I had a Star Wars epiphany last year while standing in line for the 30th anniversary screening of Return of the Jedi in Los Angeles. As many fans know, this particular screening of the film featured a surprise cameo by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill — who casually strolled up to the podium to partake in the post screening Q&A. The atmosphere in the room was electric as you can imagine. The mood shifted quickly from stunned silence to an eruption of hysteria as Mark took to the stage.
Mark is the quintessential amazing nice guy and super-talented actor we all know and love. Where any other celebrity might shy away from the intense enthusiasm directed at them, he was incredibly gracious and, let’s face it, wonderfully patient with all the fanboys and girls who attended. It was a room of fans from every generation. From those in their 40’s like me, those older and many new fans; children who stared in silent awe that their hero was in the same room as them.
But as amazing as it was, this was not the highlight for me.
The real highlight for me was waiting in line to get in.
I had hunted for tickets to this event for months. I missed out on them when they first went on sale, so of course I spent many lonely and desperate hours that turned into days and then weeks trying to buy some from a re-seller. No luck.
In a last minute twist of fate and box office glitch I managed to get two of the last tickets released and turned up two hours before the screening to try to get a good seat.
The line stretched around the block. For a movie released 30 years ago it was like traveling back in time to 1983 when I did exactly the same thing at the Hoyts Regency Centre in Brisbane, Australia, as an 11-year-old boy.
To understand the significance of this memory you have to understand the context of my relationship to Star Wars. I was born in 1972 so I saw Episode IV on television. I was five years old when the film was released and we couldn’t afford to go to the movies at that point. But I saw the film a few years later on network television in a special FM radio simulcast where you hooked up your home stereo, tuned it to your local rock station, and set the speakers next to your tiny television to get the cinema sound experience. It seems ridiculous now but back then it was like seeing it on the big screen.
To describe my first reaction to Star Wars as “blown away” is an understatement.
I was transfixed.
Like all Star Wars fans, you never forget that first introduction. Which is why it was excruciating to wait for The Empire Strikes Back to come out. Those years in between were so fun though. The teaser posters, the mysterious Boba Fett, and the snow battles with these hulking metal giants we would later come to know as AT-ATs. All of these new exciting images first revealed to me in glimpses in magazines or on the side of the Burger King glass tumblers (which are now the ONLY glasses from which we drink from in our house!). And of course, the first glimpse of Luke fighting Vader in a lightsaber duel. This movie looked like it was going to be even better than the original! When I finally saw it (this time at a drive-in movie theater) it did not disappoint. You could say Empire is the film that made me a fan for life.
Again, the years between Empire and Jedi were even more wonderfully torturous. I had started collecting the Kenner figures and after the cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes Back, I, like the rest of the world, was dying to find out if Vader was really Luke’s father.
Standing in line to see Return of the Jedi in 1983 I was a bundle of nerves and excitement.
Standing in line to see it 30 years later, I was all those things and so much more.
I felt like I was part of a family. A community.
I had a conversation in line with a man who shared his story and it deeply moved me. He had printed up his own fan-made tribute to the original Kenner cardbacks — a replica of the packing that used to contain one of my favorite toys: Luke Skywalker in Jedi robe. It was a beautiful piece of art and he was just handing them out to anyone who wanted one. We got to talking and he told me that when he was a kid, he didn’t have any friends. He said, “My friends were my Star Wars toys.”
I knew how he felt. I felt sad at first and then so happy he had found his place in the world, in this line.
Being a Star Wars fan is never easy but it’s always worth it. It’s never easy because we’re always so excited for the future of Star Wars and sometimes we’re impatient for the next installment. But it hits me now as we stare in to the future, like Luke Skywalker on Tatooine dreaming of a future far, far away — that our destiny has one thing for certain: more moments to make memories.
I am choosing to relish in this period now, where the merest hint of a rumor gets us excited. I am as in the dark about what will happen in the new films as I was when first saw a concept drawing of Bib Fortuna by the late great master, Ralph McQuarrie. I am so grateful for this moment of pause. To wonder and to dream of a galaxy of new adventures. And to wait in line.
Darren Hayes is a solo artist and was the lead singer of pop group Savage Garden, but he’s first and foremost a massive Star Wars fan. If you disagree he’ll likely rip the arm off a Gundark just to prove it. Find him on Twitter @darrenhayes or subscribe to his weekly podcast on iTunes.