When I finally got to see Star Wars in 1977 it was no longer playing at the movie theaters, and it was making its final run at the local drive-in just up the road from us. I had been unable to persuade either of my parents to take me, but eventually persuaded my great grandmother (Granny) and my grandmother (Saul) to go.
So it’s important to know that Granny was religious, and that she often said things like “that’s a lie and you know it. If the devil happened by and heard you talking like that he’d take you straight to hell while you’re living.” I was 7, and at a point that I didn’t entirely believe her, but I definitely believed that she believed some part of what she was saying.
Anyway, the movie opened and I’m sitting in the back seat watching those now iconic letters scroll across the screen and Saul says “What’s that say? I can’t even read that.” And Granny says something like, “I don’t know. This just looks like a story.” And I’m trying to figure out what’s going on, and I’m not really sure I’m getting it.
Each new scene there’s a new critique from the front seat: Luke is an idiot. Robots can’t talk. What’s going on? The movie is ridiculous.
About 30 minutes in (I checked this with my own copy recently) when “Old Ben Kenobi” mentions the force, Granny said, “He’s talking about the devil. We’re going home.”
And there was no argument. I remember craning my neck a little to see the screen as we were driving out of the lot, but it was useless.
I wouldn’t have known it at the time, but the hours that I spent discussing Star Wars with friends, without actually knowing what I was talking about, gave me skills that would become useful later on in the academy. First, I learned to pick up on threads of conversation and build on them without a strong referent in my own reality. In one conversation, I’d gather that there was a scene involving a trash compactor and I would use this information the next time that another Star Wars conversation would come up. I’d pick up on little details and use those and then learn more as the conversation developed.
I think I also learned from Luke Skywalker/Mark Hammill that people will love you when you’re sincere, even if part of being sincere means being a little cringe. Even at the time, we kids knew at some level he was not a good actor. That famous scene embodied it, but he was out there with his emotions anyway, so we dug him. It made him more the hero.
And for me at least when I think about some of the music that I most love, that same gesture of sincerity is ultimately what works for me. The best of John Prine, Bowie, Lauryn Hill, Phoebe Bridgers, Frank Ocean, John Hartford, Nick Cave, Daniel Johnson, Bjork, Ian Curtis–all of those (and you have yours, and yours are likely to be just as good or even better), they all at times risk being so vulnerable that they are on the edge of falling into a chasm of what a critic would call melodrama, but they don’t fall in. Or if they do fall in they tell the story of falling with such specific detail that we forget that we are falling.
Years later, somewhere in the mid-eighties when my folks got a VCR, I finally got to see the rest of Star Wars, everything that I had been missing.
And I remember being disappointed because the Star Wars I had built up in my mind was better than the Star Wars that was unfolding in front of me on our TV screen.