Love it or hate it, Star Wars was the grandpappy of a lot of things–modern special effects, the blockbuster as we now know it and, most important for this particular discussion, the atomic shockwave of tie-in merchandise. There are three school of thought on the merchandising aspect of films:
1) Those who were around before Star Wars and think it’s obnoxious
2) Those, like myself, who were born long enough after Star Wars that it has become totally commonplace and therefore barely noticable
3) Those who, like author John Booth, were there when it started and have a special fondness and appreciation for it all that neither of the other groups can quite relate to
In his memoir Collect all 21!: Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek, Booth recounts the six year span during which the original Star Wars trilogy was released from the point of view of a wide-eyed kid with an insatiable hunger for Star Wars “guys.” As a kid who grew up swimming upstream against wave after wave of new toy crazes–basically anything with an animated series and a cool new weapon–I had never really considered that all of it had to have started somewhere.
John speaks of creating his own logic and fantasies with his Star Wars guys–when or why, outside of a kid’s playroom, would Darth Vader ever tool around in Luke’s landspeeder?–spoofing the films by overdubbing a read-along storybook cassette, and the fledgling days of the expanded universe. A lot of this stuff was strangely–or maybe not so strangely–similar to my own experiences with Star Wars as a kid. I too had to think up some bizarre back story as to why C-3PO would be flying a TIE Fighter because for a few months they were the only toys I had from the Power of the Force line. Like Booth, I was sequestered in the outfield when I played little league because that’s where guys like I us did the least amount of damage to our team. And, like Booth and his pals, I too dabbled in a bit of Star Wars parody.
What I found most interesting–and where both of our books really differed–was that when John hit that age where he started to outgrow Star Wars, there weren’t any new ones coming along. He was twelve when Jedi came out and considers himself lucky to get the “last” Star Wars movie before he was too old. I was twelve when the Special Editions were released and it was then that I started to question certain things. Having to deal with the prequels while simultaneously coping with puberty, high school and early adulthood certainly, in my personal opinion, are why I think I have/had such an adverse reaction to the new trilogy in the first place. I was stuck between the rock of my childhood and the hard place of growing up. John didn’t get the prequels until he had moved beyond all that awkward growing up stuff and had a child of his own. While he recognized the flaws, he was able to share the new movies with a kid who wasn’t burdened by thirty years of lore, unattainable expectations and the rose colored, though often hazy glasses of nostalgia.
What I took away from this book is the feeling that, with my own book, I had in fact tapped into something universal which had been my hope all along. John and I are Star Wars fans from two distinctly different eras of fandom, yet our experiences are quite similar. It tells me that, as I had long assumed, Star Wars speaks across generations. It’s seemingly never-ending shelf life sort of already made that obvious, but it was refreshing to learn that from another fan’s true life story as opposed to a Lucasfilm exec.