Writers enjoy the enviable blessing of leaving a trail through our history that we can follow back to the beginnings. Like Hansel and Gretel, our words are the cookie crumbs that prompt memories to lead us home. They bring back the people, smells, sights and energy of the moment when we recorded them.
As a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph in 1977, my “beat” was anything the editor tossed onto my desk. Foraging through boxes of clippings recently, in an ongoing effort to “clean out stuff,” I came across one of my few movie reviews.
We’d heard a big new picture was sweeping the nation; people in California were standing in lines that reached around city blocks to get tickets to the new George Lucas film “Star Wars.”
Earning $140 a week I was always looking for a cheap date night, so when the editor asked who wanted to go see this movie and write a review, I volunteered. No one else really was interested.
I was fortunate the audience that night included a gaggle of legitimate science fiction writers attending a conference in town.
For those of you who are fans of the early Star Wars movies – and I would guess the number to be close to 100 percent – I offer some excerpts of my original review.
“Out among the stars many years ago, the galaxies all lived in peace and were controlled by a ‘force’ that flowed through every creature and held the universe together.
“Then one creature wanted more power than he was allotted and fell in with a band of like-minded rogues.
“With superior weapons, the boys in black took over more and more of the universe until only a die-hard rebel remnant of the original government remained. When the two groups collided, it was ‘Star Wars.’
“So much for the plot…”
As a nascent movie reviewer, I got hung up on plot and dialog, things that make a great play or book.
“The problem with the show,” I wrote, “is that despite a visual feast, the dialogue is so inane it makes the main course much less palatable.”
When a legion of Imperial storm troopers has the hero quartet of Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and that extra from Planet of the Apes, Chewbacca, seemingly trapped, Leia sneers at Solo and blasts through a wall and to provide escape into the ship’s garbage dump.
“When the four are up to their knees in scrap metal and muck,” I wrote, “hero Han says, ‘It could be worse.’ Then a low roar sounds and he says, ‘It’s worse.’ Then comes the clincher. With the walls of the giant trash compactor closing together, the lunk pipes up, ‘I have a bad feeling about this…One thing for sure, we’re all going to be a lot thinner.’”
Science fiction writers I interviewed afterwards gave me some perspective. They had been writing around similar themes for years, they said. So, while Star Wars offered nothing new in plot, they were delighted to see “the technical realization of ideas developed long ago.”
Lucas, unknown to the general public before Star Wars, added the visual magic to science fiction ideas that were floating through space for decades.
Although I didn’t keep a clipping of the letter to the editor that criticized my review, I remember the comment distinctly. “Your reviewer must have had his head in a vise,” said the writer, who obviously loved the movie.
But, that’s how ideas work. One creative mind builds on ideas floated by another.
After Karl Benz invented his “motor wagen” Henry Ford added assembly line manufacture. While Whitcomb Judson worked with buttons and eventually built something he called a “clasp locker” it was Gideon Sundback who created the zipper.
Walt Disney drew Mickey Mouse and his successors created the Magic Kingdom.
A zillion ideas are floating around out there, most of them better off lost to history, even lost in space. But, keep your eyes open. Maybe you’ll be the one to magically bring to life an idea that others will stand in line to witness.
By the way, well and properly educated to the sweeping social impact of the Star Wars trilogy, when “The Empire Strikes Back” showed up three years later, I was first in line.