At 19, my best friend and I had all the necessary ingredients for success as we set about to change the U-joint in my car. The right parts, tools, time, space, plenty of beer and confidence in our ability. Even a shade tree. We suffered no doubts about our automotive repair chops.
It was the summer of 1977, and this auto surgery was being performed in my friend’s front yard in Wichita. About the time we ratcheted the last bolt into place, a gaggle of chums arrived, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the visual effects in a new science fiction movie they’d just seen.
Ours is a generation that grew wise to motion picture special effects at roughly the same time the original Mary Poppins descended from the clouds via umbrella.
The more they held forth on Star Wars, the less inclined I was to buy in. Two reasons. First, I was a Star Trek purist. If there’s going to be a major science fiction motion picture featuring space travel about which we all rave, it will feature James Tiberius Kirk and the U.S.S. Enterprise boldly going where no man has gone before, thank you very much.
Not some goofy kid in a toga named Luke Skywalker.
The second reason was more environmental. Peer pressure brought me in line. Unable to keep my head while all about me were losing theirs, the will of the mob enveloped me faster than Darth Vader encased Han Solo in carbonite. The force was with me, albeit with reluctance.
Grudgingly, I fessed up to being impressed with the special effects. Star Wars was the first movie to hold the spaceship still and move a camera around it, rather than the other way around. The story, though, felt formulaic and predictable.
Sinister Imperial forces hold Princess Leia hostage. Solo and Skywalker rescue her. Yawn. Stormtroopers were not as menacing as Klingons. Jedi mind tricks had nothing on the Vulcan mind meld. They landed the Millennium Falcon on the planet’s surface? No transporter?
Over the years, my reasons for not liking Star Wars dissipated and faded away. When the Empire struck back three years later, I had come full circle, buttonholing peers, effecting my best James Earl Jones and doing my part to secure “Luke, I am your father” to its rightful place in the American pop culture lexicon.
Last week, as my wife and I reclined (It still feels weird to recline in a movie. Can I take off my shoes, too?) in the mall cineplex, I’ll admit to getting a little misty at the end of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
Good triumphs over evil and friendships make the galaxy go ‘round. Formulaic and predictable. The final movie in the Star Wars saga pushed all the buttons I couldn’t even see at 19, years away from comprehending the concept of contempt prior to investigation.
Today, the summer of ’77 in Wichita seems a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
The U-joint failed a few days after we installed it. The drive shaft dropped in the northbound lanes of a Wichita freeway, infusing some hard, cold reality to my auto mechanical prowess. Maybe I didn’t know it all. Nine movies and 40-plus years later, maybe formulaic and predictable turns out to be a really good thing. There was enough room in my psyche for Star Wars and Star Trek.
My first impression of Star Wars was dead wrong. I have long since come to believe that a younger man’s sense of what he believes formulaic and predictable can evolve into an older man’s acceptance and peace of mind. Obi-Wan was spot on. Many of the truths I clung to depended greatly on my own point of view.
Mike Matson’s column appears every other Sunday in The Mercury. Follow his blog at mikematson.com