It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Shoppers lining up and camping out for exclusive merchandise, humming familiar tunes and bathed in the warm glow of red, green and blue lightsabers.
Oh yeah, it’s Christmas. Nerd Christmas.
The release of a new “Star Wars” movie isn’t just a special occasion. It’s a big deal, but it’s so much more than that. This is a new holiday. And with a new space fantasy adventure expected every year now under Disney’s leadership of Lucasfilm, we’re looking at an annual tradition inaugurated by the latest episode in the Skywalker saga, “The Force Awakens.”
By the time you read this, I’ll have seen the new movie, officially opening today, at least once with my 11-year-old son. He was born just as the last “Star Wars” trilogy — those polemical prequels — was fading into the binary sunset of Tatooine. I was 6 years old in 1983 when “Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi” brought George Lucas’ original trilogy to an end. In addition to wrapping up the cliffhanger ending of 1980’s “Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back,” “Jedi” has the distinction of being the first midnight movie my parents ever let me attend. It’s also the last midnight opening I remember seeing until 1999, when “Episode I — The Phantom Menace” kicked off the prequel trilogy that continued with “Episode II — Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (2005).
That’s enough about them. Back to ’83.
I was over the moon of Endor, not just because I was seeing the new movie, but mainly because, for once, I got to tag along with my two older brothers and their cool high school friends to Phoenix’s Chris-Town Mall and stand in a line so long it seemed it would never end. I remember making up, and then loudly inflicting upon others, some truly unforgivable lyrics to John Williams’ epic “Star Wars” score. Even more embarrassing, I recall telling everyone in that line who would listen that the “Return” in the movie’s title must mean that the spectral Obi-Wan Kenobi would be coming back from the dead to put an end to Darth Vader and the evil Empire.
That sounds silly now, but I think my brothers planted the idea in my head, the same way they had me convinced that Jawas dwelt in the shrubbery surrounding our neighborhood park’s golf course, and that helpful Christmas elves lived in the utility closet under the escalator that eventually carried us up to the mall’s United Artists cinema.
That’s par for the course when you’re the youngest of three boys.
This time next year we’ll be lining up to see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which will depart from the now-familiar trilogy format to present a side tale of the Rebel spies who stole the Death Star plans that were so central to 1977’s original “Star Wars” (or “Episode IV — A New Hope,” as it was later retitled by a tinkering George Lucas, who was just getting started when it comes to controversial director’s cuts but is now out of the picture after selling his company to Disney for billions of dollars).
It looks like we’ll get an anthology of these “Star Wars Stories” every other year, alternating with the main, numbered episodic Saga films. Even now, casting directors are zeroing in on a young Han Solo for another such prequel, and rumors are flying of a Boba Fett film in the future.
Disney’s Lucasfilm seems to be determined to keep “Star Wars” going forever — a true “never-ending story,” to risk mixing movie metaphors. Years of original books, comics and animated TV series like “Clone Wars” and the new “Rebels” have kept the Force alive for fans, but the big screen is where these big adventures really belong. It will mean high points and low points, but it’s a fantastic gift to those who have long dreamt of escaping again to that galaxy far, far away.
Happy holidays. And may the Force be with you . . . always.
Jayson Peters is The Chieftain’s digital media director, a pop culture blogger and lifelong ‘Star Wars’ fan whose parents had to carry him from the theater screaming when he got scared by Darth Vader sometime in 1977. Follow him on Twitter: @jaysonpeters.
Sunday morning, Dan and April Wendt and their two sons were at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver, braving wet and windy 30-degree weather to feel the Force at the Star Wars Celebration.
By that night, they had joined about 300 other fans of George Lucas’ saga in line at Toys “R” Us at 1617 W. Southern Ave. in Mesa, hoping to be among the first in the Valley to get their hands on the new line of toys based on ‘Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.’
“I want figures,” Dan Wendt said. “Figures, ships, Legos. Anything I can find.”