Saturday, May 25, 2013

5/25/2013 30 Years and Return of the Jedi


The Summer before 8th grade, the Summer AFTER the awful, horrible, no-good, very bad 7th grade year when I found myself thrown without preparation into public school after an entire life of insular, tiny, private school education. It was horrifying. 

While I'd started vaguely navigating junior high by the end of that first year, I entered that summer pretty much battered and exhausted.

That summer, for the first time, I was allowed to go the movies by myself (with friends), probably because the magical age of 13 was approaching but more likely because my grandmother, who would have been the one to take me while Mom and Dad were working, had absolutely zero interest in some strange science fiction movie called Return of the Jedi.

This was the first film I became thoroughly obsessed with. It holds a special place in my memories for many reasons. It was the first movie I went to multiple times, often with different people, and once alone because the friends I was supposed to meet didn't show and I pretty much didn't care, as long as I could see the movie, alone in the dark, just me and this Other World, where the good guys always won, but only after great odds and dark temptations. It was the first simple tale of morality that I couldn't put down. The great palace of Jabba, with all of his lackeys, played out in my teenage brain as another junior high, filled with cruelty and power, and the calm, self-assurance of a black-clad Luke in their midst, unaffected by the threats and cat-calls, made my heart go pitter-patter. 

I wanted the soundtrack record, and it was the first time I was told I could have a ride to the mall only if I called the store to verify that they had it in stock. I have the clearest memory of sitting in my room, on the corded phone, dialing from the Yellow Pages, very, very carefully, each number taking an eternity, because I would have been horrified to dial a wrong number. (I still hate using the phone.) But I still have that record.

 I spent all summer, lying on the floor of my room, staring up at the ceiling, replaying the film in my head, following along with John Williams' orchestra. I bought the piano book of the soundtrack and picked out the melodies on both the piano and the oboe. The next year, at the end of year band concert that had both the "top" Thompson band and Dobie band playing some district thing, and the Dobie wind ensemble struck up their medley from Return of the Jedi, I was not only dazzled, but also hyper-critical, since I could seemingly pick out every off note played.  When several of the numbers, including the band at Jabba's palace (Lapti Nek was taken out and the puppet replaced by CGI, along with new band members) and the finale Ewok celebration (Yub Nub, with it's total rip off of the Sesame Street theme at the start) were completely replaced fifteen years later in the "upgrade" and remastering of the films, I realized my feeling that this was nothing short of heresy stamped my geek card in perpetuity. 



I miss the Yub Nub song.

That summer of 1983, Michelle would come over and spend the night, and we would ride bikes to the 7-11 across the street from the pool and next door to Thompson Intermediate, buy gum that was shaped like little burgers in tiny square plastic "cartons", and "real" burgers from the frozen section, heating them up in the giant silver, slightly dirty microwave, before sitting outside to consume what was doubtless the most chemically infused food on the planet at the time. But the real treat was perusing the magazines at the front and looking through the four or five special ones devoted to Return of the Jedi, with all their behind the scenes photographs and special effects explanations. I still have those magazines tucked carefully away, too.

It was the weakest of the trilogy narratively, the flashiest in special effects, and the first to convince movie house owners that they could show more than one copy of the film at a time and still sell-out the house.  It changed the face of cinema and it meant many different things to many different people, to be sure. The Houston Chron blog posted some pictures of the overnight waiting and crazy lines at the movie's premiere in Meyerland, long before the days of buying online would render pictures like this sweet relics of a time gone by.  For me, it was a rite of passage; a film tied to my own burgeoning sense of self and autonomy at the fragile age of thirteen. 

Watching the film again, now, of course, is a different event entirely, colored not only by age, but by knowing the original so thoroughly that all of the changes added over the intervening years just make me cranky.

That giant note after "Long ago in a galaxy far, far away" and the start of the scroll always gets me, though.


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