I’ve experienced my fair share of holiday seasons and requisite gifts lying under the tree each year, a sight which never gets old, but one movie-related gift in particular stands out above the rest. In fact, this gift has yet to be topped in all these past years. That’s a testament to the quality of the gift and the impact it made rather than a slight against any gifts I’ve since received.
As a self-professed lover of science fiction movies for as long as I can remember, friends and family never had too much trouble figuring out what to get me. Luckily for them, gift shopping was particularly easy since I just so happened to be a die-hard Star Wars fan. 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” was the very first movie I ever saw in a theater, and the toys were a big part of my childhood. Star Wars colored my interest in other movies and examples of the genre, though it was impossible for other franchises to measure up to George Lucas’s unique world which had captivated me in my formative years.
Star Wars toys and memorabilia held a proud spot underneath our Christmas tree, annually appearing for me in some shape or form no matter what I’d asked for that year. A book here, an action figure there, a scene or vehicle in Lego, or some of other piece of merchandise.
Approaching adulthood and beginning to grow out of my obsessive love of all things Star Wars, these unique movie-themed gifts had less of a prominent place under the tree. What were once toys became instead the occasional non-fiction book, a behind-the-scenes expose, or some rare display item.
By the time the first Special Edition theatrical re-release of “A New Hope” hit screens in 1997, my Star Wars fanaticism had all but faded. The new re-release, however, gave me a chance to do something I’d never been able to when I was younger. Namely, to see the original Star Wars movie that started it all on a big screen, in a movie theater, the way it was meant to be seen. After all, Star Wars is nothing if not the definitive theatrical movie entertainment experience. Modeled on science fiction serials like those of the original “Flash Gordon,” such movies were the bread and butter of theater-goers everywhere.
Seeing the original Star Wars trilogy on the big screen reignited my passion and awakened my inner Star Wars-loving child. It was during this time, immediately following the Special Edition releases, when I received a very special gift indeed.
During those days in the late 1990s, while I closely followed every scrap of news about the then-upcoming prequel “The Phantom Menace,” my family put their heads together to get me something special for Christmas. In 1998, seeing a present that looked somewhat like a shoebox underneath the tree, I unwrapped it to find an original, vintage “Return of the Jedi” lunchbox in mint condition. I was absolutely astounded. It looked identical to the lunchbox I had infamously lost on a school bus in first grade.
Although this was enough to keep my jaw on the floor, what awaited me inside the lunchbox was just as shocking. Opening it, I found an original 1978 Darth Vader action figure complete with lightsaber. Keep in mind that these were the days before internet auctions became as ubiquitous and (relatively) hassle-free as they are today. The action figure isn’t necessarily the rarest or most expensive, but both Vader and that lunchbox have been with me ever since, still occupying a proud spot above my work desk as I type this.