A Nerd's Plea for 'Star Wars'
To a New Jersey kid and his best friend, the franchise was more than just movies. As Disney plots a new chapter, here's how to not screw it up.
Star Wars repeatedly is referenced in all the flicks I make because I grew up watching the George Lucas trilogy in the 1970s and early '80s. But thanks to the toymakers at Kenner, no self-respecting Star Wars fan was ever content to simply watch the movies. Indeed, until the advent of home video a few years later, playing with Star Wars figures was about the closest a fan could get to seeing the movie again until it was rereleased in theaters.
I grew up about a block from the river in Highlands, N.J. -- a shore town recently devastated by Frankenstorm Sandy. Our house was surrounded by summer rental bungalows that served as vacation homes for an army of New Yorkers who wanted out of the city for a few weeks in favor of something more bucolic.
From Brooklyn came the King family, who'd live in a bungalow across the street from my house all summer long. I awaited their arrival with the anticipation normally reserved for Halloween and Christmas because the Kings had a son named Pete right around my age. And as children of the era, Star Wars became the cartilage in our relationship.
Sure, I had some of the toys -- but my mom was a homemaker, and my dad worked at the post office. We were a lower-, lower-, lower-middle-class family who qualified for free government cheese a couple years in a row, so the purchasing of plastic trinkets that echoed one of their kids' favorite movies was reserved for really special occasions. Pete, on the other hand, had everything in the Star Wars line of toys: every figure ever made, every vehicle, every play set. Every summer day from 1978 to 1982, you could find me and Pete in his tiny yard, building a new Hoth or Tatooine, brushing ants off our bodies as we laid belly down in the dirt, making Luke Skywalker repeatedly kiss a girl who turned out to be his sister right before they swing from dental floss over the heads of stiff-armed Stormtroopers. It shaped me as a storyteller and as a person (you can't save the galaxy all day long without lots of junk-food consumption).
With no access to the actual Star Wars films until the VCR was made affordable to the average consumer, we'd create our own Star Wars adventures. The best story (and the only one outside of the movie canon that we'd repeatedly play) wasn't about Luke and Leia: It was about inexplicable fan-fave Boba Fett -- the intergalactic bounty hunter who brings a carbonite-frozen Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. The plot of our backyard adventure: Boba Fett gets trapped by robotic gunslinger IG-88 in a Star Wars universe time loop, sending him through all the movies as well as moments only referenced in the flicks. In some eras, he's a hero -- even getting to kiss Princess Leia instead of Luke (this was before Return of the Jedi made 'em relatives). Other times when the chrono-belt pulled him into another era, Fett's the villain he's always known as in the flicks. The time-travel plot allowed us to touch on the well-told stories of the movies we so adored, but it also gave us a chance to mash 'em up with the funkier flights-of-fancy Pete and I would manufacture. It was like an episode of Quantum Leap before that show ever existed, and it was our favorite Star Wars adventure.
If Disney wants to make another cool billion dollars like it did with The Avengers last summer, all it needs to do is make a Boba Fett time-travel flick. It would center on a character everyone digs and allow for a greatest hits of Star Wars while playing with an already-established timeline, a la Back to the Future. You could use every living (and dead) actor from the previous Star Wars films, no matter what their age -- which means Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford can come and play as well. It'd be a dream come true for any Star Wars fan -- particularly those of us who opted out of the boring-ass real world every summer for galaxies far, far away.
As Pete and I hit our teens, we didn't play as much Star Wars anymore. I was onto girls, and Pete was replacing Star Wars with G.I. Joe figures. My visits to Pete's backyard became less frequent, as did Pete's summer trips to Jersey with his family: After he got into punk music, he'd spend more and more of his time in Manhattan with new friends.
One morning shortly after Clerks happened to me, I got the absolute shit news that Pete King had been hit by a car in New York City. I asked how long his recovery would be only to learn the awful truth: Pete had died.
Not a summer goes by when I don't think about Pete or our ongoing saga of Boba Fett lost in time. So when I heard about Disney's $4 billion Lucasfilm acquisition, naturally I had a brief, one-sided conversation with my former best friend.
"We might finally get to see that Fett flick we always dreamed about, Pete," I said aloud at my desk after I read the news.
So in a world where Disney needs to make back its investment, we may indeed see an all-Boba Fett film. And if the Force wills it, maybe it'll even be about Boba Fett lost in the Star Wars universe time stream. But even if it became the highest-grossing film of all time, it'd still never be as good as Pete King's version.
Kevin Smith is the writer-director of Clerks, Chasing Amy and Red State.