By Gordon Dritschilo
Matthew Howland’s first memory was his father taking him to see “Return of the Jedi.”
“I remember standing in line,” the 36-year-old Rutlander said. “I was — not older than 4.”
Howland’s father died last year. This weekend, the lifetime “Star Wars” fan will take his 5-year-old son, Aiden, to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the first in a new series of movies continuing the story started by George Lucas in 1977.
“It’s nostalgic,” he said. “It’s bringing up a lot of memories — this Christmas especially so. With all the new “Star Wars” toys out — Santa always brought “Star Wars” stuff and left it under the tree. This year, Santa’s going to leave “Star Wars” stuff under the tree, too. It’s all come full circle.”
Howland is far from alone. Antonin Robbason, 41, of West Rutland, is looking forward to taking his young son, Miles.
“I love being able to share it with him,” Robbason said. “It’s a day I wouldn’t miss.”
He remembers seeing the very first “Star Wars” movie in a drive-in theater as a small child. He introduced his own son to the original trilogy — though he waited until Miles was a bit older before moving past the original “Star Wars” to “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”
Robbason and Howland sing the praises of the original trilogy, released between 1977 and 1983, talking about its epic scope, its heroic story arc, its action. They differ on the prequel trilogy released from 1999 to 2005. The films that told the backstory of the original movies are widely reviled by fans who grew up with the first series — but not universally.
“I was watching it through the eyes of my 5-year-old self,” Howland said. “Is it perfect? No. It is entertainment.”
Robbason, on the other hand, was so disappointed by the first prequel that he never watched the other two, and has not shown them to his son.
“They didn’t follow the same kind of idea at all,” he said. “The whole good-versus-evil was diluted, and they spent too much time on slick computer graphics. They lost that gritty, futuristic universe, where good is good and evil is evil.”
William Notte, 44, said he was so let down by the first prequel, “The Phantom Menace,” that he never saw the other two and is trying hard to temper his enthusiasms for the new movies.
“I am probably more optimistic than I want to be,” he said.
Notte said while his 3-year-old daughter is still a bit young for a trip to the theater, he plans to drag along his 15-year-old stepson.
“I think he wants to see it to some degree,” Notte said. “He’s interested enough to humor me on it.”
The first set of prequels so shook Robbason that he’s worried the new films will be similarly disappointing.
“I’m worried they’re going down the same path as the prequels — make them overly slick, focus on action over story,” he said, adding that the choice of J.J. Abrams as a director did nothing to reassure him, given what Abrams did with his revival of another cultish science fiction franchise, “Star Trek.”
On the other hand, 31-year-old Kwame Dankwa, who describes himself as more a fan of “Star Trek” than “Star Wars,” said Abrams revitalized his beloved “Star Trek,” and he was excited to see the same thing done to “Star Wars.”
“He’s kind of like George Lucas storytelling with Michael Bay action sequences,” Dankwa said. “If you’re a fan, you’re still going to go watch the movies. All those people who were disappointed by the prequels, they’ll be in line, in costume.”
Dankwa became aware of “Star Wars” through a spinoff TV movie about the Ewoks, cute but deadly aliens that were a somewhat controversial part of “Return of the Jedi.”
“I said, ‘Mommy — where’d those things come from?’” he said.
Eager as he is, Dankwa said he will wait a couple weeks before seeing “The Force Awakens.”
“If I see something that happens that’s really dope, I want to be able to scream and not have people be ‘shhh,’” he said.
Since buying LucasFilms and the rights to the “Star Wars” franchise, Disney has announced not just the new trilogy continuing the main story, but also a series of spinoff films aimed at telling more of the backstory.
“I was psyched from day one,” Howland said. “At least for episodes 7, 8 and 9, I’m psyched. I’m a little skeptical of the spinoff ones, but I’ll give them a try. It’s ‘Star Wars.’”