“Explain it to us without the nerd talk.”
84 seconds into “Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope,” right as the iconic opening crawl was passing from view, those words rang out from the darkness of my apartment’s living room. In our little foursome, the two women had seen “Star Wars” a combined zero times. The two men had seen it a combined 1,553,603,091 times. 84 seconds in, the wives asked the husbands to pause the movie and explain what was going on.
This was the moment I knew the screening was not going to go well.
Subjecting these ladies to “Star Wars” wasn’t my idea; it was theirs. On a recent double date, the subject had come up after someone noted that my wife Melissa and her co-worker Brooke, complete “Star Wars” neophytes, both wound up married to geeks who could practically recite the movies from memory. It would be interesting, we decided, to watch the movie together sometime. Then last week, Brooke suggested Saturday as the moment to proceed with Operation: Midichlorians (she didn’t call it that, obviously, because she has no idea what midichlorians are. But it feels like this silly boondoggle deserves its own military operation name).
Brooke’s husband Andy procured an Original Trilogy Blu-ray set, and we made plans to have dinner and watch it. Three movies in one night seemed too ambitious, but we all agreed to do at least a double feature of “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” No “Empire,” no Yoda — and Melissa really wanted to see Yoda.
Needless to say, after 84 seconds I knew we weren’t watching “Empire.” Sorry, Yoda. We did not; there was no try.
In hindsight, showing them the Special Editions might have been a mistake. They hated everything that was added to the movie in 1997 as part of writer/director George Lucas’ plan to modernize his aging masterpiece and simultaneously accumulate all of the world’s financial assets. Even as first-timers, Brooke and Melissa immediately spotted most of the computer generated stuff — the scene on Tatooine with the Stormtroopers on dewbacks, the establishing shots of Mos Eisley as Luke and company zoom by in their speeder. And why not? They stick out like poorly animated sore thumbs.
The old school effects that remain intact went over great; the new school effects went over like Greedo shooting first (which, let it be said, they did not notice or remark upon in any way). Frankly, I agree with them on the CGI — and wonder if Lucasfilm might have a serious problem on their hands in a few more years when their “Special” Editions start to look really behind the times. The digital stuff in “Star Wars” arguably looks more dated than the practical stuff.
Overall, though, they didn’t hate the movie — and after we sorted out that opening nerd talk, there were only a few other questions (the one about the Rebel base on Yavin 4 I couldn’t answer; why does that place look like an ancient Mayan temple?). But they were occasionally perplexed. Things that I simply accept and take for granted — like Obi-Wan’s unclear fate at the end of his lightsaber battle with Darth Vader — were met with befuddlement. There was also a lot of discussion about droids; how they function, why they behave the way they do, and what precisely their role is in this galaxy far, far away.
The experience made me realize something. “Star Wars” is more than a movie; it’s a language. And as with any other language, children pick it up much quicker than adults. George Lucas has always insisted that the “Star Wars” movies are for children, and he’s attributed some older fans’ disappointment with the prequels to this very fact. That argument always struck me as a cop out — until today. Now, I’m starting to wonder if he’s right. Melissa and Brooke’s reaction reminded me a little of my own reaction to “The Phantom Menace.” “Yeah, it’s okay. But so what? This is what people are obsessed with?”
Sorry, honey. I love you for watching this with me. I won’t make you watch “The Empire Strikes Back.” But I’m still not watching “Teen Witch” with you.