May 18, 2005. The velvet blackness of space tilted and gave way to the breathtaking view of the golden planet Coruscant. A gigantic space battlecruiser streaked over the planet, firing beams of lethal light. Then, the battle was fully engaged: hundreds of ships came into view, hammering away at each other with lasers and missiles.
Thus opened "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," and my mouth was agape with awe.
Whatever transgressions George Lucas may have committed with "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" are finally forgiven. By the end of the movie, one finally understands what the saga was about: the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker.
And it's about time, too, because it was nearly thirty years in the telling.
I admit it: I am THAT old. I caught the first "Star Wars" (later retitled as "Star Wars: A New Hope") in the theater in 1977. I watched it with my godmother. My most vivid memory outside the theater was of an actor in a Wookiee costume. I think I slept through part of the film, but I'm sure I caught the thrilling end as X-wing fighters swept down the trench of the Death Star.
If we thought Lucas was done with the story, we were wrong. Three years after "A New Hope", the sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" followed. It left off with a cliffhanger ending with one of the heroes captured and the others on the run. This, of course, left us with the promise of the conclusion with "Return of the Jedi." But we had to wait another three years for that.
After "Return of the Jedi", the Star Wars phenomenon faded into the subculture of geekdom. By then, phrases like "Use the Force" and "Luke, I'm your father" had come into popular use. After all, there's a little geek in all of us.
Was the saga at an end? By no means. In the early 1990s, a number of novels came out, following the story of the heroes after the movie. There was a mini-revival of sorts, but it was followed primarily by the hardcore fans. There was one explicit command from Lucas: do not write stories set before "A New Hope."
In 1997, Lucas re-released the original trilogy with enhanced digital effects. Special effects technology, he said, had finally come to the level at which he could make the film the way he wanted to. Cynics like me thought it was a way to milk more of the franchise.
I watched them again anyway, one week after the other, in the theater. It was my way of atoning for my viewings of "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" on bootleg video.
Fans weren't satisfied with the re-release, however. They clamored for new movies, and Lucas delivered in 1999 with "The Phantom Menace."
Yes, it was fun, but it wasn't quite what fans expected. We were lukewarm to a cutesy young Anakin, we were turned off by medichlorians, and we all hated Jar Jar Binks.
"Attack of the Clones", with its sappy love story and whiny teenaged Anakin, didn't fare much better. Yoda's display of mad lightsaber skills was the happy exception.
Preceded by these two films, hopes weren't very high for the third film. Would Lucas disappoint yet again? How would he pull off Anakin Skywalker's transformation into the dreaded Darth Vader? How would he tie the last two films with the original trilogy from almost three decades ago? The cartoon series "Clone Wars" on Cartoon Network seemed to be much more satisfying.
But it didn't really matter how bad it would be, because I would watch it
anyway. I suppose other fans felt the same way. "Just get it over with" seemed to be the general consensus.
Then, sitting in that darkened theater, the opening exposition started rolling on screen, vanishing into the distance as was the "Star Wars" trademark.
I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness: yes, I had waited for this final movie not with great anticipation but with obsessive-compulsive impatience and dismissive disregard for the mythos. In that theater I was a fan again, and 28 years of fandom were rushing back.
And this was going to be the last time I would see a new "Star Wars" film on screen.
Only two things remain to be said: first, George Lucas does not disappoint with this final outing; and second; any viewing of this opus on a medium other than the big screen with Dolby or THX sound system rightly deserves to be a crime.
So for all you "fans" planning to watch this on bootleg video, may Darth Vader crush your trachea, may Chewbacca pull off your arms, and may you be sent down to your miserable end on the garbage compactor of the Death Star.
See this film in a good moviehouse. May the Force be with you.