For me it all started what seems a long time ago, in a town quite a ways from Baker City.
Forty-two years and 328 miles, to be rather more precise on what might be the most famous pair of general measurements in the history of American cinema.
On Christmas night I was sitting in a comfortable chair at the Eltrym, wiping the remnants of the popcorn “butter” from my fingers as I watched the end credits for the last of nine episodes in the “Star Wars” film saga, “The Rise of Skywalker.”
As I gathered up my napkins and plucked my cup from its holder I was more than slightly surprised at how powerful the nostalgia was that pressed round my midsection, in the manner of an emotional embrace.
I have never been anything but a casual fan of George Lucas’ outer space franchise.
I have watched each film, some of them multiple times, and enjoyed them all.
I can tell a TIE-fighter from an X-wing, and I recognize the silhouette of the Millennium Falcon.
But I don’t own a single piece of “Star Wars” merchandise.
My cellphone ringtone is not John Williams’ rousing theme to the series, what surely must be among the more recognizable pieces of music from the past half century.
And I can’t speak with authority about the lineage of the Sith.
But despite my decidedly lukewarm affinity for this series of films, I couldn’t, as I sat there in the warmth and the dark, deny the sense that I had just completed a historic journey.
That I was so affected has much to do, I think, with my age.
I was born in 1970 and was 6 when the original “Star Wars” came out in May 1977. I was just old enough, four months shy of my seventh birthday, that my parents would let me watch a PG-rated movie that included a fair amount of violence (albeit of the bloodless variety inflicted by blasters and light sabers) and the indubitably frightening character of Darth Vader.
(Although I suppose my folks couldn’t have known anything about Vader at that point, since he had obviously not yet achieved legendary villain status.)
I vividly remember standing in line on the sidewalk beside North Third Avenue in Stayton, the town near Salem where I grew up, as it crept along toward the marquee for the Star Theater.
This is among the clearer memories I have of that period.
A child of 6 is rather an impressionable creature, of course, and ever since that day “Star Wars” has been a part of my life.
Not a significant part, to be sure — as I said, my fandom lies far from the fanatical end of the spectrum.
Yet the ubiquity of the franchise is such that I could no more banish it from my subconscious than I could ignore the reality that I also grew up during the era of Ronald Reagan and MTV and Michael Jordan, to cite just three of dozens of cultural icons that also populate my childhood and that remain prominent for me all these years later.
I not only grew up with “Star Wars,” to briefly indulge in cloying cliché, but this cultural touchstone, unlike so many others from its era, has stayed on — albeit with intervals as long as 16 years (between “The Return of the Jedi” from 1983, the last of the original trilogy though the middle three films in this fictional chronology, and the feverishly anticipated return with “The Phantom Menace” in 1999).
I can’t offhand think of any comparable phenomenon in my lifetime that’s as pervasive and as persistent as “Star Wars.”
I have had the pleasure of watching new “Star Wars” films with my children, the films thus forming a sort of connective tissue to a period that at most other times seems to me impossibly distant and all but impossible to comprehend.
There is something comforting to me about the continuing relevance of “Star Wars.”
At times the modern world can seem as different from 1977 as, say, a cellphone is different from an LP record, to name just one item that was ubiquitous then but is rarely seen today.
The world rolls on and the inevitability of its movement sometimes leaves me a trifle unsteady on my feet. It’s as though I were being pulled in opposite directions, that some small part of my essence remains back in the era of disco and Jimmy Carter and stagflation.
Nostalgia can be unsettling, is the thing.
But it can also be gratifying, and reassuring in its reality.
As I sat there in the Eltrym, as I watched Chewbacca lumber and listened to C-3PO’s haughty accent and R2-D2’s beeps and buzzes, it seemed that not so much had changed after all, and for a few moments I remembered a small boy standing on a sidewalk, a boy who knew nothing of what was to come.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.