Evoking the movie trilogy that changed my life (and that of millions)
[Texto en ESPAÑOL]
Today is Star Wars Day, one of my favourites stories ever, if not my favourite. One of my biggest guilty pleasures, despite the decline of its latest movies. Because of this, today it is time to interrupt my daily routine to evoke the saga and perhaps see some of its classic entries (not the prequels or sequels or spin-offs or cartoons). Why not.
Star Wars Day is known for the catchphrase May the Fourth be with you, a funny pun on the powerful quote of metaphysical transcendence May the Force be with you, repeated throughout all installments of the galactic saga. Of course, this calembour would not make sense in Spanish—my mother tongue —, since there is little similarity between Que la Fuerza te acompañe and Que el Cuarto te acompañe. The phrase was first used in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The first woman to take office was congratulated by members of the Conservative political party, who through the London Evening News expressed “May the Fourth be with you, Maggie. Congratulations ”. Interestingly, the quote influenced from Lucas’s May the Force be with you was later recycled by the fans of the saga, and now May 4 is the official day of Star Wars around the world.
My relationship with that galaxy far, far away goes through my whole life. The first time I saw Star Wars I was five years old. It was a VHS recording of The Empire Strikes Back (1980). My older brother had recorded it from Cine Millonario, the legendary block of Sunday night movies in Frecuencia Latina, a Peruvian national broadcast station. If my memory does not betray me, it was a weekend afternoon, perhaps a Sunday. My uncle was visiting us and in my recollection the scene of Luke and Yoda on the swampy planet Dagobah converges with the voices of my parents and my uncle laughing and gossiping in the background. I also remember the classic label with the name of the film at the bottom left of the screen: “CINE MILLONARIO: LA GUERRA DE LAS GALAXIAS“. Now everyone in Hispanic America knows the franchise as Star Wars, but back then we were more used to our version, which means Galaxy Wars. A curious translation, considering that there was no war between galaxies in the entire trilogy. That name given by the dubbing was fixated in my mind like a remora to a shark. Filled with wonder and joy, I invaded my brother and sister with questions, who was that little green monster? Who is the bad guy? What is a Jedi? I was unstoppable. However, memory is as fragile as fallacious and perhaps my evocation is a selective construction. Maybe it was The Return of the Jedi (1983) and maybe it was a Monday night without my uncle. Either way, this is my oldest memory of Star Wars and one of the most endearing of my childhood.
It was 1993: in Peru, the auto-coup of our dictator Fujimori was already celebrating its first anniversary and the internal armed conflict between the Armed Forces and the Shining Path was decimating the Asháninka and Nomatsiguenga indigenous populations of Satipo… In the world, Bill Clinton was becoming the fortieth second President of the United States and Nelson Mandela was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. And while new Hollywood’s blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire or Schindler’s List were conquering the world, I was giving myself up to La Guerra de las Galaxias.
I went crazy when my brother revealed that he also had recorded the other two movies. And that’s how it all began: I watched that version of the original trilogy over and over again on those old VHS cassettes until 1997, when I started third grade in a new school during the days of the Star Wars Special Edition fever and borrowed them to a new classmate who never returned them. Despite that sad episode, life went on and so it did my obsession. We grew together.
Anxious to recreate the adventures of Luke, Han and Leia, I used to find it sad that there were no Star Wars action figures. I only had a handful of survivors from the Kenner collection of the seventies and eighties, inherited from my older brothers: a Tusken Raider, an RD-D2 without legs, a Gamorrean guard and Princess Leia. I used to play with three G.I. Joes that were replacing Luke, Han and C-3PO; the Gamorrean was Chewbacca; and completed the group with the disabled R2 and the classic Leia. So I fantasized until 1996, when my dream came true and it arrived to Peru, materialized by Hasbro. The Power of the Force collection, the return of the galactic saga’s action figures, revived the spell on me that Dragonball or Marvel superheroes or the Ninja Turtles were beginning to diminish. With the toys came later comics and some novels. By 1999, when The Phantom Menace appeared, the first film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I was already a small expert or at least I thought I was—I had no idea how vast was that Expanded Universe of comics, novels and video games. I even belonged for a few years to a fan club in Lima, The Force Perú, where I won a raffle for the first time in my life, at age 11, and became an owner of a Junior Jedi Training Manual, a booklet with accessories and an audiobook where I had to sign a very serious “Junior Jedi Oath” at the end. I still have it. I embraced the prequels and with the adolescence and adulthood I understood better the franchise and its imperfections: The Return of the Jedi, my favourite during childhood, was displaced by The Empire Strikes Back; I joined – temporarily, now I have somehow accepted it – to the everlasting hate campaign towards Jar Jar Binks; and I hated the romantic scenes and lines between Anakin and Padmé. But all that did not affected my love for the saga. After the madness of 2005 with Revenge of the Sith, which took it upon itself to leave the reputation of prequels in a better place, life went on. Reading any occasional book, buying an action figure or watching the animated television series and everything was okay. Star Wars amalgamated with my existence organically. I did not need more.
I have learned a lot from that space opera that translated the “Hero’s Journey” of Joseph Campbell to our times, that crossed all geographical and social barriers and became a pop culture phenomenon for four decades. I grew up quoting Ben Kenobi, Luke, Yoda, even Qui-Gon, later. It made me question the existence of luck and coincidences, reflect on the duality of good and evil in all of us and the possibility of making the wrong choice, wonder about the Force and therefore about the existence in God and divinity, revaluate the importance of family, and contemplate as essential the search for a mentor in life.
Star Wars also nurtured my addiction to stories, fiction and the act of writing. Two of my oldest short stories, lost forever with the malfunction of the family’s old Pentium III—a trauma of my early adolescence—were predictable fanfics of the saga: A Bounty Hunter’s Tale and Jedi Journeys. Star Wars taught me the unfathomable beauty of possible worlds. Then, it has been part of both my sentimental and intellectual education. An essential ingredient in the development of a primary, childish, and very warm sensitivity, that continues to mutate, across the experience and the collision with other stories.
After the failed trilogy of the Disney sequels—something that is not worth going deeper on now—I am going through a phase of saturation of Star Wars, but the franchise seems unstoppable. Not even the COVID-19 pandemic seems to appease it: a new film directed by the talented and highly sought-after Taika Waititi has just been confirmed today. Will we have Star Wars until the end of time? Will Disney and Lucasfilm continue to create these stories when my alleged grandchildren have their own descendants? When a zombie apocalypse eats half the planet? When a new world war crash with Europe or Syria? When we are invaded by strange fusiform aliens with bivalve-like faces? Will there be a reboot? Will they recast Luke or Leia at some point (for all the Ewoks of Endor, please not) or will they continue to digitally rejuvenate and resurrect them per saecula saeculorum?
Those questions, after all, do not matter to me. We live in a moment in which the adventure of that daydreamer farmboy from Tatooine expands unspeakably, far beyond those two twin suns that he silently contemplates, more alive than ever. For better or for worse, Star Wars has come to stay, but I prefer to give myself a break from the future of the saga and return to its roots. As far as they do not announce a Jar Jar Binks spin-off, we have to be grateful…
It may sound like a cheap thought of any given holiday, but those who understand know it to be true. The debt to Star Wars prevails. May the Fourth!