Forty Years Later

The movie Star Wars opened in theatres about forty years ago. It was later called A New Hope, but then it was just another summer movie. I have run across several articles proclaiming how great it was, and asking people to comment on how it changed their lives. It always reminds me of a girl.

That summer, I got a letter from my college roommate who had seen it already, and he said despite all the hype, it was actually pretty good scifi. Technology showed signs of wear and tear, and even had dust and dirt streaks. He recommended it.

I was working in Southern Virginia, moving from town to town managing a crew of other summer interns. We were all architecture or engineering majors who had gotten work with the Corps of Engineers. There were two groups, one was guys from Maryland (me) through Massachusetts. Another was guys from Virginia through Texas. I put in a few weeks with the Southern group, then took over the Northern group.

At the end of the summer, we all came together for a few weeks. Before that, the guy from Notre Dame, Larry, wanted to visit his friend in Augusta, Georgia over a long weekend. He couldn’t rack up that sort of mileage on his government car, but I was using my own car. Coincidentally, my college girlfriend was visiting my previous college roommate who was interning in that same city. She had only given me his phone number but not his address, and I thought I might be able to call them up when I got there.

So I agreed to drive us down there. Along the way I was surprised to discover he didn’t believe in evolution. It wasn’t a bad drive. His friend’s name was Leonard, and they knew each other from track team, both doing long distance running. He was an in-your-face extravert. “Two Words!” he shouted at Larry when we got there, “Two words and you’ve got it made here: All Hail!”

“All Hail?” I thought, but he was really saying, “Aw Hell!” in an exaggerated local accent. I told him I was there to try to find my girlfriend, and he asked, “Is this bad news?” Anyway I never connected with her, but we men had a good time, played some tennis, and drank some beer. Now, Leonard had a girlfriend, a buxom local gal, I forget her name, but she had a roommate, Anne, who was a visiting student from Belgium, who was the thin, pretty sort that I always notice. She spoke English but was generally quiet.

So the five of us went to see Star Wars. Somehow I ended up sitting next to Anne at the theatre, and was very conscious of being near a pretty girl who wasn’t my girlfriend. Star Wars, as you probably know, is a very American movie. Parts of the film echo both Western gunfight serials, and old WWII dogfight flicks. I laughed at the more obvious references, but Anne would just look at me with a puzzled expression. I don’t think she understood why a guy would laugh during a battle scene.

Afterwards we all went to a big old bar with loud music. Larry and Leonard were reliving old times. I tried to talk to Anne, but it was tough sledding with the noise and language barrier. By that time I had completely forgotten about the movie.

Now I can’t remember how we got to the next situation, but somehow, Larry and Anne were in my car and we were following Leonard’s car. He had accused his girlfriend of steppin’ out with someone else, so they were having a fight, and she was going to take off in her car, and he was going to follow her. Poor Anne suddenly realized she was in a car with two American guys she hardly knew and panicked. I was trying to think of some way to assure her that she was perfectly safe – even though I didn’t really know the route back to their apartment – but I realized it probably looked pretty bad to her. She got out and yelled the other girl’s name. I don’t actually remember what happened next, or how we made it back to Leonard’s place, but that was the last I saw of Anne.

Today she probably tells her grandchildren scary stories about American architects. I look back and wish I had had a chance to just talk to her. Yeah, the movie was good, but the only life-changing drama was in the real people I was meeting.

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