Friday, April 22, 2011
This really begins in the spring of 1999, in the weeks leading up to The Phantom Menace. It's sort of insane to think back on it and remember that people camped out for weeks to secure their seat. I've since often wondered what they did for a living, if anything. But that's not the point. The point is that I was insanely jealous. I was thirteen when The Phantom Menace came out, and still in the throes of my Star Wars obsession, so I found myself turning to my mom and saying, "When the third one comes out, I'm going to camp out!" The next two films were already scheduled for release, so I figured I'd be nineteen then. That's plenty old enough to spend weeks on the sidewalk! It would be such an adventure, and of course I'd go with my best friends and it'd be the greatest moment of our lives.
In the spring of 2005, I did indeed turn nineteen, and was about to graduate high school. Not only did I know The Phantom Menace and its sequel, Attack of the Clones, were not terribly good movies, but I had other things on my mind. By May, I was deep into rehearsals for a play I had co-written, a one-act musical featuring the music of Queen. And as much as I had loved The Phantom Menace when it came out (I was thirteen!), I had discovered good movies by then. Hell, I'd already been accepted to film school. I really was in no rush to see Revenge of the Sith when a friend casually mentioned he was putting a group together for a midnight showing.
"Midnight" means quite a different thing when you're in high school than it comes to mean later in life. "Midnight" was still somewhat the great beyond. Not that I didn't have my fair share of late-night escapades by this point. Hell, I'd had nights prepping for plays that took us well into the wee hours of the morning (capped, as always, by a trip to Sharis). But "midnight" on a school night, when I had to be up at 5:30 am and work all through the day on my play, was a push. But then, I've never been one to turn down a social opportunity, no matter how insane. So I found myself on Thursday, May 18th, with a ticket in hand, ready to roll.
That day we had rehearsal as always. By that point we had crossed well over the line from the play being a lark (my friend and I thought it up one afternoon and wrote it, cumulatively, in about four hours) to being genuinely awesome, which was fortunate because half of us were too distracted by the forthcoming night to focus on the play at all. Most of us had brought the lightsabers we bought as kids (and inexplicably still owned) to school, and, since they didn't fall under the "weapons" category even in our Catholic high school, had been engaging in duels throughout most of the day. No reason that should stop now.
Right after rehearsal we sped downtown to join our friends who were already waiting in line. By now it was 6:00 or 7:00, so we still had a good haul ahead of us. The weather wasn't doing us any favors. Spring in Portland can be a bit of a crapshoot, and we were just thankful that we were able to wait in line under cover. Smarter people - okay, the girls - brought blankets. We grabbed dinner in shifts, played cards, and upon realizing that some of us had tickets for different screens inside the theater, bartered for tickets with other people in line. Everyone I knew ended up in the same theater. Mitch, who earlier that day wasn't even sure if he wanted to go, somehow got a ticket to our sold-out show and joined us at the front of the line.
Every hour, on the hour, we proudly drew our lightsabers and ran around the block waving them in the air. Lord knows what the people working at the theater, never mind people who were just downtown on business, thought of the whole scene. It's fashionable now to have a laugh at the whole franchise, especially since Lucas has recently announced 3-D rereleases of all six films. And we even knew the film probably wouldn't be any good. On some level we even knew Lucas would find a way to continue the franchise, even if he didn't make any more movies. But that was just it - this was the last Star Wars movie. Star Wars itself would live on, but not as a direct product of Lucas' imagination. And for all we made fun of him for "ruining" his own creation, it mattered, if only as a way to capture once more the youth we knew we'd soon be leaving behind.
I often wonder if our saying goodbye to Star Wars didn't in some way overlap with our feelings about graduation. You go to a lot of parties around that time of year, and what you realize pretty soon is that the parties are not celebrating the completion of high school, but are more a celebration of the past four years. I had most of the worst and some of the best times of my life thus far in high school. I know that was true for everybody I grew up with; it's too emotional of a time for it to not be true. And we were in a privileged enough position to let that emotion be the center of our lives. Star Wars gave us a chance to let it all out before it was over.
As the film was about to start, I said tonight was for the experience; the movie could come later. I still haven't seen the film since that night. I'll bet it doesn't hold up as well as I remember it. Doug believed it to be the best of the series, for which we all told him he could go to Hell. I said it was at least better than Jedi, which admittedly is probably still true. For all the moments of sheer inanity (Natalie Portman screaming out the names of her children as she's giving birth to them and dying at the same time) or fan-baiting (Chewbacca cameo), there are incredibly rousing sequences that are among the best of the series and a really great, knowing denouement on a set that looks like it could have come from the original trilogy.
And again, I know it's fashionable to dismiss the series altogether, particularly the prequels, but I don't know anyone who's a fan of the series who can't find something to latch onto in each film. Maybe it's all misplaced nostalgia. Maybe none of the films are all that good. And maybe lightsaber runs around the block are an empty exercise devoid of meaning except that which we attach to it. And maybe that's all high school ever was. But I doubt it.