Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

What "Star Wars" Means to Me

December 18, 2015 Archive Insight

Kenner’s original Millennium Falcon play set. She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. THF1083

It’s an old museum-related joke: You don’t feel old until you see your toys exhibited as historic artifacts. Okay, so I felt a bit aged the first time I saw that Star Wars lunchbox in Your Place in Time, but I never questioned its right to be there. For us Gen X types, few things are so much of our time as Star Wars.

While I was around when all three of the original films were in theaters, most of my viewings came via videotapes recorded from HBO airings. (Heh, a Star Wars viewing still doesn’t feel quite right to me unless it starts with this.) Not until Return of the Jedi arrived in 1983 was I old enough to see one of the movies on the big screen. I still remember being thrilled by the sarlacc pit battle and the speeder bike chase, being saddened at Yoda’s death, and being generally grossed out by Jabba the Hutt. Disgusting or not, it was satisfying to finally see that vile gangster after hearing his name dropped ominously in the first two movies. All in all, it was a magical experience, and the reason that I don’t personally rate Jedi as a lesser work than its predecessors.

I went to school that fall with a full complement of Return of the Jedi gear, from an R2-D2 lunchbox to Darth Vader (pop-a-point!) pencils. I scored some nice items that Christmas, too, including the “Battle at Sarlacc’s Pit” board game and the Jabba the Hutt play set. We all knew that Jedi was the end but, even in those pre-prequel days, it never felt like Star Wars disappeared. R2-D2 and C-3PO got their own animated spinoff, the Ewoks got a pair of TV movies, and the toys stayed in stores well into Reagan’s second term. By the time it faded, I’d moved on to other hobbies – though not before getting legitimate store-bought copies of the three movies in 1990.

I wish I’d been able to keep all of my Star Wars toys, but garage sales, wear-and-tear and adolescence conspired to take most of them away. I managed to hold on to a few choice pieces, though. My Millennium Falcon play set is still in my possession, as are enough Rebel action figures to keep my Darth Vader figure in check. I know people who, as adults, have replaced their lost toys via eBay, but these Star Wars toys are my originals. They don’t rekindle happy childhood memories – they are happy childhood memories.

I’ll be there when The Force Awakens arrives this month. Not on opening night (I’m old now. Midnight showings have lost their luster), but soon. I don’t expect that I can be thrilled in the same way I was 32 years ago, but I won’t be surprised if there’s a lump in my throat when Luke Skywalker appears on screen again after all this time.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. Which, presumably, includes Corellian freighters.

21st century, 2010s, 20th century, 1980s, 1970s, toys and games, space, popular culture, movies, childhood, by Matt Anderson

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