I said this a bit on Twitter, but I’ve been reflecting on why Star Wars means so much to me. A lot of it comes down to this: Return of the Jedi was the first film I saw in the cinema after my family came back to this country from Africa.
I didn’t really understand what was going on. I hadn’t seen the first two movies. I knew there were goodies and baddies and I liked the Ewoks beating the Stormtroopers and Jabba the Hutt was disgusting and the fight over the Sarlacc was dangerous and Luke Skywalker was brave and things exploded and spaceships were cool, especially the Millennium Falcon.
And for two hours I forgot that I had left the warm and known environment of Africa behind and been made to come back to this cold, unfriendly place that people said was my home, but wasn’t really.
As a young teenager I saw Empire Strikes Back for the first time and loved it. We taped it off the telly at Christmas and watched it so often we almost wore out the tape. I still remember where the advert breaks were in that recorded copy. (It was a big Christmas premiere for ITV.) I know most of the dialogue off by heart. It edged out Jedi as my favourite film of the trilogy.
It’s kind of fashionable to beat up on Star Wars and the people who love it. They aren’t the coolest films out there. There are clear plot holes and unlikely coincidences and for some reason Stormtroopers can’t shoot straight and their armour doesn’t work against arrows. Yeah, all those things. And I will line up with anyone else to pour scorn on the prequels, although The Phantom Menace probably gets more vitriol than it deserves whereas the third one should be coated in lead and sunk in a very deep hole somewhere.
And, yes, the trilogy is good for jokes and pastiche. I’ve always loved Spaceballs. I really love the Robot Chicken feature length Star Wars episodes. But you can tell Robot Chicken is done with love and affection for the films, not to poke spitefully at the people who love them. (Even if we are all depicted as weedy nerds by the Chickeners.)
I think the reason May the Fourth has taken off in just a few years from geek joke to major Twitter event is down to the attachment people have for the films. The original trilogy holds such emotional importance for me I turn to them when I’m poorly or feeling low. Return of the Jedi was my first comfort film; the first movie to transport me away from a difficult situation that I was struggling to adjust to. It helped a confused and, I realise now, grieving, little boy to believe the world could be a place where good triumphed in the darkest of circumstances, where evil could be defeated, where heroism would be rewarded, where little people held the fate of the universe in the balance, even if the big people had guns and scout-walkers and speeder-bikes.
Even now I get a lump in my throat when I watch the scene at the end of Return of the Jedi where Luke throws away his lightsaber and tells the Emperor that he won’t turn to the dark side because he is a Jedi. Like his father before him.
Faced with that choice I wanted to be as brave as Luke Skywalker. I wanted to be a Jedi.
I still do.