Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Welcome to the March of the Twelve Backs ...

Welcome to The March of the Twelve Backs, a new blog that will journey back to a time long ago in a childhood far, far away ...

It was a time of great turmoil in America and in the world.  A time when there was no Internet, no Twitter, no "Ain't It Cool News", no IMDB, no YouTube or Facebook.  There was a time when information was shared by word of mouth, over telephone (not cellphone), when a house had one or maybe two telephones, one television, and no computers.  Journey back to a time when monthly magazines, comic books, and television were the major sources of news, when you couldn't watch the latest movie trailer online, no, you had to be lucky to catch it as a commercial on TV and if you walked in on the middle or tail-end of the commercial then tough because you couldn't rewind and watch it again.

This was a time that many of us remember as the late 1970's, specifically for me it was the time of 1976 to 1979, call it four years, four wonderful, individual years (1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979) that were not only a truly golden period in my childhood but it was also the time of the meteoric rise of George Lucas' epic space opera "Star Wars" and the blistering supernova of science fiction, the awakening of imagination, that filled that period with palatable, tangible magic.

For many, there is a certain time in their youth that is magic.  For my father, who was born in 1940, that time was 1955 to 1957, those three years.  His favorite car?  1957 Chevy.  He can often look at something and tell me what year it was but if whatever catches his fancy falls into the time period of 1955, 1956 or 1957 ... he becomes a living Wikipedia on the subject.  For my dad, those three years are golden and filled with wonderful memories of being young.  For me, it is the time period of 1976 to 1979.  To this day (and I was born in 1969 ...) I can look at something, a movie, a book, a toy, and tell if it was made during that era.  Chances are, if it was then I either saw it, read it or played with it.

While "Star Wars" was a big thing (probably one of the biggest things) to come along in the 1970's it wasn't the only thing to come along.  "Star Wars" ignited a wildfire that, in its wake, left lots of other fires burning ... some large, some small, some great, some mediocre, but fires nonetheless.  "Star Wars" was like a nuclear bomb, it was a blinding flash, an ear deafening roar, and it obliterated everything that had ever come before it.  In its wake it left a rising super hot mushroom cloud in the collective pop culture of the world, a mushroom cloud that sucked in everything around it.  Nature abhors a vacuum and in the wake of "Star Wars" there was a vacuum that everyone tried to fill either by creating and marketing science fiction products or by filling their lives with said products.  

There came a time, after May of 1977, when you could not go anywhere in America without being slapped in the face with something "Star Wars".  It was everywhere, it was everything.  People lost their minds over "Star Wars" (myself included as a 8 year old boy) and "Star Wars" became a pop culture phenomenon.  It was magic, it was light, it was sound, it was imagination, it was music, it was ... an escape.  Above all else, "Star Wars" gave us something that no other science fiction movie before it ever had ... an escape.

Why was there a need to escape?

If you didn't live in the 1970's, if you didn't grow up in the 1970's then you can't possibly understand what a time of turmoil it was.  Fashion was out of control, we were coming out of the peace, love and happiness (and free sex) of the 1960's and trying to be more responsible.  The Vietnam War had finally ended, Watergate had happened, clumsy Ford was in office and was soon replaced by Jimmy Carter who was the second worst president in American history.  It was a time of crying American Indians on television warning us that pollution would kill the world.  It was a time when performance in automobiles meant fuel economy rather than cubic inches.  It was a time when disaster movies and nature gone wild movies were the big blockbusters.  The 1970's sucked, it was a decade long marathon of decadence, of coming to grips with reality and embracing nonsense.  It was a time of mysticism, new age religions, and new science.  In the 1970's, everything was tried and a lot of it didn't work.  It was a somber time, a mediocre decade.  It was a glorious time and a fantastic decade.  Poverty and excess, stupidity and brilliance, boredom and excitement.  Amid all of this was an insane amount of social pressure, building to a boiling point.  Everyone was looking for a way out, an escape from rising gas prices, inflation, bad government, unrest in the Middle East, the ever increasing tension with Russia …

“Star Wars” was an escape.  

It hit at the right time in the 1970’s to be an epic success.  “Star Wars” was a fairy tale, pure and simple, and it was delivered with special effects technology that had to be invented just for the film.  “Star Wars”, as Lucas is quoted as saying, was a fairy tale for a generation that had no fairy tales.  Society changed so much and so fast during the 1960’s and 1970’s and very little of that change was for the better.  Society fragmented along cultural, sexual, racial and political lines.  In that regard, the power of fairy tales, the goodness that was basic story telling, fell by the wayside in favor of over the top political hammering and force-fed indoctrination at nearly all levels.

“Star Wars” was different.

It didn’t preach.

It didn’t warn.

It didn’t advocate.

It didn’t alienate or divide.

It didn’t pander to one type of people or another.

It didn’t glorify wrong and vilify right.

“Star Wars” was a story of good versus evil, of right versus wrong and it was a story that had been told, in one form or another, since recorded history and probably for a lot longer before that.  “Star Wars” was timeless and classic.  It didn’t take a lot of brain power to watch “Star Wars” and that was the best part … “Star Wars” was an escape.  It was a pure escape that was convenient, welcome and available to all.  

“Star Wars” showed us a galaxy of strange and wonderful things, creatures, planets, spaceships, weapons and robots and it was a believable galaxy because people worked hard in that galaxy.  Stuff was dirty and broken, there was good and bad, ugly and beautiful, heroes and villains.  It was the stuff of fairy tale and also of every day life.  “Star Wars” was a believable escape because it immersed the viewer in the make-believe world and that world was a gritty world like our own, not the antiseptic, sterilized, do-goody, everyone gets alone, we don’t need money, all races coexist, gawdy and bright future that we’d seen in “Star Trek”.  It wasn’t the ominous future that we’d seen in movies like Kubrick’s “2001" either.  "Star Wars" blew our minds with its simple but elegant story, it stunned our ears with its masterful orchestral soundtrack, it melted our eyes with its amazing special effects and it captured the hearts and minds of millions of people instantly.  

People who didn’t like science fiction liked “Star Wars”.  

It reached out, across all types of people and gave a universal message, a message that most had been told when they were young … good will overcome evil, even against impossible odds.

“Star Wars” was an escape from years of oppressive reality.  It was an escape from politics, from hoky religions, from social movements, from disasters … you could buy a ticket to see “Star Wars” and for an hour and a half, give or take, you could just turn your mind off and enjoy yourself.  You didn’t have to think hard about “Star Wars”, it wasn’t that cerebral, it didn’t take a college education or a doctorate to figure it out and it could be enjoyed by people of all ages.

“Star Wars” was magic.

"Star Wars" was a super nova of science fiction.

I’m not talking about “Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope”.  I’m talking about “Star Wars”.  

Just … “Star Wars”, before Lucas took the next two and a half decades to turn something wonderful into something utterly mediocre, all the while trying to show the world what a great visionary he was when in reality he was little more than a hack revisionist who never seemed to be happy with his work.  Long before episode I, II, III, IV, V, and VI there was just “Star Wars” with that familiar logo and the preface screen crawl that didn’t have “Episode IV: A New Hope” between the logo and the preface crawl … often confusing the viewer and leading people to wonder “if this is episode four, when did I miss the other three episodes?”

For a while there was “Star Wars” … pure, undiluted, unrevisioned … just “Star Wars” and it was amazing.  For a time in the late 1970’s there were a few years that seemed to go on forever to the kids who were just coming of age, for kids who had been frightened out of their wits by all sorts of doomsday stories and rampant fear mongering "Star Wars" was like a long awaited release.  There came a time when everything that we knew was torn down and made new again, when toys changed, when the technology of toys changed, when our imaginations were sparked and ignited and when we dreamed and imagined and life was fun again.

There came a time, in the late 1970’s, that you could look back upon in later years and suddenly you could understand just why it was that your dad liked 1955, 1956 and 1957 so much.  After all of these years, suddenly you really could understand why …

1977 to 1979 were magic years and I was lucky enough to live through those years as a child, caught up in the child-like wonder and awe that comes from being part of something so great, so large, so all-encompassing that even decades later you can't quite wrap your mind around it.

This blog will focus primarily on "Star Wars."  

It is a personal blog full of personal memories of the movie and the other films that followed in its wake.  I'm going to try to keep the time frame of the blog to between December 1976 and December 1979, roughly five months before "Star Wars" appeared and five months before "The Empire Strikes Back" was released.  I'm going to talk about specific childhood memories, how "Star Wars" impacted me as a 8 year old when I first saw it in the theater.  I'm going to talk about the toys, the books, the music, the models ... and all the wonderful stuff, good and bad, that filled those three years of my life.

So, come along with me, on a journey back to childhood.  

It's going to be a fun ride!

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