A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far Far Away…
I don’t think any other phrase has given me quite so many goosebumps in my life, or made my eyes widen with excitement. Yes. I’m talking about the venerable scrawling opening text to Star Wars, something of which I’ve always been really fond of. I can’t explain what it was that first got me sucked in to the world of Star Wars as a young kid growing up in my Grandma’s place in the heart of the Inner West’s Italian community, Haberfield.
Maybe because it presented a world of amazement to my 8-year-old eyes and ears; or more correctly, an entire spangled-galaxy full of triangular Star Destroyers, X-Wings, and an insane plethora of alien characters that inhabited this galaxy. Whereas the reality for me was that I lived in my Grandma’s house and shared her cavernous, ornate-wood filled bedroom, as unfortunately my bunk bed wouldn’t fit anywhere else.
It was the chance of escape from this rather banal world of seemingly ancient furniture from another time, old technology where nothing ever seemed to work, and not having many friends as I was innately embarrassed of anyone knowing I lived in my Grandma’s house, let alone her in her bedroom. Maybe living in this place that was so steeped in the past, forever and irreversibly so, that initially bent my interests toward something like Star Wars. Some kids take to sports with alacrity and gusto. Others might be inherently academic, and able to throw themselves at an early age into bookish pursuits. I remember playing X-Wings V Tie Fighters at school. I was somewhere in the middle, inhabiting a small hazy and foggy land where yes, I loved to read, but nothing academic.
Like a lot of people, I still recall the first time I watched Star Wars. I’m pretty sure it was in my parent’s cramped and warm bedroom which was made all the more so by my mum’s choice pine and wicker bedroom furniture from the1980’s. It was a Summery weekend night, and the whole extended family was over for dinner. I remember my older, slightly bully-ish yet at other times congenial cousin watching with me, all decked out in his awe-inspiring Reebok Pumps. This whole time of the early 90’s when I was growing up was an era of things being past their use. Of obsolescence and malaise. I felt like I was growing up in a place where capital-M Modernity had no place.
I was always frequenting my cousin’s home, a stately Uber-Modern abode at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet, serene suburb nearby.
This home was the picture of the ‘new’, innovative for the time, and yes slightly futuristic for my young fresh eyes. They had touch sensitive light switches, for God’s sake. Skylights in the ceiling. Everything was a brilliantly stark white. Cable tv was in every bedroom and in the lounge room, which shockingly shared an open room with the kitchen. A giant TV in the lounge room, and the holy sanctity of both a Super Nintendo AND a Sega Master System in my cousin’s bedroom. Another stroke of Modern Living. It was a paradise for a slightly undernourished [due to a picky appetite] smallish child that lived in the almost opposing state.
My Grandma’s place meanwhile was a museum of relics of a faded past; echoes of what had gone before were evident everywhere and anywhere you looked. Paintings on the walls were all of stodgy old charmless and at times disturbing landscapes. I still remember an old print, which featured a castle on a barren hill, above dark forests and with a violently ominous twilit sky. Like a setting from Game of Thrones in hindsight. Baffling nick-naks lived on every surface. A never-used formal dining table set with chairs and credenzas all made of the heaviest, bulkiest and darkest wood you can imagine possible inhabited the largest, choicest light-filled room in the house. I now find the irony how the best room was never used. The tiles on the floor were all of a sickly orange, and the leather couches the same hue. Any room that featured the luxury of carpet, inevitably also featured strips of either plastic or off cuts of yet more carpet which you used as pathways, lest you deviate and my Grandma promptly yells at you. I used to pretend that the floor was lava.
I felt like the whole place was the ‘before’, the remnants of a different time clinging desperately to the present. The only sanctuary for myself was the large backyard, which featured former vegie gardens and water channels, which promptly became imaginary fantasy lands inhabited by tiny beings. The garage, my dad’s last refuge for his mechanical tinkering became yet another world, this time one of and underworld of strange machines. As much as I look back now at how not ok it was for a kid to live in such a place or share a bedroom with a grandparent [cue Charlie and the Chocolate Factory], I do have to say this world kick-started my imagination, and became the verdant ground upon which my mind grew like fireweed.
Back to Star Wars. It started off as admiration; I still remember that warm hazy night and being awed into submission by looming wedge-shaped spaceships and intense lightsaber battles. Everything else, little by little, fell to the wayside. Within a few short years I began to collect anything and everything Star Wars. My parents, of course, became worried. Star Wars, [and to a lesser extent, Star Trek], became a beacon of hope and the future for me. A promise of things to come, as well as representing the fantastical and outlandishly unreal that was lacking in my own limited world. Back then, however, there were only the three original films, and a couple b-grade Ewok movies which I will never mention again. The thing that really changed everything for me was when I picked up my first Star Wars novel.
I think it was 1995 and I was in sixth form at my school, which looking back was a very strict Irish Catholic all-boys school in Strathfield. I still remember my uniform consisting of schoolboy shorts, a shirt and tie, black leather school shoes, long socks and what I think now is adorably cute but hated back then: a dark blue cricketer’s style cap. I was with Mum on one of her after school trips to pay the bills, this time at the god-awful even back then Burwood Plaza shopping centre. Tucked away in a corner of the mezzanine in the shopping centre was a small Dymock’s book retailer. I can’t remember how many times I dragged my poor mum into this bookstore, only for her to have to buy God knows what for me. In this instance, I still remember the books that I was hunting for: Star Wars. I instantly was intrigued. The covers were glossy, colourful and had matte-paintings of my favourite characters, as well as mysterious new ones that I wasn’t aware of.
The first Star Wars novel I picked up and read was Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire, which brought me in contact with a new galaxy teeming with new adventures, places and characters. Still regarded as the pinnacle of what became known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the three Timothy Zahn books became a gateway into a new and growing world. Set in the Star Wars galaxy five years after the Return Of The Jedi, Heir To The Empire brought new life to the movies as an expansion upon the vibrant Star Wars galaxy. Old characters returned: Leia and Han, now married, were expecting children. Luke, a mighty full-fledged Jedi Master, was on the quest to discover the lost legacy of the original Jedi Order. New characters who fit right into the Star Wars universe were introduced: first of all, a new villain in the guise of an alien genius Admiral who was always one step ahead of our familiar heroes, who has become a fan favourite. As well as a new anti-hero, Mara Jade, who plays the part of the Emperor’s former secret agent, now rogue, who comes into contact with Luke. Sparks, of course, ensue.
New locales were introduced, the foremost being Coruscant, the ‘New’ Republic’s capital: a world entirely covered in urban sprawl, a concept so successful that it in fact crossed over into canon and was portrayed in the prequels.
Heir To The Empire was just the tip of the iceberg. More and more books and comics were to follow, forming a deluge of new adventures, characters, spaceships and gadgets and at times yes some ridiculous plots. More and more superweapons appeared with more and more ridiculous names. Try this one for size: a giant ‘Battlemoon’ [sound familiar] disguised as an asteroid named ‘Eye Of Palpatine’.
Or how about a Hutt-designed and constructed stripped-down Death Star shaped like a Lightsaber appropriately named ‘Darksaber’?
Then there was also the small one-man spaceship that could destroy entire star systems with the wildly cliché name ‘Sun Crusher’.
While the plots and devices became more and more extravagant, cliché, and over the top, all of this began to create a new and expanded universe that was built upon the foundations of the original films. It became a place where myself and I’m sure many other awkward geeky kids inhabited. I played the video games, read the books and re-watched movie after movie. Leia and Han had kids, Luke married the aforementioned Mara Jade. Many an Imperial tried over and over to take over the galaxy only to fail, including obligatory hot female Imperials like Admiral Daala and Ysanne Isard, two woeful examples of old men writing female character and having no idea how to go about it. My parents continued to be troubled, until the day a teacher of mine told them to allay their fears, as she had trouble even getting kids in her classes to pick up a book.
Fast forward a decade and a half on, with yet waves more stories and adventures, not to mention a new trilogy and three cartoon TV series, and we get to today. Star Wars has been bought as a whole franchise by Disney, who are set to roll out a new trilogy set AFTER the original. Which means that all the stories that I have read will be essentially ‘taped over’ by the new movies. All the characters that were brought to life will simply vanish. This is such huge news for me, as this also entails that the universe that has been nurtured and created by so many people will essentially go up in smoke. I know that they’re just stories but to me they represented so much more than that. The ridiculousness of plots, the terrible writing and obvious character building all became redundant as it was about the world within the pages that I was interested in.
For me I guess its just one of those things that separates your childhood and adolescence, to adulthood. I still love and adore the world of Star Wars, and I’m so completely stoked for the next film to come out [only 389 days left!], yet a part of me will always feel sad as the proverbial door is shut to this imaginary yet so real place. I’m reminded of CS Lewis’ setting of Narnia, wherein only young minds can wander from our world into Narnia, and once they’ve all grown up, Narnia is nothing but a whisper on the wind. The Star Wars I knew and loved and grew up with has died, and a piece of my childhood has gone with it.