The arrival of the latest Star Wars film you probably won’t be surprised to hear has met with little enthusiasm from yours truly. I’m not a big one for the cinema. It’s not to say I don’t like films, although I’m not inclined to switch off for a couple of hours and lose myself in them. I’m too fidgety to be able to focus on something for long, sadly. It’s just more that I really don’t like cinemas. I don’t enjoy sitting through trailers, worrying about how easy it might be to get to the loo should I need to, in the dark, and I can’t stand having morons munching popcorn or sipping soft drinks whilst checking their phones every couple of minutes. These are issues separate to the fact I have no interest in actually watching another Star Wars film. Whilst my hair be as big right now as it was in the summer of 1980 when my dad reluctantly took me to see The Empire Strikes Back, quite simply, as a middle aged man, I feel like I left these films behind about twenty years ago.
My fondness for Star Wars is actually more to do with the action figures which I fell in love with after swapping some toy for a Chewbacca figure at school back in ’78 and then wandering into the old Bon Marche department store in Brixton not long after with my mum and adding to my new collection with a Luke Skywalker. Being a football obsessive, I soon had enough figures to set up a football league with my Star Wars figures that ran for 15 seasons and was comprised of 8 teams: Tattooine; Rebels; Hoth; Empire (the only side never to win a single trophy despite the presence of AT-AT Trooper, a wonderful ball playing midfielder with a hell of a strike on him); Death Star; Bespin; Alderran and cup specialists, X-Wing. The Star Wars football league gave me something that Subbuteo and its successful offshoot, Car Football, never quite gave me. It also, along with the z-bed I slept in for 11 years, contributed to my longstanding back issues.
In the winter, games would be switched to a different carpet so I could be closer to the single fireplace we had in our room that British Gas had frequently shut down on account of being dangerous, and the Star Wars figures occupying the flanks would become uncomfortably warm to handle.
I had badgered my dad to take me to see The Empire Strikes Back in the summer of ’80. I’d been too young for the first film but have vague memories of my cousin and his best friend leaving us outside the old Sainsbury’s on Clapham Road to go off and see the original film. I was able to piece together my knowledge of the film over three years through collecting the packs of Star Wars cards that came with bubble gum, the Brown Watson annual of the original motion picture and the action figures. The original film wasn’t aired until October 1982 on UK television, so like much of my generation, I actually saw the first sequel before the original.
By then, having read Marvel’s adaptation of the film, I knew the plot to Empire Strikes Back but I still enjoyed the film immensely and like many kids, soon as I got home, I froze my Han Solo in a soap dish. It was probably my favourite of the three. Unlike the first and third films, it didn’t end with space ships shooting at each other, something which like the usual end of a Bond film, I can never get into. My dad though did not enjoy the film one little bit. Nor did he gain anything from watching me enjoy it.
I still recall asking him what he thought of the film as we made our way back to Mayflower.
That’s all he said and carried on walking. And my dad was not a man of few words. Unlike me, he was a raconteur of Peter Ustinov proportions. Once he engaged you in dialogue, it was hard to find that segue to bring the conversation to a close. But he was so appalled by that film, he just had no words beyond ‘rubbish’ to give me. He looked angry that he had had to sit through it.
My dad never took me to the cinema again. There are so many eighties films I still haven’t seen. Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, to name but two, though to be fair, I’ve never had any burning desire to sit through them.
35 years on, with my Imaginary Son pushing for me to take him to see the new film with the terrible title, I find myself turning into my dad once more. I don’t think I can sit through it, and maybe it’s better that we don’t go. I don’t want to find us walking back home and my Imaginary Son excitedly asking me what I thought of the new film, and me replying as tersely as my dad did three and a half decades earlier. I don’t want him remembering the disappointment that I can still recall from that day at the cinema and I know I am more than capable of emulating my dad’s response all those years ago.