Star Wars: The true meaning of Christmas

This is a piece I’ve written for SciFi Now, a brilliant British magazine dedicated to, you guessed it, SciFi. But also horror, fantasy, games and stuff. Go to their website right now.

They’ve asked for people to submit their own stories about their Star Wars memories and love of the franchise.  Mine’s about my earliest experience with Star Wars and it’s deep Christmas meaning. I’m not sure if they’ll use it, but fingers crossed.

Star Wars probably wasn’t the first film I ever saw, but it’s the first I can remember. I must have been about five or six when I first watched it one dark Christmas evening. When you’re a kid Christmas is all about wonder and magic, it’s about shiny toys and the promise of adventure. And Star Wars fits this perfectly.

A New Hope is a classic tale, but a classic that’s been fired deep into space, to a galaxy far far away, if you must. It’s got all the staples, a young naive boy, bored of living at home who can’t wait to explore the wide world outside of his backwater planet; a wise old wizard; a scurrilous rogue with a secret heart of gold; a princess with an attitude; and a superb evil villain in black armour. Oh, and it’s absolutely full of toys. There are robots, Stormtroopers, TIE fighters and X-Wings, and the iconic lightsaber. All true Christmas fayre.

In the future this will happen at every Christmas. Except all Grandmas will be robots.

I think what really caused Star Wars to embed itself into my young impressionable brain was the opening scene though.

Rarely are opening scenes quite so perfect. Don’t remember it? You will. A small space ship hurtles over the surface a beautiful yellow gas giant planet whilst being pursued, and casually blasted, by a vast great-white-shark-of-a–spaceship. See, I told you’d remember, who could ever forget that?

The truly memorable aspect of the scene though is the low-angle camera shot under the Star Destroyer. The Imperial ship glides quickly over the camera, but due to its immense size, the shot lasts FOREVER. And with that one simple set-up the filmmakers tell you everything you need to know, without anyone speaking a word. The Empire is vast, mighty and domineering, whilst the fleeing rebels are desperately outmatched, and in this scene at least, it’s obvious that they’re doomed.

Then the film cuts to the interior of the rebel ship, and we see R2D2 and C3PO, one a bright gold humanoid bumbling-English-butler of a robot, the other a street-wise beeping futuristic dust bin. For a young child, this was Christmas magic. For if Christmas is about anything, it’s about robots. Especially comedy-duo robots,

And then we have that oh-so-glorious first glimpse of Stormtroopers. Has there ever been a better-designed costume in any film franchise? Well, maybe Giger’s Alien, but that’s not really fair. As a kid I was obsessed with Stormtroopers. They looked the height of cool in their gorgeous black and white armour, and they burst through that air lock like a force of nature, in a cloud of magnesium-white sparks, with red laser blasts flying, they looked absolutely unstoppable. The rebels, in their future-Gap karkis and silly hats didn’t stand a chance. Oddly, for the rest of the franchise these crack-troops with an oh-so-deadly aim transform into the most ineffective troops in history, apart from maybe the French.

This is the coolest thing ever. FACT. Probably

And finally, the camera pans back to the smoking wreckage of the airlock, the music changes to a dark orchestral John Williams score, and the mood of the scene deepens as an ominous figure strides into the ship and the Stormtroopers snap to attention. Right away, you know this guy is someone you don’t want to mess with, what could possibly scare a Stormtrooper? A seven-foot tall cyborg in equally-cool-looking black armour, that’s who. As a young child Darth Vader burned himself into the neural pathways of my plastic brain, Darth Vader would forever become my symbol of Christmas, not the jolly old man in the red pyjamas and the white beard. Or Jesus.

Vader was frightening but compelling, and he’s great in theses opening scenes, marching all over the ship, barking orders, picking people up single-handedly and breathing menacingly. Watching this scene again as an adult though, Vader does look quite camp, the camp you get when brilliant actors are clearly having fun hamming-up the script, and Family Guy superbly parodied this in Blue Harvest casting Stewie in the role of a very hammy Vader.

Blue Harvest, extremely watchable. Unlike the Phantom Menace…

I still love Star Wars today, despite being quite a bit older, OK, a lot older, and even after the mauling the franchise took with the release of the prequels (sorry, I’m not a fan). And I’ll always associate Star Wars with Christmas, and how much fun this time of year was as a kid. I look forward to this December, when I’ll be forcing my entire family to sit through two hours of me grinning inanely at the screen whilst mouthing all the lines to the film. The true meaning of Christmas. At least for me.

Update: this got published on the SciFi Now site!

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