Young Jedi

by Frank Gullo

The original "Star Wars" feature film premiered in May 1977. At the time, I was six years old and just reaching the age when I could sit still and appreciate a two hour movie.

I don't remember how I first heard about "Star Wars". It may have been from another child on the block, my older sister, or from seeing a trailer on television. It might even have been from stumbling across the first Star Wars toys while out shopping with my mother.

What I do remember is going to the movie theater and seeing the film for the first time. It was just my father and me, so it must have been on a Saturday or a weekday when he was home early from work. Driving to the theater, I could barely contain my excitement. I remember that I kept pressing my face against the car window for the first glimpse of the cinema marquee in the distance. Of course, I had been to movie theaters before -- Disney movies and at least one Sinbad adventure epic -- but even at that age I knew that "Star Wars" was something different entirely.

In my youthful state of excitement, after we reached the movie theater and were waiting in the lobby to be seated for the movie, I tipped over a large bucket of popcorn my father was holding. He, perhaps sensing the magnitude of the movie and the experience in store for me, calmly downplayed the incident and replaced the popcorn. Foreshadowing of the Jedi code of tranquility, no doubt.

Once we were in the theater and the movie began, I was riveted from the opening sequence to the destruction of the Death Star and the closing medal ceremony. In a span of two short hours, I had been transported to a galaxy far, far away. I left the theater with a new pantheon of heroes and villains and was irrevocably changed, imprinted by the experience.

"Star Wars" became the new mythology for me and other children of my generation. For my part, I played with action figures and models, read the comic books, acted out lightsaber duels with other kids, discussed the movies endlessly, and cast myself as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo countless times.

I think I had forgotten just how powerful and pervasive those early Star Wars impressions were. After having now seen "Revenge of the Sith", the final volume in the new prequel trilogy, I am reminded of just how important this film has been -- and continues to be -- to me.

"Revenge of the Sith", in its own right, is the best of the new "Star Wars" films. A darker "Star Wars" story than any before, this movies tells of Anakin Skywalker's turn to the Dark Side of the Force and the transformation of the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire.

That the movie completes the "Star Wars" cycle and effectively bridges the prequel to the original trilogy probably comes as no surprise. What I found unexpected though was just how much the film brought me back to my childhood, as if each scene in "Revenge of the Sith" revealed one more indelible pane in which I came of age with "Star Wars".

There were the endless afternoons when my friends and I debated the scene in "Star Wars" in which Ben told Luke that Vader murdered his father. Did Ben give something away with a look? Now, seeing a younger Ben's fraying relationship with Anakin and his role in safeguarding the twins, there is finally an ending to those priceless debates. A cloaked Jedi moderator revealing the answer after all those years.

Or there were wiffle ball games, punctuated by talk of how Darth Vader came to be in the suit. My friends and I would trade information, and someone would invariably report the latest rumor, that Vader donned the suit after falling into molten lava following a duel with Ben Kenobi.

There were early, inchoate impressions of girls that started with Princess Leia and led to back-and-forths about who she should end up with, Luke or Han.

Seeing "Revenge of the Sith" was like seeing my own prequel trilogy. Ben Kenobi was the distant uncle I barely knew who I now know more about and can appreciate for the man he was. Vader was the childhood iconic villain who loomed larger than life and whose redemption resonates much more powerfully in "Return of the Jedi" now that we've seen his fall. The droids, in the backdrop, are the abiding constants throughout the story, like family heirlooms you appreciate more and more as you grow older. And the twins, baby Luke and Leia, are every boy and girl from my generation who one day wished to be Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia. "Revenge of the Sith" showed us our beginning, and it is finally fitting that the "Star Wars" saga concludes by taking us back to where we began, emerging and looking out to the horizon, to our distant future.

Frank Gullo
May, 2005