Part of the reason that I write about movies today is because of my Dad and the many times he would take the family to the cinema when we were young, with Return of the Jedi being one of the first movie going experiences I can remember.

His own love for cinema inspired mine, and he would tell us about the Oxford Street cinema that would play Buster Keaton films with live accompaniment, the front row screening of 2001 in which the screen was so wide you couldn’t see what was going on at the other end, as well being made to endure all manner of films on our behalf – Transformers: The Movie (the cartoon one of course) and Superman III (for which I still have a fondness despite my better judgement).

However, there were certain films that he was as enthusiastic about as we were and the Star Wars trilogy was the apex of this shared enjoyment. Experiencing the Star Wars films for the first time at roughly the age I am now was too good a perspective to leave out of our celebration, so here’s Dave Lyus, my Dad, on the films that made all the difference.

A short time ago in a galaxy based on North East London it hadn’t really begun. For a start we had not heard of Star Wars and the two children were only 1 and 3! But later……

Star Wars had begun to percolate into our conscious when I went into a toy shop in the Arcade across from Liverpool Street Station. It was the sort of toyshop that (in a later time) Harry Potter would have been happy to be seen in. It was dark, had no window display, the floor was covered in boxes and it was closing down.  And it had a box with a white TIE Fighter at a much reduced price – how could I ignore it?

That was only the start – has anyone ever counted how many character models there were (and are)?  I remember a character called Zuckuss, although I doubt if many people do – he was a bounty hunter in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and was on the screen for a shorter time than it takes to say his name. But we needed him to complete our collection. Nobody seemed to have him, and we had searched all the local shops  (remember, this was time before the Internet) and nothing.

We were coming back from holiday and stopped outside a local toy shop and there he was in the window. A note was left and on the Monday a visit was made only to find that the toy shop had…several models, one of which became ours. And so it went on – figures, magazines, books – it seemed never ending.

On one occasion we had taken all the characters and ships etc. on holiday and when we came to pack up discovered that we had lost two Imperial guards. We searched high and low and never found them. Until, that is we got home and found that the secret compartment in the Rebel troop transport was acting as a prison!

I recently stopped to think that Star Wars is 34 years old and the merchandising just has never ended – it may have changed and the prices risen, but it’s still going strong. Has anything else come close to it in constantly reinventing itself?

We, of course, started a scrapbook into which was pasted relevant items –we still have the ticket stubs for the first public showing of Return of the Jedi. In fact it was a showing before the official ‘first’ showing as demand was so high. Sitting in the cinema in Leicester Square with its excellent sound system, hearing the opening bars of the music and the scrolling titles – absolute magic.

Then there was Harrod’s who seemed to have quite a thing for Star Wars. We visited several times looking for those elusive figures and then they had personal appearances by Darth Vader (possibly a clone – who could tell in that black outfit) and Peter Mayhew without his Chewbacca outfit. We have the signed photograph – I remember that his hands were huge as he signed.

Somehow Episodes 1 to 3 were of a different feel – the characters we had grown up with were not yet born or not as we had come to know them. And then there was Jar Jar Binks (and Brian Blessed playing a CGI version of himself).

But there were the videos and then the programmes about the making of the films and then the DVD’s. These all helped rekindle the enthusiasm and now the Blu Ray versions – it’s nearly enough to make me go and buy a Blu Ray player….

All the new re-releases have added features – remember how Jabba was added to the ‘A New Hope’? This is fine as long as they are in keeping with and add to the film. Additions and changes made “because we can”  often have the opposite effect and make us want to return to the originals. Too much technology is a dangerous thing.

Star Wars is one of those rare phenomena – it has become a legend in its own time. Bearing in mind how many years have passed since it began it seems strange that as I write a new series on television telling the story of cinema has elicited a comment that says:  “Must-see TV for anyone who appreciates that film existed prior to Star Wars” and then there is a series at present on Radio 4 called “I’ve never seen Star Wars”.. It is constantly reinventing itself for each generation.

For the older amongst us Episodes 4 to 6 reign supreme, whilst the prequels are possibly more appreciated by a younger group of fans – and now we have ‘The Clone Wars’ as cartoons for the younger age band. Who knows what effect one person’s enthusiasm for films has on their children? In my case I know that one son has never lost his love of film – in fact he is such a fan that he co-founded a website called ‘Heyuguys!’

There are any number of magazines and books – amongst them novels which expand, to a lesser or greater extent, the films. Then there are the heavier tomes which go into great detail about the films, the characters, their weapons and ships. I recently bought a vast book all about Darth Vader – possibly the best ‘baddie’ of all times – yet he found redemption in the end. There seems no stopping them.

Perhaps the best buy was many years ago from a market stall. It is a large card folder stating that it is an ‘advertising supplement to Variety’. Open it once and you are met by posters for ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ stating  that these are the number one and two grossing films. Open it again and you are informed that ’Now in production’ for ‘World Premiere on May 27th 1983 is ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ – that to me is special…..
…..and yes I still have it!

Click to enlarge…