Somewhere around the third year of my daughter being way too cool to be seen in public with her dad, she surprised me by requesting that I take her to the special edition showing of Star Wars. This was George Lucas’ first attempt to screw up the series and as we were still ignorant as to what the false messiah of science fiction really intended, we were hopeful for a good experience.

We entered the lobby, purchased the mandatory popcorn-soda combination, and went to find our seats.

That’s when we were intercepted by Larry.

He was a horrible little punk working as the attendant. He had dark hair that swirled across his skull as if he were sensitive to a wind storm that no one else could detect. I suspected that he might also have been robotically controlled by aliens but upon a second examination, I determined that it was more likely that whenever he wasn’t standing in a movie theater, he was scribbling with crayons on cardboard, developing plans for the swift conquest of all major governments.

I instantly hated him, not just for bothering me but also for being named Larry.

He was about 19 and I was much older. His greatest accomplishment was that he’d bought a Penthouse magazine while he was still under-aged. I had just returned from a deployment to Saudi Arabia and was a skilled counter-terrorist analyst. I felt I had the superiority in skills and social standing. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the snappy theater uniform or a flashlight and that gave Larry the advantage.

He pointed to a gathering of a dozen people all shoved uncomfortably against the wall and told us to join them at the back of the line.

Even at his young age, Larry understood that with my daughter in tow, I wasn’t about to get back in the car and leave, so I had no choice but to follow his instructions. I was annoyed by being relegated to a hallway waiting area and he knew it, at that gave him a spark of pleasure in his otherwise despicable existence.

Larry scowled at me, as if to say “What are you going to do about it?”

I hated him just a little bit more for that.

The two of us glared at each other for several uncomfortable moments. I tried to choke him with the Force and in return, he tried to figure out if his minimum wage salary was worth dealing with an asshole like me. I considered all the ways my time working as a liaison with the special forces taught me to kill someone and hide their body but an execution-style murder seemed a bit of an overreaction since no actual weapons had been displayed. Plus, I had a high-level security clearance and Larry had a plastic name-tag that seemed to be worth more than his miserable life. Even I could see I had more to lose than he did.

Did I mention that I hated him?

After a short bit, I accepted defeat. My daughter and I meandered over to the line and Larry wondered if he was going to earn enough money to get laid anytime in the next six years.

In other words, we both had our issues.

That’s when the pure irony of the situation hit me. It was one of those moments when you first realize that the entire world has changed and then discover that rather than everyone else on the planet, its you that has slipped a gear.

I recalled how in 1977, I’d happily joined a line that stretched around the corner of the movie theater and I was overjoyed at the opportunity. Just the fact that I had a ticket and was going to see the film was a triumph and the Carter presidency had already taught me that standing in line wasn’t anything anyone should worry about. (Remember the odd and even days waiting in long lines to buy gas?)

Lines weren’t really the problem. Instead, it was the change in my greater reality that I resented. I resented the innocence that adult life had taken from me. I resented the cold logic that transformed a journey to a galaxy far, far away into a mechanical exercise of computer-generated special effects and technical enhancements. I resented Larry, — and then for good measure, I resented him again, — and then I resented George Lucas because he was the bastard who got me into this mess in the first place.

I caught Larry watching me. I nibbled on popcorn that I knew he couldn’t afford and then bought another bag just so I could walk past him with it.

Not long afterward, we were let into the theater, no thanks to Larry. We still got good seats and before long, the music roared and the yellow space words rolled off into the distance.

It is a period of Civil War. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Rebel? Hidden base?

Just who the Hell were these people?!?

It all sounded a bit unsettling. Not long before I’d been in Latin America, doing my own modest part to break up terrorist cells that were planting bombs and conducting assassinations in Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador. Now, one of the great memories of my childhood was turning from a gleaming achievement in cinema to something rather gross and sticky that couldn’t easily be washed off. It was like finally getting to sleep with the girl you’d always dreamed about in high school only to discover that she was actually a he and he wanted to start a long-term relationship.

Things didn’t improve as the film played on and I was forced to recognize the inconvenient truth of it all.

Luke, Han, Muffin Ears, and Bigfoot were terrorists!

I shook my head, certain that something must be amiss. The famed adventurers just couldn’t be terrorists. They just couldn’t. They were my icons since childhood. They were the heroes. They represented what was good and they fought against an “evil, galactic empire”. I knew this because it was spelled out in the yellow space words that presumably were still floating off somewhere in the cosmos

I scratched my chin in that thoughtful way that might have impressed someone had they been looking and wondered just what it was that I was missing. Certainly, in an entire theater of viewers, I couldn’t be the only one who saw these insurgents for what they really were.

I decided the answer must lie in discovering just what it was about this galactic empire that made it so evil. Over the years, I’d seen evil empires come and go and so I had a good baseline to use for comparison.

There was Sauron, the black armored ghost who sent a hundred thousand orcs to kill everything just for the sake of killing. He made a ring to turn noble kings into horrible white litches that were so terrible, even Liberals didn’t want to associate with them. Sauron lived in a volcano that constantly spewed columns of gas that directly contributed to Al Gore’s global warming theory. According to Gore, Sauron was almost as evil as George W. Bush, but not quite as Gore thought Sauron had some redeeming qualities that he was certain weren’t present in his former political rival.

There was also the machine network of SkyNet. It built killer robots that were so vicious, they even destroyed other killer robots. These weren’t content to merely squash the life out of everything they found in their own nuclear wastelands. They traveled backwards in time to kill women and young boys and possibly even the B-52s before they had a chance to sing Love Shack. These robots couldn’t be reasoned with or bargained with or even inspired to participate in universal health care. They just killed and killed and then recharged and then killed some more.

There was also the Planet of the Apes, whose inhabitants were, after all, — apes. They hunted humans for sport and had a society so twisted that even the rather whiny idealist astronaut, Taylor, decided to nuke it all into a red, glowing blob. The apes clung to their guns and religion and likely supported drilling in Alaska as well. They were so bad that a band of mutants that peeled off their faces and worshiped a great phallic symbol were better companions by comparison.

Surely the ultimate tale of good versus evil had an empire far worse than its competitors!

As it turned out, the Star Wars empire’s menace appeared to be largely phantom. The stormtroopers set up some road blocks, asked for registrations, and investigated a bar brawl. Beyond that, they seemed to leave the inhabitants of the planet to continue their lives unmolested. The orbiting Imperial spaceships didn’t carpet-bomb suspecting rebel hiding places. They didn’t engage in shows of power by blasting apart mountains and melting shopping malls. They just orbited and for the most part, kept the peace.

By contrast, Muffin Ears had stolen vital government secrets, used her diplomatic pass for a covert military operation, and worked to overthrow the legitimate government. Later in the film we learn she’s allied with malcontents who have stockpiled some serious weaponry and, as the yellow space words explained in the beginning, have been using it to strike out at the very peace-keepers daring to set up road blocks and break up bar fights. Muffin Ears teams up with Han, a criminal smuggler dashing from planet to planet with Bigfoot at his side, and he has no reservations at helping anyone and everyone with a handful of cash escape legal authority.

In the end, the good guys lose again when the terrorists manage to murder countless millions of intelligent beings whose only apparent crime was to be assigned to a battlestation that Muffin Ears didn’t like. Admittedly, this same battlestation had blasted apart her record collection, along with her family, friends, and comfy pillows, but that same planet was also the central command center for the insurgency so I had a hard time finding much sympathy in her cause. Instead, it only told me that Muffin Ear’s preferred mass genocide to trying to enact peaceful changes through the legal or political systems, something that seemed a bit odd for someone who main role in life was supposed to be a senator.

I hoped that the following special edition films might fill in the blanks somehow.

They didn’t.

The Empire Strikes Back showed that if you blatantly murder the core of the military, those left behind tend to get a little irritated. In this case, the Empire expressed itself with a pretty aggressive ground assault on the rebel’s latest “hidden base”. Muffin Ears, Bigfoot, and his owner run off and the Empire follows them and except for some interruptions with a withered orc in a swamp, everything seems to fall in line as it should. That is until the end when, out of nowhere, Vader announces that the massive loss of life everyone has contributed to wasn’t due to some great clash of social ideas or economic policies, but to a petty family dispute.

Jedi was the last chance for the reworked special editions to make sense. It taught me nothing regarding my quandary with good and evil being reversed but instead illustrated that in the years since the films debuted, although their nature hadn’t changed, I had.

This hit me square in the face during the opening scene. Darth Vader lands on Death Star 2.0 and scolds the new commander, an evil-version of Doctor McCoy, about his lack of progress in completing the construction projection. It seemed to me that all the guys standing around wearing a bunch of shiny white armor could probably get everything on schedule in a day or so if they put on coveralls and turned a couple of wrenches. Vader doesn’t quite say this but does hint that the commander’s parking space might be coming up for grabs sometime soon. He also adds a few bits about the emperor and forgiveness but I tuned that out as it all sounded pretty sappy.

At this point my daughter nudged me and said’ He sounds just like you dad”.

I managed an unsophisticated “What?” followed by a rather weak “Huh?” but didn’t mumble much else that was coherent.

My daughter continued. “The guy all in black. He sounds just like you do”.

“Are you talking about Darth Vader, the most evil guy in the galaxy?”

She confirmed that was indeed the image she held of me and added that in comparison, the Dark Lord of the Sith might be something of a lightweight.

 

I reran Vader’s dialog over in my mind once again. He landed in the hanger bay, said he was tired of excuses, gave the guy a chance to redeem himself, and warned him that the big boss was coming to town. All in all, Vader didn’t seem as harsh as any good senior NCO in the US military. My daughter thought I was worse.

I took it as a compliment.

It was only years later that I learned it wasn’t meant to be.

This clarification came when my wife bought me the Blu-Ray releases as a present. We cuddled together on the couch and enjoyed the film, not only because it played though a fine set of speakers on a large HDTV, but also because I didn’t have to deal with Larry. We ate home-made popcorn that I figured Larry still couldn’t afford and then, on a whim, declared it didn’t matter, — because I decided he was dead.

I killed him in a car wreck.

He was rushing to Memphis to meet a girl he’d met on the Internet when he was hit by a tractor trailer truck that crushed the cab of his Honda. He was showered in glass fragments and trapped under bent steel before the fuel exploded and consumed him in a flaming mass.

In truth, I think he’s probably an IRS agent preparing to audit me next year but I enjoyed the fantasy while I could.

On Blu-Ray, the films took on an awesome dimension. The hardware really shined and the sound was superb. It was a great experience for both of us until Governor Tarkin met Muffin Ears face-to-face.

She comes out slinging insults, bragging about how her cause of rebellion and insurgency will finally reign supreme, and how before he knows it, nobody, but nobody, will play with any Tarkin action figures ever again. She’s a hardened rebel leader and he’s an antiquated officer, disconnected from the realities of galaxy life and probably a Tea Part member as well.

He says fine and blasts her planet to bits.

She’s horrified.

The audience in 1977 was horrified.

My wife was especially horrified.

I nodded in true appreciation.

My wife, raised an eyebrow and glared at me as if I’d poured chocolate syrup all over the couch. She informed me that at times, I can be a cruel and twisted man, completely void of compassion.

I found her lack of faith disturbing.

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