Getting nerdy as f— about things we love
I always thought I was one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans. I was 16 years old when the first movie was released, and I saw it with two slightly older friends one of whom was a hard core science fiction/fantasy fan who subscribed to magazines and fanzines no one had heard of and was always talking about the intricacies of how this make-up artist did that thing, et cetera. Our small town in southwest Washington state had only two theatres back then and seldom got anything new, so these friends were always driving down to Portland, Oregon to see movies none of us had heard of.
They convinced me to go see this movie that they thought might be good on opening night. My mind was blown away. We hadn’t expected it to be so awesome. The next day we convinced several of our friends to caravan down in several cars to see Star Wars in a big group. They were equally as mind-blown.
We took another group of friends down a couple weekends later. Over the course of the summer of ’77, I drove myself and various friends down another 13 times to watch Star Wars again. The movie finally opened at one of our small town theatres in August, I think, and some friends who had refused to take the long drive to see it finally went with me to watch it on a fairly tiny screen. By that point, I not only knew every single line of dialog, but I could engage in trivia battles with my friends.
I organized excursions to go see each of the two sequels on opening day. For Return of the Jedi, two of my best friends and I got up at 4am to drive down to the big theatre in Oregon where I’d first seen Star Wars and Empire and we sat in line all day. I was 18th in line that morning for the first showing to the film.
I’m always a little amazed when I realize how many friends I have, now, who were too young to have experienced the movies the way I did. To them, Obi Wan, Luke, Leia, and Han weren’t cool characters in this awesome movie, they were beings of legend on a par with Santa Claus or Moses. And thus many of those friends have gone through all the phases of believing in the original tale, learning that it is a story that someone somewhere made up, becoming a bit cynical about the process of making movies and selling toys, and so on. Which isn’t to say they they don’t love the films. A lot of them revere them, and defend them as a treasured part of their childhood.
I didn’t go through those phases with this particular story. I was old enough that I could see which parts of the movie were homages to the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, which parts of the movie harkened to Westerns, and so on. That didn’t make me love the story any less, by no means. Look how many times I drove to watch it!
I didn’t own my own copy of the movie on VHS tape until I was nearly 30 years old. It was one of the first movies I bought after finally getting my own VCR. (That’s another thing, I’m old enough to remember when VCRs were a new gadget that only really well-to-do people could afford to own.)
To this day when I watch the original movie, I find it a little jarring to see those words “Episode IV – A New Hope” appear at the top of that initial screen crawl. That wasn’t there for that entire first run of the movie. It was added when the movie was released on home video, and in the re-release to theatres just before The Empire Strikes Back came out. It doesn’t matter that for 37 years that movie has been referred to as “Episode IV: A New Hope,” my visceral reaction is, “No. That isn’t the real name. The real name of the movie is simply ‘Star Wars.'”
I’m not recounting all of this to disparage anyone else’s appreciation of the film, or to try to prove that I’m more of an authority than anyone else. I chose my opening sentence to this post with a purpose. It implies something that I now want to make explicit: I always thought I was one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans, but I’m not the biggest. I can’t be. I have seen people very literally insist that they will cease to be friends with people if those people spoil the new movie for them.
And that’s simply insane.
Seriously, you are the sort of person who will discard another human being because they slip up and mention something about a movie?
I love Star Wars. It changed my life. It changed my view of storytelling. It set a standard that I still measure other stories against. And I’m a storyteller myself, now, who believes that storytelling is not merely fundamental to the definition of human, but that it is a transformational force which can move the world. I believe all of that, but I’m also able to understand that a plot twist is not more important than a human being. A literary surprise should not be more valuable to you than the love or affection you feel for another person.
I’ve made ludicrous statements myself, such as that I can’t be friends with someone who thinks The Phantom Menace was a good script. I’ve said things about movies or books or shows that I love and people who don’t share my enthusiasm which were insensitive at best, and outright cruel/pure assholery at worst. And then felt like a complete heel when I realized how I sounded. So I recognize that people might be being just a little hyperbolic. I realize that maybe these same people would regret it if they really did ostracize someone for “spoiling” the movie.
I hope, at least. Because here’s the thing: if you really love Star Wars that much, you should love the fact that other people love it. And maybe they don’t love it exactly the way you do. And maybe they love it so much that when they talk about it they reveal some details that you think of as spoilers, where as they think they’re just telling you it was awesome. It’s fine to let people know that you would like to be spoiler-free. And clearly, if someone tells you the ending for the malicious and intentional purpose of upsetting you, they are being an asshole and maybe you would be better off without them.
I try, myself, not to mention plot twists or reveals and the like of anything I’m watching or reading. I constantly bite my tongue about which clone is my favorite in the series Orphan Black, for instance, because merely mentioning my love of the character could spoil an important plot-twist that happens near the beginning of the second season. Even though it has been out for years, now, there are still friends I’m trying to get to watch the show, and I don’t want to ruin the joy I felt when that reveal happened.
But it’s just a story. It isn’t actually a matter of life and death. And just as we hurt people when we make disparaging remarks about things they like that we don’t, we also cause pain when we piss all over someone else’s enthusiasm. We shouldn’t do that. Especially about things they love.
I’m trying to learn not to do it. Won’t you join me?