I met Star Wars on Front Street

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It wasn’t as pretty but life was sometimes simpler with commercials on VHS. (Also, found: the link to the original ending of Jedi.)

Written by Kyle Magin

A green dot, a red dot and a blue dot, blotted in sharpie on three VHS tapes with worn jackets, signified an important choice in my childhood.

Each one demarcated a chapter in the Star Wars trilogy–green for A New Hope, red for Empire and blue for Jedi–on faded labels attached to tapes my Aunt Kathy had painstakingly used to record the trilogy as it ran on TV. They were the possessions I cherished most at the small house on Front Street in Dowagiac, Michigan, where my grandmother and aunt lived during my youth. Would I choose A New Hope? A chance to see Luke at the start of it all, with the wobbly sound on the first scroll George Lucas ever committed to film and the prehistoric Fancy Feast commercial my aunt must have dozed off and missed in the recording process? How about Empire, which ran almost perfectly without interruption save the report that Thanksgiving’s weather in the Michiana area would be cooler than expected and an ancient-looking chyron advertising an upcoming Notre Dame score. Surely Jedi–with its advertisement for a brown Buick LeSabre–gave me the most bang for two-ish hours and the elation I felt (still feel) when Chewie volunteers himself for Han’s strike team to take out the Death Star II’s shield generator.

This is how I met Star Wars–not in some theater in 1977, certainly not in some theater for Phantom (though I was there with my brother in the front row and cheered the opening scroll) or on some big screen TV in someone’s generous man-cave. Nope, I met Star Wars as a five-ish year old in 1989 or 1990 at my grandma’s house in Dowagiac, sitting Indian-style on the floor of the den while my Uncle Mark probably slept on the couch just above me during some family gathering. The tapes turned in a new-ish VCR and projected their laser-filled imagery into a 20-some-inch tube TV. Usually garbed in a swimsuit, a towel from the pool and cradling my third Cherry Coke can of the day, my Aunt Kathy graciously went over the colored dot/film correlation each time with me in an exercise I’m sure she thought she was avoiding when she devised the system in the first place.

In that cramped den–just off the dining room, usually stuffed with crafts or the newspapers my aunt stashed to read on the weekends as she worked the graveyard shift at the local die-cast plant during the week–I met Luke, Han, Leia, 3PO, R2D2, Vader and the rest. More often than not, a snoring uncle or a gaggle of cousins crowded the couch, making the galley-width floor a preferable option for the serious Star Wars viewer. That carpeted piece of real estate is where my brother, three years my junior, and I began to have serious philosophical Star Wars discussions as soon as he was able to string sentences together. It’s where we guessed at the accident Anakin Skywalker suffered his injury in–spaceship crash was the leader in the clubhouse; chopped up by Obi-Wan and left to die on a volcano planet never rated. It’s where we debated the merits of Star Wars versus those of Indiana Jones (the other three movies we usually watched in that den). It’s where we soaked up the knowledge of our older cousins, who were far more versed in the series.

The modest setting made the experience Lucas crafted no less special, I think. I still got goosebumps from that opening scroll. I still quaked in fear from Vader and the Emperor when I first saw them. I still felt celebratory for Yub Nub (and I still feel every ounce of bitterness at the new age John Tesh-sounding shit Lucas subbed in at the end of Jedi.)

That’s what happens when you hear and see the greatest story ever told. Somebody could have piped the audio through a soup can on a string and bounced the image off a mirror.

Friday, I’m planning on seeing the continuation of that story in a theater where you can order a beer. I’ll have more leg room than I ever did in that house on Front Street. The sound will be better, the effects will have almost 40 years of improvements and I won’t have to see a car commercial or the CBS logo in the bottom righthand corner. But it’s the story matters, and I hope to see a story the next kid can watch on repeat on Front Street.

 

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  1. Kyle, what a beautiful piece of work–& of course, such a treasure as you talk about your Aunt Kathy (our beloved sister) and “the house” on Front Street–that your Father and all of his siblings grew up in. “Thanks for the Memories!!” Love you–UR & AC