Speaking of Star Wars, the MacSparky Labs members know that I’m in the process of building an extra room onto my house to serve as a more permanent studio, making it easier to record videos, Field Guides, and podcasts. We’re still in the early stages. (I’m waiting for city planning approval.)
True to form, I’m already ahead of myself. I’ve named the room “Endor Studios” and I contacted Danielle at Sylvan Design, and she kindly agreed to modify one of her existing prints to match. Since sharing this artwork, I’ve had a few people ask about getting their own Endor Studios print. If you’re interested, contact Danielle at the above website and she’ll set you up.
If you’ve been paying attention around here, you may have noted that I have a child-like infatuation with Star Wars. It occurs to me that I’ve never fully explained why I love Star Wars so much, so I thought I’d use this geek holiday to give you a little explanation.
Star Wars, Episode IV, which at the time was just called Star Wars was released in 1977. I was nine years old. It was a moment in time when there was no Internet and geeky kids (like me) got beat up, not celebrated. Going to the theater, I was a clueless nine-year-old with no idea what I was getting myself into.
Then I sat in the theater with my popcorn, and George Lucas blew my mind. I’d never seen anything like Star Wars. I was entirely invested. I have so many memories of that first viewing. When Darth Vader escaped at the end, I was outraged. When Luke turned off his targeting computer, I was worried. When he blew up the Death Star, I was overjoyed.
Growing up my family was very working class. My parents grew up during the depression, and the thought of seeing a movie twice was not on the menu for the Sparks house. The film was in the theaters forever, but it took me months to get the money to see it again. In hindsight, I’d have been willing to sell a kidney.
My sister had bought the soundtrack by then, and it had great liner notes. With two viewings under my belt, I could visualize the movie just listening to that John Williams soundtrack. So I did that. Often. I sat on our living room floor with the record spinning, giant over-sized headphones on my head, looking at the album art and reliving Star Wars in my head.
For later generations, every new Star Wars movie arrived with a deluge of new Star Wars toys, but for that first movie, there was nothing. My friends and I figured out that empty cardboard tubes, the kinds that hold wrapping paper, made excellent lightsabers, and we destroyed so much cardboard in my backyard.
Another thing folks don’t realize is that there were three years between each movie in the original trilogy. That was three years of no content. It was a more innocent time for fandom. We all had fun, but there were no YouTube channels or blogs pumping out theories. So instead, my friends and I discussed endlessly our own ideas of what was going on. There was one line in the original movie about the clone wars. I remember staying up all night at sleepovers, debating precisely what that meant.
When The Empire Strikes Back was released, I was there on opening day. By then, I was old enough to make money off the neighbors doing chores, and as the movie release date approached, I began earning money any way I could. At that point, our currency moved from dollars to tickets. “How much do you have? Three tickets.” When the movie was finally released, George once again gave us a thrilling ride. Little Yoda being the great warrior of days past, completely threw me. When Lando betrayed our gang of heroes, I wanted Chewie to pull his arms out right then and there. “I am your father” literally made my jaw drop. And then that ending! As an adult, I love the way Empire ends. As a 12-year-old, I was outraged. “That’s it!? But they’re still losing!?”
So I was a bit older, but the next three years were like the first hiatus including theories with friends and endless debates. I wore the soundtrack record out. One thing that also started happing after Empire is that my friends and I routinely talked about the light side and the dark side. It became our moral code without any of us realizing it.
Then came The Return of the Jedi. We saw Luke Skywalker in his fully realized bad-ass Jedi self in the first scene. That is what I had been waiting for. I was hooked. I loved every moment of that movie. People today talk about how George sold out using Ewoks instead of Wookies for the Endor battle. None of my friends and I cared or worried about it. We loved those little storm-trooper-killing teddy bears.
The story I’ve shared with you so far explains why a kid in the ’70s would fall in love with Star Wars. But it doesn’t explain why a middle-aged man can still love Star Wars.
For me, it was the final battle with Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor. Specifically, it is the moment when Luke has Darth Vader on the ropes and then throws down his lightsaber. Everybody knows these movies now but try to transplant yourself to 1983, sitting in that theater for the first time. Luke, who has been on a Joseph Campbell-playbook heroes journey for six years and three movies, finally gets to the moment of victory. He’s evolved from a farm boy to a Jedi Knight, and rather than defeating the enemy, he throws down his weapon. When does that happen in movies? When does the hero win by refusing to fight? What was the last action movie you watched where the hero triumphed through an act of love? (This also explains my middle-aged outrage at how the Luke Skywalker was portrayed in Episode VIII. But I’ll save that one for another day.)
Luke’s decision was heavy stuff for me. I left that movie so happy to see how the story ended, but I also left that movie with a lot on my mind. How did Luke know to do that? Why did he do that? It was a lot to unpack for me. And it has stuck with me throughout my life. These concepts of the light and dark sides and showing love instead of delivering the killing blow mean something to me. They have stuck with me and helped me make the right choices throughout my life. I’ve failed on occasions. (Sometimes miserably!) But Star Wars morality gives me a framework to pick myself up, dust myself off, and try to do better. I don’t keep a Yoda statute on my desk because he had a funny voice. I keep Yoda there to keep me honest.
I have to admit I find New Year’s Eve television pretty tedious. I expect it will be even worse tonight when people aren’t actually allowed to meet in public. So why not instead plan a viewing of Star Wars, Episode IV? If you start the movie (using Disney+) at 10:02:43 PM, the Death Star will blow up at precisely midnight.
Rebel Force Radio has the start times for all the various ways you can watch episodes IV and VI with midnight-timed explosions. I know it sounds nerdy (because it is), but it is also a lot of fun. This year team Sparks will be watching Episode VI at 9:56:54 PM.
I haven’t posted much on Star Wars as of late, but l recently guested on my favorite Star Wars Podcast, Rebel Force Radio where I went in-depth on the new Rise of the Resistance ride at Disneyland, the Rise of Skywalker movie, and why I didn’t like the way they handled Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. It’s a lot of Star Wars talk and it all starts at about the 1 hour 45-minute mark.
Tonight Disneyland officially opened Galaxy’s Edge, their new Star Wars themed “land”. Galaxy’s Edge contains the planet of Batuu, a way station on the edge of wild space where the Black Spire outpost exists. It’s an ancient place but also thoroughly Star Wars, where smugglers, the First Order, and the Rebellion all inhabit their own corners and are frequently at odds.
I was lucky enough to spend ten hours exploring Batuu over the last week. Let me tell you as someone who grew up loving Star Wars (I was 8 when the first movie released), this is the real deal. The Disney Imagineers went to extreme efforts to make Batuu more immersive than anything Disney has ever made before. When you visit Batuu, you are not in a subdivision of Disneyland. You are transported to the galaxy far, far away. It’s amazing. The architecture, the droids, the little panels on the walls, the sounds, the Millennium Falcon, and all the little details completely suck you in. I’ll be covering this further and tomorrow, I’ll be featured in an extended interview on the Rebel Force Radio podcast all about it, but just for now, here are a few things I’ve done in Batuu:
I’ve watched and cheered on Chewbacca as he repaired an X-Wing right in front of me.
I’ve drunk blue milk.
I’ve hung out on the Millennium Falcon
I’ve piloted the Millennium Falcon numerous times. By the way, pulling back on the throttle to kick the Falcon into hyperspace is a life-altering experience.
I’ve been hassled by stormtroopers for wearing a Rebel patch on my coat.
I’ve sent Chewbacca off on a rampage, presumably to kill stormtroopers.
I’ve explored the shops and back alleys of Batuu.
I’ve built a droid. (Of course I installed a rebel personality chip.)
I’ve been approached … by a guy … about a lightsaber.
Best of all, I’ve lived in Star Wars. That really is the only way to describe it. Batuu is so realistic that it becomes real. The sounds of the area are that of a spaceport. When you hear a ship rumble across the city, you instinctively look up, only to be convinced it is just out of your line of sight.
Best of all is the cast members, which in this case are citizens of Batuu. When one sweeper approached and saw trash on the ground, he asked me if it was mine. When I said “no”, he smiled and said, “Good. I can sell this for credits” before sweeping it up and moving along. When I discovered a rebel weapons cache and a bunch of artifacts from the original trilogy, another Batuu citizen asked if I knew what “all that old junk” is.
At one point I witnessed a rebel operative enlist a 10-ish-year-old boy into the rebellion and had him posted as a lookout for stormtroopers as she was sabotaging land speeders. It’s real. It’s so real that when you leave Batuu and find yourself back in Disneyland, it’s jarring. If Star Wars is your thing, Batuu is definitely going to be your thing.
It’s amazing and I feel like I’m just getting started in my explorations. If you go, make sure to check your cynicism at the door and instead dive in and enjoy the ride.
Also, I have contacts with a rebel cell currently sneaking into Batuu that has set up an Instagram Account to smuggle out photos and comment on the state of the unjust First Order occupation. If you like this sort of thing, subscribe to the “Batuu_Rebel” account on Instagram. The cell is still getting established, but I expect it is going to get quite active in the near future.
We got the news today that Peter Mayhew, the actor behind Chewbacca, passed away. Peter’s passing really touched me. I’m enough of a Star Wars nerd that I’ve attended the Celebration Expo several times and, of all the original cast, Peter always seemed one of the happiest guys in the room. When he got the Chewbacca gig, he was a hospital orderly and I think he never lost sight of how fortunate he was to play such a big role. That being said, it wasn’t all luck. Putting a guy in a six foot dog costume and asking him to follow Harrison Ford around in a potentially campy 70’s sci-fi film could have gone horribly wrong. Peter brought something to the table though. He gave Chewie heart and a lot of us, myself included, certainly connected. Chewbacca never would have become what he is without Peter. As Mark Hamill tweeted, “I’m a better man for just having known him.” There was a lot of sadness from fans of the original trilogy that we never got that scene in the new movies with Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie together. Having now lost both Peter Mayhew and Carrie Fischer, that’s even more true.
When I visit Disneyland (frequently), I have the option to get my picture taken with a variety of characters from Star Wars. The thing is, I always go for Chewbacca. There are probably 100 pictures of me and Chewbacca in my Apple Photos library. There is nothing quite like hugging a Wookiee to set you right. Thanks Peter.