To older, more boring unimaginative people, Star Wars was just a film, albeit a very popular one with people queuing around the block to get tickets to see it, that broke new ground with special effects.
But to me it was like witnessing the Gospel.
I was the last to see it at my school. I was six years old. I badgered Sean as to what it was like. I knew there were robots in it, a gold humanoid one and a small Dalek-like one. I asked him if R2D2 had a gun, did he shoot like Daleks did? Sean couldn’t remember. Couldn’t remember? How could he not remember? I was busting to see it. I started to guess what it was about and made up a story that I thought might fit the bill.
We went to Newcastle one Saturday. There was an enormous poster of Darth Vader’s head covering the front of the cinema. I’d only been to the cinema once before, to see a Children’s Film Foundation film about a hot air balloon. We were given a programme in the foyer that introduced us to the concepts in the film.
The next day we had Star Wars Weetabix for breakfast. There were transfers in the packet that you could rub onto a diorama on the back of the box, of Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi’s lightsabre duel on the Death Star. We had to finish the packet before we could cut the box up. We’d never eaten so much Weetabix.
That was 1977, Jubilee year. This week, Jubilee year again and 35 years later to the day, I opened up the Sacred Glass Cabinet at the top of the stairs. It contains my 100+ Star Wars Action Figures. Mabel (4), Verity (nearly 2) and I selected a (large) collection and we took them downstairs and along with lego we created an adventure story. (Neither of the girls have seen Star Wars).
This is what they came up with:
Princess Leia (in Bespin outfit), R2D2, C3PO, TC14, and a friendly Jawa arrived in their snowspeeder to an ancient ruined pyramid which the team suspected contained a great secret. R2 went in through the gap in the wall, but didn’t return. C3PO was too nervous to investigate so Princess Leia called for help and Chewbacca and Hammerhead arrived in a landspeeder. Hammerhead’s big hands managed to move more bricks and Chewie went inside only to be met by a fierce Gammorean Guard. It turned out he wasn’t a baddie, he wanted to warn them of the unsafe structure. Chewie and Bossk went carefully in and pulled out R2 and a Death Star Droid who was in need of repair. 9D9 and Powerdroid got him working again and he told of the treasure that was still inside the pyramid. Working together they removed enough bricks to pull the treasure out. The Princess changed into her ceremonial white dress and it was time for everyones lunch.
My girls were doing exactly what I’d done all those years ago. Star Wars figures are wonderful because they are so interesting. Palitoy seemed to deliberately make figures of all the minor characters and leave out many of the main ones. You couldn’t get Grand Moff Tarkin (played on screen by Peter Cushing) who’s central to the story. But you could get Death Star Commander, who you see for two seconds in the background.
My brother and I never played with them to re-create scenes from the film, instead we’d create characteristics and adventures for these lesser-known creatures, people and droids. R5D4, Dengar or Snaggletooth may only have appeared in the films for less than a second, but that’s what made them so fascinating. They could be whoever we wanted them to be.
I never got a Millennium Falcon playset, or the so obviously not-to-scale rubbish cardboard Death Star. I didn’t get the Jawa Sandcrawler, Boba Fett’s Slave One spaceship or the exciting giant AT-AT snow walkers either. They were all far too expensive and elaborate.
But I’ve never been so grateful for anything from my childhood as I am for NOT getting those toys for Christmas because it meant that instead I made my own.
I collected my Mum’s perfume bottle tops, cardboard, any plastic packaging. It was all saved up, glued together and painted. I had far better playsets than the ones prescribed by Palitoy and learnt model making into the bargain.
Oh, and the story I expected to see before I seen the actual film? I wrote it down and developed it as my own movie franchise with its own characters, robots and monsters. I even made action figures of them using Fimo.
I don’t think I’m particularly unique in having an imagination. Every child has one. But it needs to be developed and encouraged. I think it was mainly good luck that I became embroiled in Star Wars at the age I did in the way I did. It was such a good vehicle for the imagination. It still is. It’s a simple story, but so well told with such background depth that’s perfect fertile ground for the seeds of a child’s imagination to take root, explore and grow.
I believe we need to teach children how to play – not all of them can learn how to do it on their own. And I believe we need to give them the tools of play but need to be careful not to over prescribe too tight a formula and format. With many modern toys and especially computer games I feel there’s a real risk of that.
If your child finds more interest in the box the toy came in rather than the toy itself – keep watch, something interesting may be happening in that imagination of theirs…
Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.
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