I’m seven years old. I’m very small, in the University Theatre seat; I’m clutching the armrests, waiting for the curtains to open. And then, at last, they do. They do, and the screen is dark, except for ten words:
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away
Music: a resounding fanfare that makes me shiver. And, after the tedious scrolling of yellow words, a rumble. It’s this rumble I notice first, even before the images. My seat is shaking. My arms and legs are juddering — because there’s something coming — something bigger than a garbage truck or a jumbo jet — something huge and grey, veined and mountainous, shaped like an interstellar arrowhead.
Fast-forward. I’m now ten years old. I’m semi-small, in the York Theatre seat; I’m clutching the armrests, waiting for the curtains to open. And then they do. They do, and a motorcycle is buzzing toward me: an old-fashioned one, with a blond man in goggles perched on it. Sometime after this is the desert: the vast, empty sweep of it, studded with bare cliffs; the gold of it, with the impossibly hot blue sky above, matched only by the blue of Peter O’Toole’s eyes. His blue eyes, his golden hair, swathed in white cloth; the golden sand, where men stumble and die.
When I left the University and York Theatres, everything had changed. There was a desert behind my eyes. Star Destroyers, too. Yeah, so two blond men featured prominently — I was 7 and 10 (and had no idea that Han was hotter). The point was: I was changed. Shaken and stirred, for the duration.
I was a kid. I was impressionable. I imprinted on Lawrence and Skywalker like a baby duckling opening its eyes on a sock puppet or a Labrador retriever or even an actual mommy duck — taken in, consumed by wonder and newness, incapable of thinking, “Hey — are you really my mom?” Everything’s more intense when you’re young, from apocalyptic hatred of broccoli and milk to transcendent love for A-Ha’s “Take on Me” and Cotton Ginny track pants in 52 colours.
I’m older now. Presumably wiser. I own no baby blue track pants or top 40 songs. And yet I wonder: where have all the Star Destroyers gone? Where is today’s Omar Sharif, shimmering out of the heat-haze, moving from the horizon to me?
I go to Prometheus. This makes me angry. I go to The Avengers. This makes me happy in a fleeting, weightless, appreciating-all-the-superhero-buttocks kind of way. I can’t remember the last time a movie actually moved me. Maybe I don’t go to enough of them — and when I do, I may go to too many genre blockbusters, of which I have low expectations. Sound and fury; impressive CGI; nothing signified.
The University and York Theaters are nothing more than facades and engagement party venues, now. George Lucas has made Star Wars into a franchise, and a joke. David Lean is dead. And I’m left with Prince Feisal’s words, which I address, with gratitude and yearning, to the deserts of space and the Nefud:
What I owe you is beyond evaluation.