1995 – The Birth of a Star Wars Fan
I was born in 1983, the same year Return of the Jedi was released in theaters. That meant by the time I was three and began developing an interest in things, Star Wars was old news. The trilogy was finished and outside of some Ewok spin off stuff, there wasn’t much Star Wars merchandise coming out. So, my young mind focused on things I saw on TV like Ghostbusters, Transformers, and GI Joe.
My knowledge of Star Wars was limited to seeing some cool model X-Wing and Tie Fighters that my uncle had built and an Empire Strikes Back re-along book. My knowledge of the franchise could be summed up rather quickly:
- I knew there was a huge black figure named Darth Vader.
- I knew there was a little green gnome looking guy.
- I knew the Muppet Babies liked it.
- I knew they fought with laser swords.
I also knew I had seen some of the original Star Trek on TV and it was boring, so I really had no interest in seeing anything else with the word Star in the title. That was until 1995.
In 1995, Star Wars was re-released on VHS after being remastered in THX. The commercials were pretty epic and featured awesome space battles, fights, and Indiana Jones. The commercials kept mentioning that this would be the last time you could ever see Star Wars and at eleven years old that meant something. I bought it hook line and sinker. I had to see Star Wars, I had to figure out what the hype was about, and I needed to do it before time ran out!
On our next trip to the video store, I managed to track down a battered VHS copy of Star Wars. I snuck the tape into our rental stack and hoped my dad wouldn’t notice. He wasn’t a fan of science fiction, so I knew I’d catch some flak for it. Sure enough, before putting the tapes on the counter he looked over at me with a confused look on his face, “Star Wars? Are you sure? You know this is old, right?” I told him yes, and then I enthusiastically went into the greatest Star Wars sales pitch quoting the commercial word-for-word with a special emphasis on the “last time ever.” My dad look at me like I was Jabba the Hutt before rolling his eyes and saying, “Okay” I’m sure just to spare himself from any further LucasFilm propaganda to come spilling from my mouth.
That night I popped in this dirty old VHS tape, and sat in front of my 19 inch screen in amazement. There was this whole fantasy world that I never knew existed had suddenly come to life. I felt like I was the only person in the world who was watching this (little did I know) and the film was as magical as the commercials promised. My only real complaint was how dark and grainy the film looked compared to the commercials for the new remastering. That of course, didn’t stop me from watching the film two more times before we had to return it. I officially had Star Wars fever.
The following weekend during our next trip to the video store I picked up a copy of The Empire Strikes Back. I was anxious to reconnect with my new heroes and well… like everyone knows, The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t disappoint. The film starts off with some incredible action and the characters that you are introduced to in A New Hope grow immensely over the next film. I watched The Empire Strikes Back a second time that weekend and found that I liked the movie even more than the first. Of course, there was one problem… the film ended on a cliffhanger. What the heck happened to Han Solo? I had to know! Sadly, our local video store didn’t have a copy of Return of the Jedi.
It would be another six months before I finally got a chance to see Return of the Jedi. I know compared to the people who watched the film in theaters, that was a short amount of time, but for me it was an eternity. I didn’t know anyone who watched Star Wars and I still didn’t realize how huge Star Wars really was. I probably could have asked around at school regarding Han’s fate, but Star Wars wasn’t cool. It wasn’t something the kids talked about, nor did they wear t-shirts or play with the toys. Star Wars might as well have been Flash Gordon. It was just some archaic science fiction that nobody seemed to care about. I was forced to wait till Christmas that year, when my soon to be stepmom presented me with the re-mastered trilogy on VHS and I was finally able to complete the Star Wars saga. It was a glorious way to spend Christmas Day.
The remastered trilogy was beautiful. The box art was great, the sound and picture was amazing, but what made this new VHS set even better is that it contained an interview with creator George Lucas. Special features on a VHS tape were pretty rare back then. You usually had previews for other movies, or possibly a commercial for a product, but there weren’t a lot of special features like what we find on DVD and Blu-rays today.
Before each film in the new set, Leonard Maltin set down with Mr. Lucas to discuss Star Wars, the remastering, and a huge announcement that he had to make. In 1999, a mere four years away, a new Star Wars film was going to grace our screens. I watched that video interview probably a hundred times. I was absolutely floored that a new Star Wars film was coming.
I was already a picky eater, so having to entertain the idea that I would have eat some flavorless misshapen corn orbs in place of my normally delicious Fruity Pebbles was blasphemous. I stood for five minutes in Publix, staring at the box of Corn Pops and the advertisement for the Making of VHS tape making a list of pros and cons. I decided I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see something else Star Wars so I took the box and see if my grandma would buy it knowing how picky I was. To my surprise, she didn’t bat an eye and I had my first box of Corn Pops.
I tried… I really did try to eat the Corn Pops. I poured a massive bowl as soon as I got home in hopes that I could finish the box quickly so that I could go back to the store and get a second box and mail off for my tape. I took just one bite and I knew I had taken on an impossible mission. My stomach churned, my taste buds rebelled, and about half way through that bowl I had to give up. With great shame, I flipped the bowl over onto the table and made a huge mess. I was forced to clean up and toss out all the contaminated Corn Pops. It was a shameful act, and one that I’m not proud of, but it got rid of a fourth of the box.
Later that night, after everyone went to sleep, I snuck out of my bedroom and down into the kitchen. I took a small handful of Corn Pops and put them into the garbage disposal and then took a much larger handful into the bathroom where I flushed them down the toilet. I repeated this over the next three nights until the box of Corn Pops was almost empty. Then like a mischievous Kevin McAllister, I planned the next morning perfectly. I would get up, sit at the dining room table while my grandma was cooking breakfast, and then I’d attempt to pour a bowl of Corn Pops only to find that only a few morsels remained. I would be bummed, would have to resort to eating Fruity Pebbles instead and my staged scene would be witnessed by the one person who did all the grocery shopping. I have to give myself credit… it worked like a charm. My grandma was going out to the store later that afternoon and said she’d pick me up another box. I silently said a few prayers she wouldn’t resort to buying an off brand.
After school I rushed home and was pleased to find a brand new box of real Corn Pops in the pantry. I quickly cut out the UPC code, made an honest appeal to my grandma for seven dollars for shipping and handling, and then mailed out my order form. The box said it would take four to six weeks for delivery, but I’m pretty sure it was more like six months before I got my tape. It was totally worth it. I pushed that second box of Corn Pops to the back of the pantry where it sat until it expired and was thrown out having never been eaten.
Over the past twenty-two years since 1995, I’ve made numerous Star Wars memories. I’ve seen the films in theater and bought numerous DVD and Blu-ray sets. I got to see the incredible hype and appreciation for the prequels come and go dramatically before leaving the franchise neglected. I’ve played through dozens of Star Wars video games, bought all sorts of collectibles, and even got to witness the selling of the franchise off to Disney. In 1995, I never would have imagined I would not only get three prequels to this new franchise I had discovered, but a slew of cartoons and a new series of movies featuring the original cast. It truly has been an interesting ride.
A few years ago, I was browsing Goodwill when I spotted a familiar box in the display case at the front of the store. Inside this case was a set of the THX Remastered Star Wars Trilogy. Some of tapes had never been watched and still retained their seal at the bottom of the box. There was no way I could pass this up. I bought the set, and once I got to my car I pulled the box set out and just stared at it for a few moments.
Holding that box in my hands was like holding onto a time machine. Almost instantly I began recalling the thrill I got watching those tapes. I remembered the interviews, much improved video, and the awesome sound those tapes had given me. But more importantly, I remembered the excitement that I experienced in 1995 “in a galaxy far, far away.” One little commercial set me on a course for a lifelong fandom that still relevant twenty-three years later. That is impressive, and I owe it all to that one VHS set.