A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Actually, it wasn’t all that far away; it was Brooklyn, at the Toys R’ Us on Flatbush Avenue. It was 1977 and I was four-years old. I walked next to my father down the aisles of toys and they seemed to extend up so high that to me they could have reached the stars. My eyes darted quickly from one display to the next. Where were they? There were the Matchbox cars, which I certainly liked, but they weren’t the objective that day. We passed the bikes and the girl toys like Holly Hobbie and Barbie. A thought flashed through my mind—what if they didn’t have them? Just then we turned a corner and there they were, right on the endcap—the Star Wars toys. My face must have lit, as though I were looking at the blinding explosion of the Death Star itself.
“See, I told you they’d have them,” my father said. “How many can I get, Daddy?” I asked.
“Just two today.”
I scanned the display. I loved the packaging. Each black rectangular card had rounded edges, the Star Wars logo on top, the action figure below on the left, under plastic, and on the right, a still from the movie featuring the character in the package. They were all so cool. But, which ones should I get? I thumbed through the rows of boxes, past Han Solo and Chewbacca and Greedo. I liked those and knew I’d eventually get them, but I needed Luke Skywalker. He was my hero. I kept searching. Obi Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, R2D2 and C3P0—all good, but those weren’t the droids I was looking for. Then finally, I found Luke, all the way in the back.
The force was with me.
He was clad in his white bathrobe-like tunic, his hair was painted bright yellow, and he had a yellow Lightsaber (why not blue, like in the movie?) protruding through a hole at the end of his hand. It was as if some other little boy hid him back there right before I arrived, because maybe his father wouldn’t buy it for him so he felt he had to hide it so it would be there waiting for him when he returned another day. Sorry kid, you did your best, but you are not a Jedi yet. Luke was mine. Now, who else should I get? Easy, Darth Vader. Luke would need someone to battle, of course. The circle was now complete and it was time to hit the register.
“Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?”
I sat in the darkened Walker Theater in Bensonhurst when I first heard that heroic John Williams theme kick in and that Star Destroyer first entered the screen and seemed to take an eternity to pass over, forever changing me. I recoiled in fear when Darth Vader lifted his enemy by the throat. I laughed at the banter between C3PO and R2D2. I almost cried when Obi Wan sacrificed himself to Vader’s Lightsaber. And I cheered as Luke “trusted his feelings” and fired into the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port and saved the day. I remember leaving the theater and walking out into the too bright street, the summer sun nearly blinding me.
“Can we see it again, Daddy?”
I collected Star Wars action figures until around 1984, about a year after Return of the Jedi left the theaters. Then Star Wars seemed to fade away. I moved on to G.I. Joe, Transformers and Voltron. By the time I was about 13, I stopped buying toys completely, replacing them with teenage things like music, clothes and girls. But, I always kept my Star Wars figures lined up on top of my dresser, a reminder of my childhood.
Years passed and then when I was about 21, a funny thing happened—Star Wars toys came back. Hasbro, riding the nostalgia wave, began recreating the old figures in new, more detailed sculpts. Soon, I was making weekly trips to that same Toys R’ Us on Flatbush Avenue, looking giddily for the newest figures. Then in 1997, on the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, the merchandising bonanza exploded just as it had back in ’77 and I found myself hooked all over again. By the time the new Star Wars movies started coming out in ’99, my new collection rivaled my first. I admit it; I even own a Jar Jar figure. Every trip to Toys R’ Us brought back the unabashed enthusiasm I felt when I was four-years old.
Hopefully he won’t be looking for a Jar Jar.