Return of the return of the trilogy
While I await news from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema as to the status of the RETURN OF THE TRILOGY marathon screening event, I’d like to share some experiences on my year of 1997 and the theatrical / home video re-release “special edition”:
My dad and I were walking near the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., having just spent the day touring monuments and exhibits. Our car was parked somewhere near The White House which, fresh in my mind, was the incident of a machine gunnist firing at the home from the street. This Today Show news bit didn’t damper my enjoyment of seeing the new F.D.R. memorial, being in awe of Lincoln’s statue, staring wide eyed at a war torn American flag or, especially, seeing an actual Yoda puppet in person.
The focus of this trip from Atlanta to D.C. was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s latest exhibit, The Magic of Myth. We waited in line for a good hour or so, talking the movies with a younger kid than I. Sure, The Spirit of St. Louis and Apollo mission artifacts were touching, but it was the Death Star model that got me to squee like an animal. “Hey Billy, ‘That’s not a moon’.” My dad said. “It’s a SPACE STATION!” I replied.
While I believe this trek came last in my year long Star Wars fit, I choose to remember the night I got the first Special Edition Trilogy on VHS as the cap. That’ll come soon enough…
I had always been a fan. These were movies you could sit your children down for and KNOW they would just shut up for two hours or more. You could finally grab that pack of smokes you were hiding. It was my older brother Eddie who had the Return of the Jedi bed spread, but I who had the obsession — being OCD and all, this came naturally. We burned through our taped off TV — or maybe they were copied from rentals — video tapes every so often. Pretty much, if we tired of Top Gun, Harry and the Hendersons and No Retreat, No Surrender, we had Star Wars as the go to.
Come sixth grade, the film section of the Atlanta Journal Constitution would print a story on production of the Prequel Trilogy, being dubbed “Clone Wars”. This clipping I kept for a number of years. In another article, and all over the TV news, the announcement of a special restoration release was made. For three months, in order, each episode of the Original Trilogy would come to theaters, digitally cleaned up and enhanced. “Enhanced” would come to mean something bad after a decade of further changes, but in its first iteration, it was exciting! Restored sequences! New effects! STAR WARS!
Each of the three screening I went to, there were costumes, singing, dancing and cheers galore. I had NEVER experienced fandom before, so this was pretty mind blowing to me, seeing fellow students geeking out over something shared so personally and so universal. For A New Hope, I tried starting a wave of applause for when the Death Star blew up, in an attempt to emulate my Mom’s experience with the ORIGINAL original. It kinda worked, but the reaction disappointed me. For Empire Strikes Back, my brother Bobby and I traded seats, to allow a couple next to us a chance to make out more comfortably. This made the more quiet and contemplative Jedi training scenes harder to focus on, for sure. For Return of the Jedi, I sat smiling at the new Jabba’s Palace musical number, not so much because it was “good”, but because it was “new”. Too cartoony, not as filthy as before.
What wonders would “Clone Wars: The Phantom Menace” hold? What toys could I find at Target? How would I continue the story? When could I watch these movies again? This “Magic of Myth” really hit me hard, and it was the 1997 Special Edition that punched it up.
Now, it wouldn’t be for another couple of months that I would be able to purchase VHS collection (as pictured way above). When I did, it was a frighteningly anxious and joyous moment. Like getting an erection to the shower scene in Carrie while knowing your bedroom doors lock doesn’t work, and not knowing what your next move should be, kinda anxiety and joy. I felt complete, in a way. I saw the movies in cinema, I was gonna go to the exhibit some time later, my room had a C3PO change bank — things felt good.
When I returned home from the store, it was to cable news reports of Princess Diana’s fatal car accident. “Well, I got the tapes…” I said, defeated. First funerals, first therapy sessions, first bullies — all came one by one, testing my sanity at times. Struggles come, struggles go, that’s life. At the time, they seemed permanent. At the time, they seemed all consuming.
Thankfully, I had a VCR in my room. And a loving and understanding family, sure.
Movies are an escape to some, but for me, they are an entrance to a world I had and still have a hard time connecting to: MY world. The real world. Through the silver screen stories and flickering frames, I found myself reflected in a big way. While the 1997 Special Edition of the Star Wars Trilogy was mostly an escapism gimmick to some, it was a chance for me to move farther along that bridge to maturity and self comfort. And as far as chances go, this would prove to be a big one.
Walking down the National Mall near the Capitol Building, my Dad looked over and said he enjoyed this opportunity to get to know me better. “Me too”.