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The Torch of Mythology

There were stories about what’s happened.

It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side. The Jedi. They’re real.

I was seven when Star Wars came out. I remember seeing it in the cinema, coming out any my eyes shone like a child on Christmas morning. It was a Golden time for Space Opera. Battlestar Galactica, Close Encounters, and on TV Blake’s 7 and Mork and Mindy. There was even a rumour of a film called Alien: the Eighth Passenger (which I didn’t see for a very long time afterward). Because of that Star Wars I read every book on astronomy in the library and I was convinced that I was going to work for NASA, until the constant belittling of a teacher killed any enthusiasm I had.

When I moved back from Belgium, I started to watch Doctor Who. The first episode that I saw was The Five Doctors. I watched every episode after that, and then the BBC started bringing out each story on video and I collected them all – I had a wall of video tapes that were Doctor Who and Star Trek (TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY – and all were in order!) And when the DVDs came out, I was the perfect demographic for replacing all those cumbersome tapes with a large CD folder that starts with “And Unearthly Child” and runs all the way through to “Survival” without a break. (Including those that are only on audio)

Something’s happened. It’s been happening for a while, but I’ve been noticing it more and more just recently. When the Doctor Who series rebooted, there were nods to those of us who knew about the classic series, for example, a mention of the Macra in the 2007 episode “Gridlock” where the giant crabs are seen to have devolved. That was a real nerd’s heaven, as the Macra Terror only exists as stills and an audio recording. Then in a Christmas episode David Tennant’s shouted the name “Gallifrey” at the Empress of the Racnoss. Nerds around the world cheered!

Like I say: this has been happening for a while. There needs to be some crossover when you start a spin-off series. McCoy had a cameo in the first episode of Next Generation, Picard in the first episode of Deep Space Nine; Quark in Voyager; and Zephram Cochran in Enterprise. I remember seeing a re-run of The New Avengers (I wasn’t born when the original Avengers series was broadcast, and I was still quite little when the New Avengers was on). One episode, called “The Last of the Cybernauts”, saw John Steed pitted against an opponent he had encountered with Emma Peel in the original series of The Avengers a decade before. Purdey asked Steed if he had met them before, and he replied. “Yes, before your time”.

I go to the cinema as often as I can. Sometimes there may be six months between visits. On others I may watch two films in a day and then come back the following day for more. This has certainly been the case with some of the Marvel films. It’s not that sneaking out was like a dirty little secret, it was that no one else was interested in how I was reliving my wasted youth. That was until my brother bought my son the Lego Marvel Superheroes game. I would watch my son play this for hours. He wondered why I would refer to Spiderman as Peter Parker or Iron Man as Tony Stark or Wolverine as Logan. He seemed astonished that I knew the back story of the Silver Surfer and Wolverine. He asked me and I told him, about how Peter Parker had been bitten by a radioactive spider. And for the first time in forever it seemed that I had something cool to say to him.

I was pretty narked when the J.J Abrams Star Trek came out. I really try to avoid spoilers (I’ve written before about keeping secrets), so I was unprepared for the complete re-boot of the series. A complete reboot. Within a short time the entire Star Trek universe had folded in on itself and everything that I knew had been destroyed. Slate washed clean. No longer was my nerd-knowledge of any use because we were all of the same playing field. Except we weren’t quite there. Even trying to avoid spoilers for Star Trek: Into Darkness, there was still enough of a hint that we were looking at a re-imagined version of The Wrath of Kahn. Despite the denials, I think we instinctively knew. And then all of the interactions between Kirk and Spock were played by their opposite in the new film (Spock had Kirk’s lines, Kirk sacrificed himself and then was magically resurrected at the end – no spoilers there. He’ll be back in the next film).

A short while ago, I took my son to see Jurassic World (actually, I introduced him to the idea of seeing multiple films on the same day. When his mum asked that morning which film we’d decided to see, I said “both of them” and we ended up seeing the Minions movie as well!) When we were there, I was transported back to my early twenties: I’d read the Michael Crichton book, practically thrown it at my girlfriend after I’d finished and told her she had to read it. Bounded with excitement when I realised that Steven Spielberg had got the rights, and then sulked all the way through the film when I realised that it was another kids-in-peril flick, and nothing like the Michael Crichton book. Except they both had dinosaurs in them. But once the characters had got to the island (which was already inhabited by a well-known international coffee chain) I saw that they had the John Hammond Research Centre – a nod to Richard Attenborough’s character in the first film, and I thought, once again, there was a kind of mythology that was a nod to the character who started this all off, and an equal nod to those of us who remember watching it the first time around.

So, now we’re off to Star Wars Episode VII in a month, and in the trailer, Rey asks Han Solo about the stories of what happened before. I remember those stories. I remember watching them and being entranced by them (the less said about the prequel trilogy, the better. Probably best left to legend). Thirty years have passed since I went to see Return of the Jedi. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega weren’t born. They wouldn’t be born for another eight or nine years, but they have the task of carrying forward the torch of this mythology. I’ve seen the trailers, and what’s excited me is not the special effects or the landscapes. (and definitely not the annoyingly cutesy droid who looks like a mushroom travelling on a football who may be a contender for “most annoying character since Jar Jar Binks”). The action doesn’t look like Star Wars, but that’s because everyone’s stopped being so polite to each other. This looks like a film where Stormtroopers actually look like an Imperial militia rather than a bunch of rookies who can’t shoot for toffee. But what’s really excited me is the sound! It’s the screeching engine of a TIE fighter, the hum of a lightsaber, it’s the electronic call of an Imperial Probe Droid (Flimmin on the flim-flam; flimmin on the flam!) the sound of the universe tearing apart as the ship goes into hyperspace and it’s the pulse of laser fire. All sounds that have been stored in my subconscious and linking me to the time that they were all I could think about.

Let’s hope that this has been a torch worth waiting for. Who knows? Maybe in thirty years’ time, my son will be telling his children of the myths that he remembers.

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