Addled Story of a Story Addict
Act 1: James in Wonderland
or “the addled story of a story-addict”
Scene 1: A LONG TIME AGO…
Whose hand am I holding? My five-year-old, chubby digits are tightly curled around a firm elder offering of support and guidance, arm held high as I waddle back from the bathroom. The big hand’s owner is a coin toss between Mommy and Daddy, because my eyes don’t drift sideways to seek an answer; they’re transfixed on the doorway ahead, awaiting the blessed hope offered by the silver screen lurking beyond. As swinging double doors part like enormous sideways eyelids, flickering images attack what are aptly called my “pupils”. My rods and cones are imprinted forever with the waft and wing of X-Wing fighters, their S-foils locking into attack position, descending on a moon-sized eyeball boasting enough power to destroy an entire planet… or at the very least worsen my astigmatism.
What is your first memory?
Perhaps you recall staring through the bars of your old-school playpen, or up from a softer, kid-friendlier pack-n-play, or snuggling in the strong arms of a loving grandparent. It might be playing with a favorite toy – something tantalizingly tactile – or something less gentle like a tumble-and-skinned knee. A first memory might be person, place, or thing, and if you’re lucky a parent or older sibling might recollect the details of story surrounding it, and you, in cognitive inauguration.
In this particular case, my first memory is a scene from a story known to millions, a visual introduction fueling childhood development like baby formula a la Lucasfilm. As it turns out, my story isn’t my story at all, but a particularly pivotal moment in history that accomplished far more than the destruction of an Imperial space station and the maturation of a single Star Wars fan. For all of western culture, the rules of storytelling and entertainment utterly changed forever. My magic moment only mirrored a cultural shift that would become appropriately named immersive entertainment.
The achievements of the Star Wars franchise could fill a book of its own, but suffice it to say this film did more than dominate six years of my life as my brother and I breathlessly awaited sequels. The Force was strong in my family, and thanks to George Lucas’ marketing miracle with 20th Century Fox – retaining rights to all merchandising – he showed everyone you could make even more from the retailing rights on a movie than you could from the movie itself. This didn’t just impact every kid’s Christmas tree, but revolutionized the use of multi-media entertainment. Suddenly swimming in a story-formed pool of equal size and shape to the Sunday schooled surroundings I grew up in, I had a competing and compelling narrative for my attention and affection.
Remember – or learn from someone who grew up there – the landscape we accept as normative today didn’t exist in the 70s. Movies came and left the theater… and that was about it. You snoozed and you, well… maybe you read the crappy novelization, then prayed the film made its way to “edited-for-television” in less than a decade. Seriously, this world lacked Blu-rays, didn’t do DVD, barely contained videotapes (not a single luxury, like Robinson Crusoe) and yet Lucas’ creative teams found a way to encircle their audience without benefit of Surround-sound.
My older brother and I had action figures, of course. That’s how it started, like a plastic gateway drug with five points of articulation. Then came the Soundtrack, back before they differentiated between “soundtrack” and “score”. And don’t forget the bubble gum trading cards (or the cereal). We even had a 40-minute edited audio version of the movie on vinyl – yes, a record of the film – where you flipped sides right when the Death Star was opening the magnetic field to swallow our heroes and John Williams’ music ramped up in anticipation. My uber-cool older cousin Dale had issues of the Star Wars comic books, with iconic images of Luke Skywalker fending off a sea monster and Han Solo firing at a gargantuan lizard (if I ever wondered why, later in life, I would be fascinated by the Loch Ness monster and Godzilla, I believe the answer is clear). My dad brought home a damaged copy of “Han Solo’s Revenge” and I drew, colored and attached my own paperback cover for the novel.
In a world without instant replay, George Lucas forged the formative ways to ensure the Force would be with us, always. Take a historical tour of film, superheroes, science fiction, and other fantastical media prior to this in the 20th century. There are sprinklings of Flash Gordon jet packs, inklings of Buck Rogers toy tie-ins, and the ever-enticing X-ray specs and Sea Monkeys, but never the coordinated brand saturation accomplished by Lucas’ team. The offering of action figures was meager at best (and Mego at worst) until toy company Kenner made dolls for boys out of every single character in the film, from Luke Skywalker to Walrus Man. Every ten-year-old boy could recreate the movie.
Reality began to blur…
Pick up “Cinemagogue: Reclaiming Entertainment and Navigating Narrative for the Myths and Mirrors they were Meant to Be” on our book page or at Amazon.com in print or Kindle editions and journey with us through additional chapters:
Act 2: Redefining Entertainment
or “how ‘mindless’ is just code for not minding God”
Act 3: WRECKreation… or REcreation?
or “cracked clown mirrors reflecting his story in a mirror, darkly”
Act 4: A Tale of Two Stories
or “how I learned to stop worrying and love the redundancy”
Act 5: The Proof is in the Praxis
or “a little less conversation, a little more action please…”
Act 6: A Word on Soiling Yourself, part one: getting your boat out of the harbor
or “punchy and saucy to the glory of God”
Act 7: A Word on Soiling Yourself, part two: in flagrante on Friday the 13th
or “sex, sorcery, and the strigoi shuffle”