I was nine months old when the world first experienced the Star Wars phenomenon in 1977. As such, I was too young to have seen the movie, or its first sequel The Empire Strikes Back, on the big screen in its original run. I remember the hype surrounding the next movie in the series, Return of the Jedi, which was released when I was six. I did not see Return of the Jedi, but I saw the other two movies a couple times over the years during my childhood. Star Wars creator George Lucas had repeatedly said that he planned to make more movies past Return of the Jedi, as well as three other movies telling the backstory of how the primary villain Darth Vader turned to evil. In the fourteen years between Return of the Jedi and my junior year at the University of Jeromeville, no more Star Wars movies had been made.
I recognized most of the major characters from Star Wars, but by age twenty, I did not have a detailed recollection of the specific storylines of the movies. Star Wars just was not a huge part of my childhood. Therefore, when George Lucas’ company announced that the original three movies would be rereleased in theaters in early 1997, with new scenes to match his original vision, I at first considered this a minor curiosity, something that might be fun to go see, but not something around which to revolve my life.
For my roommate Brian Burr, seeing Star Wars on the big screen again, in this new Special Edition, was a huge deal. Brian was older than me; he would have been three and a half when Star Wars was first released, so he grew up with Star Wars more than I did. He announced a while back that he was going to see each movie on the big screen three times. The movies were being released on Fridays, and Star Wars was not worth missing class over, but I told Brian to keep me posted about the second or third times he saw the movies, so I could go too.
The Special Edition of Star Wars was now entering its third week in theaters, but so far Brian had not said anything to me about seeing the movie. I was starting to feel left out, like I had from so many cliques already over the last few months. Furthermore, today was Valentine’s Day, and even though I had gotten brave and talked to the cute girl on the bus this morning, my general failures at love still made me feel discouraged.
After my two math classes, I had New Testament Writings of John with Dr. Hurt. Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes were very popular with Christian students at UJ. I was part of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship; I had recently started attending Jeromeville Covenant Church and their college group, 20/20; and I had friends who were part of University Life, the college group from the First Baptist Church of Jeromeville. The Writings of John class had around 150 students; I knew and was friends with many of them.
I had taken Introduction to New Testament with Dr. Hurt last quarter to satisfy a general education requirement, and I was taking this class just because I was interested in the topic. I was learning a lot about the Bible and life as a Christian from JCF and church, but Dr. Hurt’s classes taught me to look at the Bible from a scholarly perspective, which I had never done before. Earlier in the quarter, we spent two whole days studying one word in the first verse of the Gospel of John, for example. In English, the verse was usually translated as “In the beginning was the Word,” but “Word,” Logos in Greek, could mean word, study, reason, discourse, or a number of other concepts that were difficult to translate. God’s Word in this sense was more than just words, it was what God used to speak the universe into being, and Jesus was this Word in human form, in a way that twentieth century English could not explain well.
“Hey, man, what’s up?” Taylor Santiago said as we walked out of Dr. Hurt’s class. Brent Wang, Noah Snyder, and Mike Knepper had all been sitting near us, and we all walked outside together. “I see you’re wearing black today.”
“Yeah,” I chuckled. Bah, humbug to Valentine’s Day, I thought.
“Was the black shirt on purpose?”
“Kinda,” I said. “Did you guys see Eddie today?
“No,” Brent replied.
“He was wearing a shirt that said, ‘I’m available.’”
“No way!” Taylor exclaimed, laughing.
“But then on the back,” I continued, “it said, ‘Send me. Isaiah 6:8.’”
“That’s awesome,” Brent said. Pete and Mike laughed.
“Hey, guys, what’s so funny?” Barefoot James said, walking up to us. James was a sophomore, a year younger than us. Two weeks ago, I had started volunteering with The Edge, the junior high school youth group at J-Cov; James was also a volunteer with that group, as were Taylor and Noah. I told James about Eddie’s shirt, and he replied, “Oh yeah! I saw that! That was great.”
“So do any of you have plans for Valentine’s Day?” Brent asked.
“Nope!” Taylor replied. The others all replied in the negative as well.
“Things didn’t work out for you guys, Mike?” Noah asked.
“I told you,” Mike replied, “Courtney just wants to be friends.”
“Aww,” Taylor said. “What about you, Greg? Any ladies we should know about?”
“No,” I said. I did not know how, or when, to take the next step with the cute girl on the bus. It happened all too often that I would meet a cute girl and never see her again, or I would take my time getting to know a cute girl while some other guy was busy asking her out.
The others here did not understand; they, or at least some of them, had had girlfriends before. Taylor and Pete had both been romantically linked to a girl in our freshman dorm, Danielle; she was not together with either of them anymore. And a few months ago, I thought for sure something was going on between Mike Knepper and Courtney; if I could see it, it must have been really obvious. Mike had even told me once that he liked Courtney. But apparently she had just wanted to be friends.
Courtney was a total babe, a freshman, friendly and flirty, with long blonde hair. I had been seeing more of her the last couple weeks, since she was also a leader at The Edge. She seemed to spend a lot of time around another of the leaders, Brody Parker, and I was starting to wonder if there was something going on between them. That would explain why she was no longer interested in Mike Knepper. Although Courtney was very attractive on so many levels, I never considered myself to be interested in her as more than a friend, with all of that competition from other guys like Mike and Brody.
I was ready to talk about something other than Valentine’s Day, so I mentioned the other thing I had been brooding about inside. “I also still haven’t seen the Star Wars Special Edition,” I said. “I wanted to go, because I barely remember the original movies.”
“I haven’t seen it yet either,” Barefoot James replied.
Without thinking, I blurted out, “You wanna go see it?” I had been waiting for two weeks for an opportunity to see Star Wars, and when my mind processed that a chance had fallen into my proverbial lap, I took it.
“Sure,” James replied.
“When? What works for you?”
James thought for a minute, then said, “Tuesday night? I don’t have anything going on then.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll look up the times it’s playing. Will you be at church on Sunday? We can figure it out then.
“Yeah,” James said. “Sounds good.” Of course, Barefoot James on Tuesday night was not exactly a Valentine’s Day date, but at this point what mattered was that I really wanted to see Star Wars. I made plans with someone, and this was progress.
It turned out that the only show that worked on Tuesday night for Barefoot James was at 10:20, later than I would have liked to start a movie on a school night. But I really wanted to see this movie, and I had already made a commitment to James. I could survive on one day of getting less sleep.
I drove downtown and arrived at the theater a few minutes after ten o’clock. I did not see James outside, nor could I see him inside in the lobby. I was usually early showing up to things like this, so I stood outside the entrance, waiting for James to arrive.
As my watch ticked past 10:10, 10:15, 10:20, I continued looking across the nearly deserted G Street, wondering where James was. Had he stood me up? Had he forgotten? Had something happened to him? I wondered what the protocol was for this kind of situation. How long should I wait before assuming that James would not come? And in that situation, should I buy a ticket and watch the movie by myself, or should I just go home? If I did give up on James and watch the movie by myself, how would James know that I was inside the theater?
I got excited when I saw a guy with light brown hair and stubble approach from my left, but as I started taking a step toward him, I noticed that this was clearly not Barefoot James. As this guy’s facial features came into view, he began to look less like James, and I also noticed at that moment that he was wearing shoes. It was now 10:26, and my mind was still racing, confused about how to handle this. Maybe I should just go inside and watch the movie before I missed too much of it. But if I told the person at the ticket booth to watch for someone fitting James’ description, to pass on the message that I was inside, would she do that? Would the girl at the ticket window pack up soon if there were no other shows starting that night? Had the movie even started yet? How much did I miss? How much time did I have? Or should I just go home? I would give it five more minutes before I decided.
Fortunately, I did not need to make this decision, because James approached from my right on the opposite side of the street at 10:29, waving when he saw me. He was wearing sandals; I had known James for over a year now, and this was the first time I had ever seen him not barefoot. “Sorry I’m late,” James said. “Let’s go.” As we bought and paid for our tickets, James explained, “I would have been on time, except I got halfway here and remembered that I wasn’t wearing shoes, so I had to go back. This movie theater is one of the only places I’ve never been able to get into without shoes.”
“I see,” I said. As we walked toward our theater, I asked, “Why don’t you wear shoes anyway? I’ve never known.”
“I’ve just never liked shoes,” James explained. “I think they’re uncomfortable.”
“I see,” I replied. It was true that shoes were often uncomfortable, but personally, my feet would get too cold if I always went barefoot. I did not like going barefoot.
The movie theater in Jeromeville had six screens; Star Wars was in theater 3. We walked in while a preview for an upcoming movie played. “Oh, good,” I said. “We didn’t miss anything.”
The theater was about half full; we sat toward the back near the center. The preview that played as we sat down was the last one, and the movie began after that. I felt anticipation building as the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, the Lucasfilm logo, and the text “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appeared on the screen. A few people cheered as the music started and the backstory text scrolled up the screen; I clapped with them a few times.
I had only seen Star Wars a couple times in childhood, and it had been several years, but I remembered bits and pieces of the plot. Although the characters were familiar, most of the movie felt like a new experience to me. I watched intently as Princess Leia hid a top secret message inside the memory of the droid R2-D2 and launched him and his companion C-3PO in an escape pod to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. The droids were found by scavengers and sold to a farm boy named Luke Skywalker. Luke helped the droids find Obi-Wan, who then explained to Luke about the Force. Obi-Wan said that the Force was an energy field that holds the galaxy together.
“Sounds kind of like the Logos,” I whispered to James. “In the beginning was the Force.”
“Whoa,” James replied. “That’s probably some kind of blasphemy or something.”
A few minutes later, in the movie, Luke and Obi-Wan met the pilot Han Solo in a seedy bar. They paid him to take them and the droids to Leia. As they left the bar, a green-skinned gangster stopped Han and asked him about a shipment that Han had previously lost. The gangster shot his blaster, missing Han to the side; the special effects for that part looked uncharacteristically awkward, not the smooth, realistic effects that Star Wars was known for. Han then shot back, killing the gangster.
“Han shot first,” James whispered.
“Huh?” I replied.
“Han shot first. You know about that, right?”
“Oh, yeah, I read about that,” I said as the significance of that scene dawned on me. The most controversial change made for the Special Edition of Star Wars involved Han Solo’s gun battle with someone named Greedo. In the original movie, Han shot Greedo unprovoked, but in the Special Edition, the scene was altered to make it look like Han shot in self-defense, so as not to portray Han as a cold-blooded murderer. Many fans believed that the original scene was more in line with Han’s smuggler and mercenary background. I did not realize at first that this dead green gangster was Greedo.
I continued to watch the movie. Obi-Wan began to teach Luke about the ways of the Force. Darth Vader found Luke, Obi-Wan, Han, and the others, and battled Obi-Wan to settle some unfinished business from their past. Luke escaped that battle and found the Rebels, who then began making plans to go on the offensive. I tried to take in as many details as I could, so that I would be able to discuss the movie with Brian and other Star Wars fans.
As the movie ended and the credits began, I said to James, “That was good.”
“Yeah. That new scene with Jabba the Hutt was interesting.”
“Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Star Wars. What was that part like before?”
“It just wasn’t there. It was a whole new scene. Jabba didn’t show up until Return of the Jedi.”
“So do you have plans to see The Empire Strikes Back yet?” James asked as we left the theater. “It comes out Friday.”
“I know Brian and his group already got tickets for Friday. But I heard him say he’ll want to go a second time. I’ll ask if I can get in on that, and I’ll let you know.”
“Great, man. I need to get to bed, I have class in the morning.”
“Me too. I’m gonna be tired tomorrow, but it was worth it.”
“Yeah! I’ll see you tomorrow at The Edge?”
“Yes. Drive safely.”
I did not see Brian until I got home from school Thursday, two days later. Brian was busy for much of Wednesday, and I was gone for much of the day at school and at The Edge. Wednesday evening at The Edge. (After the students went home from The Edge, Courtney and Brody sat in a corner talking, oblivious to the world; it really did look like something was going on between them.)
Brian was happy to hear that I had seen Star Wars with Barefoot James. “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world,” he said, quoting what Obi-Wan had said to Luke after beginning to teach Luke about the Force.
“Are you still going to see Empire again after the premiere?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Brian said. “Probably on a weekend, next week or the week after. You wanna come?”
“Yes! And James does too.”
“Sounds good. I’ll keep you posted.”
I may not have grown up with Star Wars, like many kids my age, but tonight I really had stepped into a new world. I was a Star Wars fan now. This movie was going to be part of my life. Or at least I would be a Star Wars fan after I saw Return of the Jedi, since I still had no idea how the trilogy ended. My Jedi training was not complete yet. Brian had the original versions of all three movies on VHS tapes, but I wanted to wait and see the other two Special Editions with friends first.
After I saw all three Special Editions, I watched all the movies again, using Brian’s tapes. I bought my own copy of the Special Editions on VHS later that year. The first of the prequels, telling the story of the future Darth Vader when he was a child, was released in 1999, and one of the most exciting moments of my Star Wars fandom was seeing the first showing of that in a group of sixty of my closest friends. Yes, sixty.
But that is a story for another time.
Author’s note: Are you a Star Wars fan?