This is my second entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — one song that is representative of each year of my life since about 1977, when I was five years old and was approximately the time when I have specific memories of music.
1978: “Main Title,” by John Williams: The “Star Wars” theme
Can there be any other candidate? This music opened the movie that became an obsession for the next 30 years. “Star Wars” was released in theaters in 1977, but we lived in Germany at the time — so it took until the following year for the phenomenon to really reach us. By the time I was finishing kindergarten, we’d all heard about this amazing movie. It got to the point that I wanted to see it so badly that I can remember begging my parents to let us go see it as we walked by a theater where it was playing. Dubbed in German. But, Dad — I don’t care if we can’t understand it. I just want to see it. They had to grab me and drag me away from the movie poster.
This was also the year I got my very first Star Wars toys. My parents ordered a TIE Fighter and a four-pack of figures that included Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper and a pair of Sandpeople out of the JC Penny catalog. That TIE Fighter is still sitting in my basement, and even though I have a lot of “stuff” it’s one of the very, very few things I consider a legitimate prized possession. The seat and battery cover are missing. It’s got stickers on it that aren’t supposed to be there. It has gobs of yellowed epoxy glue representing the scars of decades-old attempts to repair the wing I broke when I threw it in the yard thinking it could really fly. But it’s one of those things I’ll never get rid of. Not for what it is, but for what it represents.
That TIE Fighter and four-pack of bad guys were the Patient Zero of a toy-collecting epidemic that at one point in the not-too-distant past numbered almost 900 figures and over 100 vehicles and other playsets — and that was just Star Wars toys and didn’t include the hundreds of toys from G.I. Joe and other brands. It led to things like my dad agreeing to buy me a Luke Skywalker figure for $1.99 at the PX in Nurnberg from the metal mesh bins on the bottom shelf that were always overflowing with figures, and then having to endure the ensuing debate from me that I also needed a Princess Leia because “they go together.”
The toys of my youth, and of my brothers’ youths, were consolidated into one place and added with the avalanche of things I began buying when Star Wars toys went back on the market in 1995 after being absent for about eight years. The ability to buy toys at Walmart was paired with this new thing called the Internet, which made it incredibly easy to find people willing to sell all the great things I wanted, but never had, as a kid. I never had an Imperial Shuttle; so I bought two of them. This is just one of dozens of similar examples, all fueled by that one movie.
The toys sated the natural collector in me, but also allowed a tangible connection to so many great memories of my brothers and parents from when I was growing up. Admiral Ackbar is a favorite character of many people, and his “it’s a trap!” line the source of many an Internet meme. But I have a special place in my heart for that character because my dad bought an Ackbar figure for me and had waiting for me on my pillow in my bedroom in Germany in early 1984, when we joined him over there after having not seen him for three months. My brothers both had remote control cars or something like that waiting for them. But I had an Admiral Ackbar. On some level, you can trace every movie, every comic book, every action figure and vehicle, every puzzle or board game, anything with the Star Wars logo on it, back to some memory or event in the childhood of the Bartletts.
There were other temporary diversions – G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, Visionaries. But my brothers and I kept coming back to Star Wars. It’s only been recently that I really even let it go; the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” animated movie that was released in 2008 was probably the death blow for me. That was the clear signal that the majority of things to come were going to be for 10-year-old kids without any regard for how people of my generation thought about them, and that the magic I remembered existed now only as a vehicle to transport money out of my wallet. But that incredible 30-year run, started by one song in one movie, defined quite a significant portion of the person I am today.
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