to recapture the spirit of the movies he himself loved as a younger boy.
It’s that spirit that is at the essence of Star Wars. May that spirit always have a spark of creativity and keep the story going, yet always remembering where it started: in movie theaters forty-five years ago today.