Our Christmas tree is just visible over the top of my screen. Every now and again, I glance up at it, and do something very childish. It’s almost a reflex reaction by now, something I’ve done since I was about six or seven.
If I squint at the coloured lights, it looks like laser beams are shooting out of them.
Flashing lights in the dark will be a big part of this Christmas in particular, especially in the cinemas. It was a shrewd idea to bring the new Star Wars movie out over the festive period. To me – and I suspect, to JJ Abrams, and millions of other people who grew up loving George Lucas’ silly space opera – Christmas and Star Wars are intertwined.
It’s mostly to do with the toys. My favourite Christmases involved tearing open the paper to find Star Wars men and ships. One year I got the Millennium Falcon. Another year, I got the AT-AT. I hugged it like it was a puppy.
In my best ever Christmas (1984; Band Aid; the year of the BMX bike), I got the Rancor monster and a Scout Walker. I still have the videotape from December 30th, 1984, marked in my still non-cursive handwriting, when ITV screened Star Wars, and I taped it. The whole family came around to watch.
My birthday that year was ace, too. My sister got me a set of books, called Be An Interplanetary Spy. From these, I began to write my own books. There was the Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs game, and my mum, god bless her, telling me she had heard a story that a live dinosaur had been found in Africa. These are the most magical memories.
I remember my older brother, taking a picture one year (1982? 1983?). “Pose with the Millennium Falcon! Look shocked! Come on, look shocked! Imagine you’re Luke Skywalker!” I didn’t understand. “I’ve already opened it… How can I look surprised all over again?” I’m not sure he quite got it.
It isn’t just Star Wars, of course, and it isn’t just Christmas. I remember skipping down the road on my way to see The Empire Strikes Back when I was about four, my sister listening to me recount the entire picture at the end of it, despite the fact she’d seen it too. I remember Star Wars dinner mats – Yoda, and one with the Stormtroopers. Playing with my toy R2D2 in the suds of the kitchen sink, pretending it’s the scene on Dagobah with the monster that swallows him. An army of little figures, all set up to fight every night. My dark bedroom, lit up bright green with my spanking brand new lightsabre, a present for my seventh birthday; my brother, strong with the Dark Side, taking me on with a white plastic tentpole, and, I suspected, far too old for lightsabre fights (if only I knew!).
Flash Gordon’s in there, too. I used to imagine the Christmas tree was the lightning field, a starry cloak thrown around Emperor Ming’s city, under assault from War Rocket Ajax. I can do this now. I just need to glance up at the tree, and squint.
I know Star Wars is a massive, multibillion-dollar business. I know the toys are expensive, and that I was a very lucky lad to have them as a kid, especially coming from the depressed area I did. I know that it’s tied in with corporate culture (does Disney own everything, now?). But Star Wars is tied in with the magic of childhood, and Christmas.
That’s why I responded on a very deep emotional level when I saw that first trailer for The Force Awakens, and heard The Empire Strikes Back romance theme. Nothing to do with money. Nothing to do with being spoiled as a kid (was I really, in fact?). Everything to do with that feeling of magic that you forget about, as you grow older, uglier, more cynical, more disappointed, more traumatised. The excitement, that love of action and adventure, romance and anticipation, thrills and fulfilment. My old dear, who budgeted so brilliantly to bring me all those beloved Christmases is a quarter of a century in her grave. The older brother I clashed lightsabres with is gone, too; and the beloved sister who bought me all those Star Wars men, who took me to see The Empire Strikes Back, who did the Yoda impressions… she’s gone too, this past year.
So while I might bitch a little about the prequels, and while I’m all too aware of global financial markets and corporate monsters… Star Wars is special to me. I’m not alone in this.
I’m going to see The Force Awakens on Monday. I can’t wait. I know it’s just a movie. I know if I expect the best thing ever, it can’t possibly be the best thing ever. And Star Wars has a track record of being disappointing.
But for now, while the new film is still a mystery… while it has the power of myth in my own mind… while my imagination is still filling in the blanks… well, I’m as excited as I was when I first started making funny faces at the Christmas tree. When all was not so much Industrial Light & Magic, as Ethereal Lights and Magic.
I’m still squinting at the tree, trying to make the lights shoot lasers. I hope I always will.