My post road trip “Get Work Done” soundtrack

My Headphones Are Bigger Than Sam's

I’m getting soft.

It used to be that driving from Milligan to Indy was merely a walk in the park for me. I could easily go do something after taking such a road trip from Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains. We made the drive yesterday and let me be honest here….I’m struggling just a little bit.

Yep. An eight hour drive has worn me out. I’m definitely getting soft.

So it’s one of those “put your head down and get your work done” kind of days for me today. This is my soundtrack this afternoon:

What are you listening to?

No, that isn’t me in the photo above. I just thought the picture was funny.

Why A New Hope is my favorite

Me and my Darth Vader nightlight
Me with my Darth Vader nightlight, courtesy of Aunt Patsy (circa 1982)

I remember when CBS aired Star Wars* on network tv for the first time. It was a big deal. A big-huge deal. Gigantic. Enormous. Gargantuan. You get the idea?

I asked Grandmama and Grandpa to record it on their big-huge VCR because we didn’t have one yet. Every time we visited their house (which was often), I’d pop in the tape and watch it over and over and over again. I wanted to be part of the Stuben family with their giant collection.

All that being said, I still thought it was pretty weird to get married in line while waiting for the movie. I mean….having a Chewbacca-shaped Groom’s Cake is one thing. Spending your wedding night in a movie theatre?

That’s something else.

But I digress…

Every time someone would walk into the room while I was watching the beloved Star Wars videotape, I would shout, “Shhh! Shhh! This is my favorite part!” Of course, every part was my favorite part.

Leia gets captured? My favorite part.

Luke is ambushed by Sandpeople? My favorite part.

The Millennium Falcon has to blast its way out of Mos Eisley? My favorite part.

The Princess is rescued from her cell?** My favorite part.

I think you get the idea. Every single part of this movie was my favorite part of my favorite movie. It was so captivating. It transported me to a different world – one that I would continue to live in when I wasn’t watching the movie at my grandparents’ house. Star Wars has a very special place in my heart because of the memories it evokes. For this reason alone, Star Wars will always be my favorite. There are other reasons, however, why Star Wars is such a masterful piece of storytelling.

The music

John Williams is a genius. George Lucas is a genius for getting him to work on this film. The score is so intertwined with the visuals that it is impossible to imagine Star Wars without the soundtrack. I would suspect it would be a much, much different experience. And it probably wouldn’t have been as memorable of a movie.

Here’s an example of how the two tie in so perfectly. Try not to get a little misty-eyed as you listen to Binary Sunset (around the 1:50 mark). In your mind’s eye, you can see young Luke gazing off into the horizon, wishing he could leave for a life of adventure that he cannot have while he’s stuck at his uncle’s farm.

OK. Maybe I’m the only one who can see the scene in my mind’s eye. And maybe I’m the only one who gets misty-eyed. But it’s still a powerful scene. And we owe it to the soundtrack.

The jaw-dropping special effects

With Star Wars, George Lucas understood the purpose of special effects. It could be argued that he lost his way when it came to the prequels, but that’s a different discussion. When you look at Star Wars for what it was, it was an amazing technological leap forward in the realm of special effects and film.

And it played second fiddle to something much more important: the story.

Without a good story full of engaging, memorable characters, you don’t have that much of a quality movie. If you throw special effects in there and use them to drive the story, then you have even less of a movie.

Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.

George Lucas
From Star Wars to JediThe Making of a Saga

The story is a timeless fantasy. Farmboy growing up a hundred miles from nowhere becomes a protege of a wise, mysterious, old wizard. They team up with a band of outlaws on a journey to rescue a princess. Along the way, they topple an evil Empire and this seemingly insignificant farmboy from an insignificant place saves the galaxy.

While the special effects were groundbreaking and are still pretty amazing, they’re subservient to the timeless story. And that’s the way it should be. I wish more filmmakers (including George Lucas himself in later years) would learn from that. Special effects are a tool to tell a story. Special effects are not the story. Star Wars nails this point perfectly.

I think that’s why I have been so disappointed with the tinkering they did with the films for the Special Edition – and after the Special Edition. The story becomes a tool to show off your special effects, which is the opposite of how it should be. It messes up the story.

All that being said, there’s one addition in the Special Edition of Star Wars that does help the story. It’s the brief encounter Luke has with Biggs before the final battle. It helps the audience understand why it was such a big deal that Biggs is shot down at the end. It’s not just that Luke is now all alone. He’s also lost his best friend.

Luke and Biggs before the Battle of Yavin
image via Wookieepedia

I feel like I should also mention that the final battle scene in Star Wars is where I strongly disagree with Roger Ebert’s initial review of the film. I have always thought the final battle was just the right length.

The magic

Star Wars is an adventurous joyride full of ups and downs and twists and surprises and it doesn’t stop until the final explosion and you jump up and down with joy as all the tension releases from your body. Steven Spielberg once said that Star Wars “put the butter back into the popcorn.” And he’s right. With Star Wars, movies became fun again. Once again, movies could take you off to a place far, far away, and invite you to stay. Moviemakers have been trying to capture that magic since Star Wars. While some have had varying levels of success, none have been able to come close to matching the magic of Star Wars.

Its endurance

Some movies, like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are great because they tell moving, heartbreaking stories. And I never want to watch them again.  Other movies are great because you want to watch them over and over and over again.

As you can see, Star Wars clearly falls into the latter. And I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s my favorite of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.

Which Star Wars film is your favorite? Do you like any prequels better than the Original Trilogy?

For the duration of this post, please realize that I’ll be using ‘Star Wars’ and ‘A New Hope’ interchangeably. If you have a problem with that…well…that’s really your problem. I suggest you find something else to get upset about because this really isn’t that big of a deal.

** I warned you here. I warned you again here. I have no sympathy for you if this is a spoiler. Just watch the daggum movies already!

Chapter and Verse

The kids had early dismissal today. All of the paperwork we saw said they were going to be released at 12:30. Apparently, that was for the high school. My kids were done with school at 12:15. Fortunately, Alyson’s teacher is an understanding soul. When I got there, I noticed quite a few kids standing in the office. Looked like I wasn’t the only one who got the wrong memo.

But that wasn’t the point of this post.

I ran a few errands with the kids after picking them up. I had the Star Wars soundtrack playing. I firmly believe it’s one of (if not the) greatest film scores ever written because it is so woven into the movie itself. When you think of a scene from the movie, it’s nearly impossible to think of it without music. And after watching the movie as much as I have, it’s impossible to listen to the music without visualizing the accompanying scene and hearing the accompanying dialog. It’s interwoven. John Williams and George Lucas definitely struck gold with this collaboration.

So we’re listening to the soundtrack and talking about the kids’ day at school. Alyson keeps asking what part of the movie each track is from. And before I can tell her, Aiden explains them all to her. “Oh, that’s where the sand people beat up Luke.” “That’s where Obi Wan Kenobi dies.” “This is where the TIE fighters are chasing them.” I was shocked.

I would say the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, but he’s made the connection at least 8 years earlier than I did. You might remember from a much earlier post that I didn’t come to appreciate the Star Wars soundtrack until I was in high school. Since he’s appreciating the music that much earlier, I wonder what else is in store for our this Padawan (sorry – had to throw in one Star Wars nerd reference…you understand). Pretty soon, I’m sure he’ll be quoting the movie chapter and verse.

I think he’ll wind up alright. Just so long as he doesn’t show up at any Star Wars Conventions dressed up like Greedo…or Princess Leia…

 

“Disco Stu doesn’t advertise”

I really wish I had a picture of Andy in his Disco Stu garb at Philmont. It was, perhaps, one of the greatest outfits from the Crater Lake ’96 experience. OK, Special K lighting our “Olympic” campfire in a bedsheet toga (Were teddy bears on it? I can’t remember) was probably the best costume ever, but Disco Stu comes in a close second. We were in the middle of the wilderness, after all!

Why am I reminiscing (again) about Philmont (yet again)…AGAIN? Did I mention I’m thinking of Philmont again?

Because I finally found the CD I had been looking for since that Summer! One of the CDs Ron brought was a “Greatest Hits” of John Williams. I listened to it all the time. I never wrote down the name of the recording though and at the time, it wasn’t called “John Williams’ Greatest Hits.” I had been searching in vain for 9 years for a copy of the CD and I finally have it! Every time I listen to it, I think back to the glorious Crater Days.

It’s actually an updated version – from 1969-99, which obviously wouldn’t have been available in 1996. It has all the stuff I wanted on it: Star Wars, Superman, Jaws, Jurassic Park…the list goes on! How could anyone pass up such a grand collection from the most memorable film composer of all time? I challenge you to name a composer who has had more impact on the industry and on popular culture…I triple-dog-dare you. You just can’t do it!

The long lost possession was purchased on Thursday and I’ve been listening to it ever since. On Saturday, Aly would keep coming in asking, “Is that Star Wars?” and I’d tell her it wasn’t. She’d walk away dejected. Then, when the “Imperial March” would come on, she’d run in and say “That’s Star Wars!” and start walking around the room singing along with the song.

My kids love the Star Wars soundtrack. It’s almost frightening how much they like it. I can’t rewind the movie without showing the entire credit listing because they want to hear the music. I know I wasn’t like that when I was a kid. (Warning: confession time…)When I was about Aiden’s age, my parents bought me an audio tape of the soundtrack from The Empire Strikes Back. I was disappointed that it wasn’t one of those storybook recordings – it was just a bunch of music with no words or anything. So, I tucked the tape away and didn’t listen to it until I was a freshman in high school. It was that rediscovery that helped me realize that classical music could be kinda cool. See – soundtracks are a gateway “drug” into the more serious stuff.

So, where did I find the John Williams collection? There was a media sale at school with the proceeds going to help a family move down to New Orleans and be involved with a new church work in the city. It was only two bucks! Not only was my secret desire fulfilled, but it was dirt cheap at the same time!

Oh happy day!