40 Years with Star Wars

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A long time ago, in a laundromat not too far away . . . .

A young boy in a black helmet and cape sat quietly on a chair, as he patiently waited for his mother to wash the Sith-stains out of his Imperial undies.

“Oh, well aren’t you cute!” exclaimed a strange, elderly woman. “What’s your name?”

The masked boy tilted his head, to face the unwelcome inquisitor. “Dart Vayda,” he answered, in a deep, menacing voice.

“Darth Vader?” she laughed. “That can’t be your name!”

“Yes, it is!”

His mother overheard and interjected with a chuckle, “Aw, tell the nice lady your name.”

“I did, mom. It’s Dart Vayda.”

“His name is Michael,” she told the woman.

“Oh, hello, Michael! Did you see the new Star Trek movie?”

Young Michael, still hidden behind the black mask, stretched his arm out, with a crushing hand gesture.  The woman suddenly began to choke over the boy’s spell. She collapsed, unconscious, and Darth Michael stood over her, as he slowly lowered his hand.

“It’s Star Wars!”

My mother still reminds me of this memory today . . . Only, I didn’t strangle the woman with the Force, of course. This occurred sometime when THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was still in theaters.

A few years prior, on May 25, 1977, STAR WARS was introduced to the world for the very first time. It was initially released in only 32 theaters and grossed $307,263,857 during its first 18-month run!

On October 6, 1977, I was released from my mother’s womb and landed in a large pile of Star Wars merchandise, thanks to my 23-year-old father’s instant enthusiasm for the film.

Of course, I was much too young to understand and appreciate the birth of this franchise at first, but it didn’t take me long to catch-up. According to my dad, he and my mother took me to one of the re-releases – I’m not sure which one exactly, as there were quite a few . . . It couldn’t have been the one from 1979, so I imagine it must’ve been either the 1980, 1981, or 1982 screenings. Regardless, I don’t remember my first viewing experience, but I knew what Star Wars was, and that’s all that mattered.

From the toys alone, I knew all the characters. In fact, my very first action-figure was HAN SOLO. My father found the ol’ smuggler in the street one night and, to date, Han Solo just so happens to be my all-time favorite character. But, he wasn’t my initial favorite . . . .

DARTH VADER was the first Halloween costume I chose consciously. So, my father hooked me up in the fall of 1981. I say consciously, because I was too young to make my own choices before that year. For instance, my mother dressed me up as Superman the previous year, which wasn’t a bad choice at all – just not mine. Anyway, we picked up the Darth Vader costume in a box, which contained the mask with the rubber-band strap, along with the plastic costume. Being the creative man he is, my dad made some special modifications for me. He built Vader’s chest plate and belt with some cardboard, paint, and string. He made the costume so much better than it was supposed to be, but then my mother had to come along and insist I wear my bulky winter coat underneath it. Unfortunately, that damaged some of the special alterations, but it didn’t prevent me from marching the streets for candy, as the dark lord of the Sith.

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The Vader costume didn’t stop there, as you now know from the laundromat story. I wore that sucker in public all the time. I was Darth Vader, damn it!

I reprised the costume in the mid-1980s, after seeing RETURN OF THE JEDI in the theater a dozen times – between the original 1983 release and the 1985 re-release. This time, my father gave me an upgrade. He surprised me with the $50 helmet, which appeared to be screen accurate to my 7-year-old eyes. I was very pleased with this version of the costume. I proudly marched the streets, once again as Lord Vader, with all the strange neighborhood kids.

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It must’ve been prime-time when the other kids and I visited each house in one clumped herd, as opposed to being spread out, like we usually were. We all climbed up four concrete stairs to one of the houses and, naturally, rang the doorbell . . . The homeowner greeted us, but had to open her door slowly and carefully, since there were so many of us occupying her doorstep. We all had to adjust, to make way for the door to swing open . . . When it finally did, it unexpectedly swung in my direction, and I had no choice but to step backward – so much that poor little Vader flipped over the railing and landed in the bushes. The Force was not with me that Halloween, but we had a great laugh over it.

In elementary school, I managed to get my entire class into Star Wars by sharing my action-figure collection with them, during recess. The teacher observed this, and then decided to use Star Wars as an educational tool. It got us to read books on the subject, and she would sometimes reward us with a break to watch STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE on the VCR (yes, on VHS!). Our teacher even purchased a bunch of RETURN OF THE JEDI trading cards, to distribute them to us at the end of each day. We got to select the characters we wanted, so I always picked a card with Han Solo on it.

I think the reason I grew a liking for Han Solo was because it was the same guy that played INDIANA JONES. Clearly, I’ve always been a Harrison Ford fan. But, beyond his portrayal of the character, so many of us kids dreamed of being the dashing smuggler with the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. I mean, c’mon, his best friend and co-pilot is a lovable, badass Wookie; he’s quick with a blaster, and he does what he has to do to survive. Ford brings that cool, confident charm to the character, which I am drawn to.

In all my younger years, I’ve never had an opportunity to cosplay as Han Solo – I was too busy being Darth Vader, I suppose. But, that all changed when I attended my first Comic Con, in New York on October 9, 2015. I invested about $200 in a nice costume that shipped from China; picked up the toy blaster, and used my black motorcycle boots. The costume looked and felt great, but – being the perfectionist that I am – I knew I had to eventually make some modifications.

I had the privilege to attend this past STAR WARS CELEBRATION with my girlfriend and some friends, in Orlando, Florida. I took this as an opportunity to make the necessary costume adjustments, by investing in better fitting boots (better in appearance, not necessarily quality), as well as pants with the screen accurate Corellian blood-stripes.


Since we managed to attend all four days of the convention, I invested in other options, as well. I purchased an Obi-Wan Kenobi costume, and also whipped up a “casual” version of the Han Solo outfit, which consists of blue jeans, black chelsea boots, and a different v-neck shirt, under the classic vest. And, thanks to Anovos, I managed to find a Han Solo belt buckle to complete the wardrobe.

I cannot express how thrilled, thankful, and happy I was to attend this particular Star Wars Celebration. It’s the 40th anniversary; we were coming off ROGUE ONE (which I absolutely love, by the way), and we have the highly anticipated episode VIII, THE LAST JEDI on the horizon. We were among the presence of George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Felicity Jones, and we met (and got a photo with) MARK HAMILL on the first day!


Going into this, I knew that taking photos wasn’t going to be enough. I needed something more than a few images and a memory to relive this wonderful experience. So, I documented it on video, and then spliced it all together – soundtrack and all – using my iPhone 7 Plus.

So, with that said, I’ll end my rambling here, and invite you to experience what I experienced, via the following video.

Enjoy and may the Force be with you!

Mike Polizzi 

Happy 40th, Star Wars!

BONUS VIDEOS:

Star Wars Galactic Nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

501st Legion Bash: Showdown at the Cantina