‘Star Wars’ characters maintain hold on imagination

The first time I saw “Star Wars,” I fell in love.

Of course I did. I was 5.

And, like any small child who encounters giant, growling furry critters and stuff blowin’ up real good, I became obsessed. Before long, I had the sheets, the comforter, the curtains. My entire bedroom was a celebration of that galaxy far, far away.

Then “Return of the Jedi” came out, I turned 11 and moved on to other things.

For whatever reason, the Force was weak in me. Although it recently came roaring back, midi-chlorians or no midi-chlorians.

I was too young for the original 1977 release, but I saw “Star Wars” — or, as it’s been rechristened, “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” — the following year during the first of its five re-releases. I’ve been told I was in Arkansas at the time. Possibly at a drive-in. Soon after, I had the Darth Vader helmet carrying case crammed full of action figures, the more obscure the better.

The principals — Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2-D2, C-3PO and Darth Vader — were there. But I had a special affinity for the minor characters: a couple of Jawas, some Tusken Raiders, pretty much everyone in the Mos Eisley cantina scene, plus R5-D4 and that little walking trashcan known as the GNK power droid. (Thanks, Wookieepedia.)

I have vivid memories of playing with a toy Landspeeder. I read the comic books and collected the trading cards. And you’d better believe I had an inflatable lightsaber.

But my favorite was a stuffed Chewbacca that got me through my first and only surgery. I loved that little furball. Then I accidentally left it behind during a family vacation. When my parents described it to the hotel’s front desk staff, they instead mailed me a teddy bear covered in paint stains. I was devastated.

VCRs were scarce back then, at least in my neighborhood. So despite my initial love, I didn’t see “Star Wars” again until a special screening during college. Maybe it was a bad print. The projector could have had an inferior bulb. But I was so underwhelmed by the experience, I didn’t watch it again until this week. Until a few days ago, I hadn’t seen “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Return of the Jedi” since their original theatrical runs.

Like most Americans, I was hoodwinked into buying a ticket for “The Phantom Menace.” But the whole thing was so infuriating, I never bothered to see “Attack of the Clones” or “Revenge of the Sith,” and I doubt I ever will.

Over the years, I maintained a basic working knowledge of the “Star Wars” universe, mostly just the bits that have permeated pop culture: “These are not the droids you’re looking for,” slave Leia’s gold bikini and the lyrics to Weird Al’s “Yoda.”

So I’d forgotten all about the ridiculously awful death scenes that open “Star Wars,” with Stormtroopers and Princess Leia’s guards flailing about like something out of an early Western. I didn’t remember that Darth Vader looked like he had a tape recorder and a couple of CB radios strapped to his chest. And I certainly had no idea that, not only could the Stormtroopers talk, they had absurdly mundane conversations: “You seen that new BT-16?” “Yeah. Some of the other guys were telling me about it. They say it’s … it’s quite a thing to see.”

Hilarious.

Still, everything held up far better than I’d remembered. And this was the edition that George Lucas monkeyed with to ensure that Han didn’t shoot first.

“The Empire Strikes Back” remains superior. Even though it’s still weird that one of the main characters is a puppet. And that he sounds almost exactly like Fozzie Bear.

Predictably, the biggest difference over the past 30 years was my reaction to “Return of the Jedi.”

Oof!

So. Many. Puppets.

And all those costumed whatevers in the early scenes that look like something out of a GWAR tribute band.

And the Ewoks! So adorable to a 10-year-old, as an adult they make Jar Jar Binks look like Boba Fett.

Seeing the original trilogy again brought so many memories flooding back. I even sought out 1978’s dreaded “The Star Wars Holiday Special” on YouTube. Spoiler alert: It really is beyond awful.

But neither of those blasts from the past was anything like that first glimpse of Han and Chewie in the initial “The Force Awakens” trailer that had me feeling like that 5-year-old all over again.

It’s simply stunning how much power those characters still wield.

Maybe the Force isn’t all that weak after all.

— Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch

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