The Force will be with you… always

31-Jan-07 11:56 AM by
Filed under Star Wars; 4 comments.

Up until ten years ago today, I, along with my friends Peter, Pelun, and our entire generation, had experienced Star Wars the only way it'd been possible: on the TV screen.

But if we'd only seen it that way, we hadn't seen it at all — not until Friday, January 31st, 1997, at 10:20 PM EST, when we witnessed the premiere of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: Special Edition.

Despite the original trilogy being constantly rerun on TV, I'd seen it in its entirety only once. It was one night when the house was empty that I rented them on VHS, determined to complete this gap in my cultural education. Even that isolated viewing was many years before their cinematic re-release, so seeing them on the silver screen was all the more energizing. Not just because it was a new experience, but because it was a common, shared experience. Fans wrapped around the block waiting for tickets. Jedi Knights (or padawans) numbered among the throngs. Lightsabers and blasters were wielded throughout the lobby. The seats were packed for a film that would excite in both its familiarity and originality. And we all collectively mocked the petulant Skywalker when he bemoaned his unfulfilled intention to visit Toshi Station.

You don't create a memory like that from popping a DVD into your home entertainment system. It's true that movie theaters are expensive, as are their concessions, and that the theaters are often populated with babies, cell phones, and other noisy inconsiderations. But films themselves are a vehicle of social interaction. Each year that I taught a film studies course, I opened the first day of class by explaining to my students that the movies they were about to watch were a venue through which people of diverse eras and geographies could relate by sharing common experiences. Nowhere is that goal better achieved than in the communal consumption of film.

Kevin Murphy's A Year at the Movies details not a year of films, but a year of theaters. The outlandish buildings, places, and situations in which he kept his resolution of watching one publicly-screened film a day constitute the majority of his narrative — but the people he meets in his journeys are the vocal minority. Murphy interviews the organ player for the silent film; the truckers who engage in meaningful dialogue at the roadside movie stand; and the teenaged employee at the theater five times his age. They each add a unique color to a film that can otherwise be reproduced and seen anywhere.

When Time declared "You" as its Person of the Year, Computerworld editor Don Tennant warned against confusing the storyteller with the story. Likewise, movies are not about galaxies far, far away: they're about people struggling with very real challenges. What we take away from that is what gives the movies their value and their staying power.

Ten years later, a part of me is still in that theater: my eyes reflecting the remastered explosion of the Death Star, my voice one of many cheering the Rebels' victory over the Empire. I hope to stay there for a long, long time.

4 Responses to “The Force will be with you… always”

  1. sheppy adds:

    Man… it's been 10 years since the re-issue. That's scary. :)

  2. peterw adds:

    For seveal years now our local cinema complex has been overdue for an overhaul. The good news is they've dropped their prices significantly to keep people coming in the door. As a consequence, we've seen more movies on the big screen in recent times than probably any other time in my life.

    And it is undeniably a good thing! I don't have the money/desire for even a pretence at a home theatre setup, so there's no comparison to the quality of the experience in the cinema. I especially love comedies, where you get the full effect of "audience participation" when a chorus of laughter bursts out.

  3. Ken Gagne adds:

    I agree — be it in a theater or at home, I refuse to watch comedies alone, as they're just nowhere near as funny. (I suppose it's part of the same philosophy behind TV laugh tracks, no?)

    P.S. Han shot first ;-)

  4. Ken Gagne adds:

    And happy 10th anniversasry to The Empire Strikes Back!