“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon
Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent! Usually, this column is a space where Ensley F. Guffey and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Sturgeon was right – the vast majority of movies, writing, and stuff in general is crud – but there is that slim slice of magnificent. The Ten Percent is not limited by genre – there’s room for slapstick comedy, high-toned drama, quality animation, spectacular science fiction, and more besides – oh, look over there! You’ll find show-stopping musicals chatting with bloody horror! Isn’t it cheerful to see everyone getting along? At any rate, the Ten Percent last because they are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception.
This column is a tad different. With the highly-anticipated release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems everyone has either an axe to grind or a parade to throw. I’m not interested in doing either one here, but I am interested in explaining the bone-deep significance the original Star Wars had on me as a fledgling. Even after all these years, it seems that corners of geekdom still want to hang out a “No Girlz Aloud” sign and mark their territory as a testosterone-only zone. Well, pfffft! to that. Come closer to hear the tale of how one film claimed me as its own, lo those many years ago, for Star Wars is a film that is firmly in my own personal Ten Percent and it shall never move from there.
As a child, I had a nearly idyllic upbringing. I was loved and cherished and, while I had chores to do (my parents seemed to think that a gargantuan garden was a sure-fire way to keep kids out of trouble. They may have had a point, but to the day, I don’t really care for squash), I also had a pony and a degree of freedom that would shock most parents today. I am the youngest of three children and I was far enough down the line that my brother and sister didn’t have much interest in entertaining me, so I grew up quite at home with climbing trees and using my imagination to create my own fun.
Probably as a result of this, I was a dreamy, bookish child who could be painfully shy around others. Due to a bout of bronchitis, I had discovered the world of Narnia and the powerfully odd stories of Greek mythology. I could easily spend long stretches of time curled up with a book or creating an elaborate hierarchy among my plastic horses, but I didn’t want to talk with others about what I was reading or playing. Those things were my Very Own and I was always afraid other people would make fun of me – I understood quite early that Those Who Didn’t Understand were legion – and thereby make me even less comfortable around them.
I was nine the summer Star Wars came out. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, my mother decided one day to take me (and only me; quite a treat in a family of three kids) to go see this movie that had so captivated the American public. Properly equipped with popcorn and a Coke, I wriggled in my seat as I impatiently waited for the movie – the very first PG-rated one I’d been allowed to go see! – to begin.
The original trailer – no John Williams music just seems weird.
I imagine you know the story from there. The theater went dark, those bright blue words “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . “ appeared on the screen and faded out, then trumpets blared as John Williams’ theme announced the beginning of the adventure.
I was hooked.
For the rest of the summer, I begged and wheedled to go back to see Star Wars again and again. In between viewings, I entertained myself with elaborate games of my own devising, inserting myself into the story in order to heroically save the day and defeat the Empire. (It would be years before I learned the term “Mary Sue,” but I was the Mary Suziest of Mary Sues.) I never had the toys – asking for those would mean admitting my fascination and this was mine and mine alone. For a kid who grows up wearing mostly hand-me-down clothes, having something of Your Very Own is to be jealously guarded and I was Smaug on this treasure pile. Instead of having the full complement of toys, I acted out scenarios with my plastic toy horses, thereby anticipating Joss Whedon’s Firefly by about a quarter-century. (By the way, the term “action figures” bugs me a little – it was created to make “dolls” acceptable to the boy market, thus driving a wedge [and not Antilles] between boy and girl fans.)
Much later, I would learn about Lucas’ influences in creating the worlds of Star Wars. I would read Joseph Campbell because of Star Wars. The tales of King Arthur took on a new meaning. I would watch other movies because of Star Wars – elements of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress are all over Star Wars and C-3PO is a direct homage to the “Machine Man” of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The yellow crawl shows up in Forbidden Planet. And, of course, the theme to Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is performed by Nerf Herder (okay, that reference doesn’t come in until Empire, but still . . .).
I am a purist when it comes to Star Wars. I don’t like the enhanced special send-in-ten-box-tops editions, I’ve lost count of the variations and I don’t care because for me, there’s only one version. I still have the original trilogy on Laserdisc. (And yes, I have the player as well.) Twenty-some years ago, I waited impatiently in front of the Senator Theatre in Baltimore to see the original trilogy on the big screen on three consecutive Saturdays. (The manager of the theater sternly warned the kids that “no talking” was meant seriously by the adults in that particular audience. You may have the plastic lightsabers, but we have the car keys. )
I’ve been known to scold a misbehaving cat by pointing at it and stating, “You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor. Take her away.” As such, it saddens me when I hear (an increasingly small number, thank heavens) male fans denigrate female Star Wars fans as being “not true fans.” I shouldn’t have to prove my “geek cred,” but if that’s the way you want to play it, Salacious Crumb, I’ll see your fandom and raise it a dog-eared copy of Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a novel that proves that Lucas didn’t have quite as much mapped out as he has sometimes claimed.
But this isn’t a matter of who can whip who in a trivia contest. Star Wars made me a wide-eyed geek and set my feet on the path of righteous pop-culture scholarship. I flat-out love this movie and I love who it helped me become. For that alone, Star Wars is part of my own personal Ten Percent and if you don’t think I can legitimately claim a piece of that because I have lady parts, well – the back of my hand to you.
Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe (spring 2017). You can find Dale online at her blog unfetteredbrilliance.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out at solomonmaos.com and on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.