Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back... 30 years later

I know. Every other blogger on the planet (alright, maybe every other blogger in at least the US) is writing about 30 years of The Empire Strikes Back. Can you blame us? It was the best of the Star Wars series, the one with the most dramatic momentum, where George Lucas showed us in no uncertain terms that the hero's journey was alive and well. He offered us the chance to dream big and imagine ourselves in those heroic roles; through Star Wars we could save the universe. Some of us took it pretty seriously - not the people who married Storm Troopers or have spent their lives examining the Star Wars films for Greater Meaning, but those who answered the call to fight the evil empires around them, to follow their own Jedi paths, to be their own heroic selves.

Those of us who saw it back then in the theater knew it mattered, even if we thought it mattered only because it was the second Star Wars movie (or was it the fifth? at 12 I didn't understand or care). We knew it mattered because the story mattered. What happened mattered. Knowing good would prevail mattered. And boy, did I ever want to pilot a TIE fighter with a light saber by my side.

I went with a friend from school. We stood in line for what seemed like hours and saw the second showing on opening day. The theater was beautiful, one of the grand old cinemas that don't exist anymore; red velvet curtains parted and the music began.

It was utterly entrancing.
  • Could we trust Yoda? What was with that weird swamp anyway? "Do or do not, there is no try" shaped my life for years.
  • The love triangle that we didn't yet know was a bit incestuous.
  • The utter evil of Darth Vader and his lies - they had to be lies, right?
We sat through two showings. Just before the movie began for the second time my friend met some boys including one she liked and insisted we sit with them; he put his arm around me and she left. I was frozen. I spent the rest of the second showing uncomfortable, thinking I really just wanted to watch the movie instead if having to figure out how I could get away from this guy I wasn't interested in. I was on the cusp of adolescence but not quite ready to leap. I was starting to question who I had been and who I was going to become, but I wasn't yet interested in answering those questions with anything more than a movie that showed me the possibility of heroism.

I ended up seeing The Empire Strikes Back 27 times that summer. "Whaddya wanna do?" "I don't know... Let's go see Empire!"

Even at 12 I recognized the mythic story being spun out with special effects and the smell of popcorn. I understood that this was the call to adventure, the charge to be a hero, that fighting wrong was simply right. The unanswered questions were real to me. It mattered who Luke's father was, even though I knew good would prevail. I just had to wait years for the last chapter.

Looking back on that summer it does feel like a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The call to adventure, the unanswered or unasked questions and the belief that good will prevail are all still deep parts of who I am. I was lucky enough to have a shining cinematic moment to show me myself and the possibilities of what could be when I needed it most.

(c)2010 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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