Star Wars birthday memories

A number of people on social media noted that May 21st was the 40th anniversary of the release of the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back.  This prompted me to revisit my own memories of seeing it.  Giving it some consideration, it’s one of the earliest memories I have.

My father and grandfather took me to see The Empire Strikes Back at the movie theater, probably in early June, 1980. I was three years and eleven months years old at the time, so truthfully I remember very little about watching the actual movie that day.

As is probably typical of childhood memories of movies and television, my recollection of that first viewing is vague & distorted.  For example, I remembered the scene from near the beginning when Luke Skywalker was hanging upside down in the Wampa’s ice cave.  I also remembered the scene in the cave on Dagobah where Luke fights an illusion of Darth Vader.  However in my young mind those two moments got squished together, and for a while there I really thought there was a scene in the movie where Luke is hanging upside down in a cave and gets loose just in time to fight Darth Vader.

Oh, yeah… I think I remembered the Imperial Walkers attacking Hoth. As a kid I thought they were pretty scary, and I referred to them as “Metal Dinosaurs.”

I much more vividly remember the experience that surrounded going to the movie. My father and grandfather took me to see it at The Central Plaza Cinema on Central Avenue in Yonkers, NY.  We got Burger King for lunch beforehand, and I seem to recall that we brought the food in with us to eat during the movie.  I definitely remember that I had a fun time. That was the beginning of my lifelong love of Star Wars, and of science fiction in general.

Obviously it must have been apparent to my parents that the movie made a huge impression on me, because a few weeks later at the end of the month I turned four years old and they had a Star Wars themed birthday party for me.  They even got a cake with a spaceship on it.

I mentioned this to my mother last week, and she was able to locate a couple of pictures from that party in one of the old family photo albums. In my memories I recalled the cake being decorated with a generic sci-fi rocket ship, but looking at that photo I see the bakery actually did a fairly good job drawing a Star Wars type ship along the lines of an X-Wing Fighter.

I guess that was also when my parents got me that large toy R2-D2.  I remember having that as a kid, but I’d forgotten it had been a birthday present.

Yes, that is four year old me in the photo below holding the R2-D2.  I guess my hair was always a mess!

When you are a kid time seems to pass by very slowly. The three years until Return of the Jedi came out felt like forever.  Since this was before the era of affordable home media, both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back returned to the theaters during that three year period, so I was able to see the first entry in the theater, as well as watch the second as a slightly older viewer.  I also filled that seeming eternity by making up my own Star Wars adventures with the action figures my parents bought me.

When Return of the Jedi came out in late May of 1983, I was well and truly ready for it.  It was amazing, and for many years it was my favorite Star Wars movie.  Why?  It’s very simple: I was almost seven years old, which is probably the ideal age to be watching the Star Wars movies.

I really believe that a great deal of what we enjoy as genre fans is subjective, heavily reliant on when and where and with who we experienced it for the first time.  I would not be at all surprised if there are people who saw the prequels when they were seven years old who regard them as their favorites.  The same thing holds for The Clone Wars animated series, and for the recent sequels from Disney.

In any case, thinking about all of these old memories, I realize that I was fortunate to have good parents.  Back when I was a kid I often had a difficult time recognizing this, probably due to a mixture of immaturity and undiagnosed childhood depression.  As an adult I am now able to look back and understand that they did the best they could to raise me, and I appreciate their efforts.

Star Wars reviews: Shattered Empire

Over the past few months I’ve been doing something of an informal countdown to The Force Awakens on this blog, reviewing some of my favorite Star Wars spin-offs. Today I’m looking at Shattered Empire, which was released in October by Marvel Comics.

Confession time: I haven’t been following the Star Wars comic books since they returned to Marvel, mostly because I’ve gotten the impression that they suffer from an extremely decompressed style of storytelling. But I decided to get Shattered Empire since it was a four issue miniseries and it was released on a weekly basis.  That meant I’d have the entire story in hand very quickly.  I waited until all four chapters were released and read it in one sitting.

Oh, yes, according to the indicia, the full title of this miniseries is Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire. What a mouthful!  I’m just going to call it Shattered Empire for simplicity’s sake.

SW Shattered Empire 4 cover

Shattered Empire is billed as a canonical prequel to the events of The Force Awakens. Writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto examine how events unfolded across the galaxy in the weeks and months following Return of the Jedi.  We see these developments through the eyes of Lieutenant Shara Bey, aka Green Four, a pilot in the Rebel Alliance, and her husband Sergeant Kes Dameron, a commando in Han Solo’s strike team.

The Battle of Endor was undoubtedly the Alliance’s greatest, most important victory yet. Both Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader were killed, and the second Death Star was destroyed.  However, as we see in this miniseries, this was not the end of the struggle against the Empire.

I was only seven years old in 1983 when Return of the Jedi came out. Even at that young age I briefly questioned if this really did mark the end of the Empire.  Yes, I was obviously too young to comprehend such concepts as the difficulties in dismantling the remnants of a vast dictatorship, the challenges of establishing a stable democratic government, and the likelihood of ruthless opportunists taking advantage of the sudden vacuum of power.  Nevertheless I distinctly remember thinking that much of the Imperial fleet at Endor apparently survived the battle, and it seemed odd to me that they would all surrender.

As we see in Shattered Empire, there are indeed Imperial forces throughout the galaxy that have no intention of relinquishing power. Their defiance is spurred on by none other than Palpatine himself.  Master chess player that he was, the Emperor left in place a deadly contingency plan to be implemented in the event of his demise.  Via technology and loyal agents, many of the Empire’s officers are convinced that Palpatine still lives.  They are given orders to implement Operation: Cinder, the total devastation of numerous inhabited worlds.  Clearly the Emperor intended that if he couldn’t have the galaxy then no one would.

Shara and Kes’s elation at the victory at Endor, their optimism for the future, gradually gives way to weariness and despair, as the promised end to hostilities fails to materialize. Instead the couple is forced to face the possibility that they will have to spend the rest of their lives fighting against an adversary that is unwilling to capitulate.

SW Shattered Empire 1 pg 13

I’ve enjoyed Greg Rucka’s work in the past on Whiteout, Queen & Country and Gotham Central. He is definitely good at writing interesting, well-rounded characters.  Certainly he does a fine job developing Shara Bey.  She is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe.  Her husband Kes Dameron is given somewhat less “screen time,” and is consequently not explored nearly as much.  Nevertheless, given the requirements of fitting such a large amount of material within four issues, Rucka succeeds at establishing both characters.

One of the subplots in Shattered Empire involves Princess Leia and Shara Bey visiting Naboo. This provides Rucka with a good opportunity to connect some of the strands from the original trilogy and the prequels.  Naboo is a peaceful democracy, but it was also the homeworld of the late Emperor.  Its people are understandably horrified and ashamed by this, and are quite eager to support Leia’s efforts to organize the New Republic.  Unfortunately this possibility was foreseen by Palpatine, and Naboo is one of the planets targeted by Operation: Cinder.  Leia, Shara and Soruna, the current queen of Naboo, are forced to pilot decades-old fighter craft in a desperate effort to fight off the orbiting Imperial fleet.

The final issue sees Shara joining Luke Skywalker infiltrating an Imperial facility on a rescue mission. The object that they seek to retrieve from the Empire is unusual, to say the least.  Well, perhaps that was why Luke only brought along one other person to help him, because he didn’t want to endanger anyone else on what might have been a questionable task.  This does give Rucka the opportunity to write an exciting action sequence showing Luke using his full Jedi abilities against a squad of Stormtroopers.

There’s another nice sequence Rucka has where he shows the Alliance have learned from past losses. In issue, #2, fighting against the Empire on Sterdic IV, the Rebels are pitted against an Imperial Walker.  Obviously remembering their devastating defeat on Hoth, this time the Rebels launch a group of Y-Wings to fly above the AT-AT, dropping clusters of magnetized bombs onto it.

SW Shattered Empire 2 pg 9

As Shattered Empire comes to a close, Shara and Kes have both put in the paperwork to muster out of active service. Shara explains her conflicted feelings concerning this decision to Luke…

Shara: I’ve got a son I’ve barely seen since he was born. A husband I get to see for an hour at a time every couple of weeks, if we’re lucky. I’m tired, and I feel guilty for even saying so. I feel like I’m abandoning the Rebellion.

Luke: But if the cost of our struggle is the lives we fought to protect, the future we hoped to see, then what is it we were fighting for?

At first I was a bit surprised that Shattered Empire ended without much resolution. Thinking it over, I realized that it did have closure as far as Shara and Kes are concerned.  And at its best Star Wars has always been concerned with how the lives of individuals and families unfolded amidst vast galactic events and upheavals.

Besides, until The Force Awakens actually begins showing, there is no way to know if Shattered Empire actually does set up any characters or subplots for the new movies.

SW Shattered Empire 3 pg 5

Marco Checchetto, with assists by Angel Unzeta and Emilio Laiso, provides the artwork for this miniseries. Checchetto’s work is very detailed.  He also lays out his pages dramatically.   Checchetto is definitely well suited to drawing both ground combat and space battles.

Checchetto is also good with the quieter, character-driven moments. That’s important, since the relationship between Shara and Kes is a central element of this story.

For the most part I found Shattered Empire to be a strong, enjoyable miniseries. Hopefully Marvel and Disney will ask Rucka and Checchetto to return to chronicling the Star Wars universe in the future.