Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

The Theater Was Empty

Johannesburg, 1977

It was a crisp, sunny Saturday morning and my grandmother was in town. As we always did when together, we went to the movies. The theater nearby was old, run down but comfortable and in walking distance. I’d go there later again many times on many Saturday mornings.

For the first time, though, I was more excited about the movie than I was about going with grandmother. I was about to turn 10. And I was about to see a Star Wars movie, the original one, for the very first time.

The theater was empty as we sat down. I do not remember the previews or waiting.

And then it began. The crawl came up. And then the stars swirled. And a space ship flew over my head. And then a larger one, that seemed never to end, flew over my head chasing the first one. My mind was blown, my imagination expanded and I was drawn in.

It was the best movie ever. Not because of the story, visuals, or universe, they were very cool though. But because it sparked my creativity and imagination in new ways I had never, well, imagined.

And it changed me.

New York, 2019

It was a cold and dreary day in New York and my wife had quietly booked us tickets to the movies. This time we’d try the dolby theater with the amazing sound and reclining chairs.

I was about to see the last Star Wars movie for the first time.

The theater was empty as we sat down. The previews endless.

But I was just as excited as the first.

This time I felt the same awakening of creativity and imagination, a memory of the past, a connection to almost 10 year old me. The child sitting in the seat on this day was the same child that sat next to his grandmother on that first day.

A few days later

It does not matter whether the Star Wars series was good or bad, whether the plots held, the characters evolved, the acting improved, the jokes funny, or the CGI got better. It does not matter which movie was better or worse, or even how the story meandered.

What matters is the imagination, a fictional universe of dirty old starships, shiny light sabers, and odd grungy planets. A place where a scruffy Wookiee can exist and sound eloquent, a princess kicks arse, soldiers wear white, and a tiny green mannequin is the most intelligent and powerful being in it. A universe where personal transport has not invented roofs (or windshields) yet runs on anti-gravity. A technology that enables faster than light travel, supported by artificially intelligent droids, yet still requires manual pilots and people to aim lasers.

Yet still familiar. People eat, love, fight, cheat, fail, commit crime, laugh, and live. They have homes, and dirty clothes, and drink in bars. Where a culturally familiar story of a bunch of ronin that save it all can and does happen.

What matters is that it opened our minds to new possibilities of design, thought, imagination and creativity. It changed our culture, and the stories that followed.

In my case, I became interested in technology, art, futurism, sci-fi stories, even economics and politics. I found there was more to life than food, sleep, school and football. That there were endless possibilities and paths to follow.

A huge awakening for an almost 10 year old.

And reminder of that once again.

Follow the author as @hiltmon on Twitter.