As the poet Omar Khayyam observed long ago, “Now the New Year reviving old Desires / The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires.” Or else the thoughtful soul goes to the movies, an option not available in Omar’s time.
So last week I went to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and of course not in complete solitude, not with box office records being set everywhere.
Happily, my pal Mike – a member of our little group of guys dedicated to seeing films with no redeeming social value – accompanied me. The force was not with us, but we hoped the senior discounts were.
Purists might lodge the objection that the new Star Wars film has plenty of redeeming social value, being tip-top entertainment with spectacular special effects and an uplifting moral. After many adventures, good eventually triumphs over evil near the end of the last bag of popcorn.
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The purists have a point but we went anyway because nobody has ever accused us of being pure. This was Episode VII, and I confess that I missed many of the intervening episodes. I realize that this is a sad waste of Roman numerals and now more Super Bowls will have to be played to employ the spares.
However, I do remember seeing the first film in 1977. Wait! Was it that long ago? Well, yes, and that is the frightening thing, that people of my vintage must cast their minds back – such parts of their minds that have survived the wear and tear – to ask the question of each other: Where were you when the first Star Wars movie came out?
I was in England, working on the sports desk of The Times of London and writing headlines that said: “Battling Briton Finishes 14th” or some variation thereof. It was a curious time of transition in my life, still a year away from my move to the United States.
So, in this unsettled state, the memory of where I actually saw the first Star Wars film soon disappeared. I imagine a plush but fading English cinema with a seedy charm and witty graffiti on the condom dispenser in the men’s room. A label assured patrons that the dispenser met the relevant British standards, prompting wags to write: “So did the Titanic.”
Alert readers – and blessings be upon all of you – may have figured out by now that this is not a movie review, although, for what it’s worth, Mike and I enjoyed the movie and recommend it.
Instead, this is a reflection on mortality. Sorry. Now all of you readers who got sucked into the column will have to take off your Stars Wars costumes, put down your lightsabers, shed your helmets, climb out of your Chewbacca suits and, in the case of the ladies, take the Danish pastries out of your hair. Hey, I tried to warn you off with the poetry in the first paragraph.
Part of my anxiety has to do simply with the passing of the year, another discarded calendar piled on the ruined monument of my youth, but in my case there’s another cause. Last week, almost in the shadow of New Year’s Day, I celebrated my birthday, the word “celebrated” being too jolly for the circumstances.
I am not saying how old I am, but in drought-stricken California I need enough candles on my cake that a fire permit may now be required from local authorities.
But mostly it was the film that did me in. It works fine if you are seeing it for the first time, but those who saw the first one cannot help being jolted by the similarities – and the difference.
The characters from yesteryear are on parade again – Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, a Darth Vader wannabe complete with helmet, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, now Gen. Organa, looking like a kindly granny with the pastries in her hair having shed some crumbs.
The plot is strikingly similar too; the rebels, having won their big victory, again battle sinister forces now called by a different name. The ending is vintage 1977. The difference is that our heroes have aged, except Chewbacca, whose looks prove that chewing is good for the complexion.
The movie was enjoyable but at the same time more vexing than a mirror for those of us who remember a long time ago our own galaxy far, far away – our youthful years. Old Omar called it, “The Bird of Time has but a little way / to fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.” Shoo away that bird with a lightsaber, someone.
Reg Henry is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org