1982 was the “Dawn of a New Disney Era” as EPCOT Center was born. I was 14. It was an incredible time. We were in the middle of some sort of crazy golden age of entertainment, at least as far as an adolescent boy was concerned
I was unaware of the struggles Disney was going through financially. I hadn’t the slightest clue that there was unrest within the corporate ranks or an attempted hostile takeover just a few years away. All I knew was that I had fallen in love with Walt Disney World years before and now an incredible, progressive, futuristic wonderland had opened and I was the perfect age to experience it and it’s message of hope and optimism.
But I am lucky like that… as it turns out I was the perfect age to experience many of the most memorable events of the time. If you do some simple math you will realize that I was 9 when Star Wars opened. NINE! I had my birthday party at the largest theater in town playing Star Wars… all my friends and me were glued to the screen, mesmerized by what we saw. Our jaws collectively hung open and I literally jumped out of my seat and cheered throughout the film. It was transformative. It was indescribable. It informed who I was and what I did moving forward from that point on. This was freaking STAR WARS and I got to see it in the theater at the absolute perfect time of my life.
Three years later The Empire Strikes Back opened and I was standing in line several hours to see it opening day. Now as a 12 year old I understood it more. While I was still not sure if stormtroopers were robots or people or what I certainly understood the ramifications of Darth Vader being Luke’s father (mind BLOWN).
The rate of great movies at that time was shocking… Raiders, E.T. every year came a new and bigger and better movie. Disney was creating newer and bigger and better parks and attractions and I just soaked it all in. By the time 1983 and Return of the Jedi arrived I was 15 and the Ewoks never felt baby or cutesy to me… I loved every second of it. I felt like I was on those speeder bikes on Endor and Admiral Akbar quickly became my all time favorite Star Wars character. This was going to go on forever… or so I reasonably assumed.
But then it stopped.
For many years I waited and hoped that Star Wars would come back and whisk me away to my ten-year-old self but Lucas had moved on. He made a few mediocre films and then all but vanished. Sure Raiders continued through out the rest of the decade but the thrill was gone. I had lost my youth. My innocence was gone. Though I still clung to my love of the parks and managed to work in them as well I knew that at 18 or 19 I was never going to have that rush of excitement again. The feeling of looking over at my friends in a darkened theater as Tie Fighters battled X-Wings and not being 100% sure if this was really happening or all some sort of crazy dream. A kid can suspend disbelief so easily that fantasies can meld with reality at the blink of an eye. The Disney parks in fact make fantasies real and tangible and that same thing used to happen at movies… but then I got old.
More years passed, college came and went and while pretenders to the throne would occasionally bring some magic back to the movies, for the most part the glory days were a thing of the past. Then, almost as if it were a mirage, a cruel joke being leveled against those of us who had waited so many years, George Lucas announced that Star Wars would be back… not only would the original movies be polished and updated with fantastic new effects but a whole new set of movies would soon arrive in the Cineplex. The excitement was palpable. The magic was coming back.
I spent $500 to watch Episode One about a week before it was released to the public. They had a series of big charity previews all across the country. The $500 per head gave you bragging rights of seeing the film early as well as entry to a big star studded after party (Rosie O’Donnell hosted ours). A friend flew to Chicago from New York, another flew in from Seattle and the three of us (a combined $1,500 lighter in the wallet) could not get to the theater fast enough. This time however instead of looking over to see my friends in a state of sheer astonishment I saw them with a glazed over veneer of disbelief… this movie sucked, how could this be, what was happening?
Had we gotten too old to enjoy Star Wars? Had Star Wars gotten too serious to be fun? Had Lucas totally lost the concept of what made these movies so great to begin with?
We all know the rest of the story. The prequels and the special editions before that slowly beat down the fans to the point that many just gave up even trying to care anymore. I saw them all in the theater; it felt like an obligation. There was no joy, there was no excitement, and by the time they ended I was simply relieved that it was over more than anything else. I assumed that Star Wars was done and no number of animated series or additional action figures could ever save it. How could something that was so great turn into something that was so laborious and dull on virtually every level… it would be as if Disney turned into a backwater county fair overnight, what the hell was going on?
But here we are on the precipice of a new day. Lucas sold his company and Star Wars with it to of all places DISNEY. It was the coming together of two of my most favorite things in the world. Then Disney seemingly did everything they could to fix it. They hired the right people, many of them the original people. They jettisoned the horrific computer generated effects in favor of the tangible and tactile practical effects of the original and most importantly they seemed to understand what made Star Wars Star Wars.
Soon, very, very soon I will again visit a galaxy far, far away. This time I will have my daughter by my side… my perfectly aged 11-year-old daughter (who by the way will NEVER be subjected to the prequels) and we will be swept away together. I will look over and hopefully see wonder across her face, and maybe she will see it on mine as well.
I believe. I again have hope and excitement. I think we are at dawn of something great and I cannot wait to be 10 all over again.