Star Wars: Childhood memories are a force to be reckoned with

A figurine of Darth Maul, one of a range of toys from Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.  Star Wars./PA
A figurine of Darth Maul, one of a range of toys from Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Star Wars./PA
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With the new film almost upon us and causing a frenzy of excitement among its fans, Chris Bond looks back at his own childhood obsession with Star Wars.

I REMEMBER being taken by my parents to watch the The Empire Strikes Back, the second instalment of the original Star Wars trilogy.

I was seven years-old and the venue was a dark, musty-smelling packed out cinema in Guildford. But by the time I walked out blinking into the afternoon sunlight just over two hours later, my childhood had been irrevocably changed. From this point on Star Wars ruled my world.

My experience is one that was replicated in towns and cities not only in this country, but all over the planet. There was something about this mythological sci-fi fantasy full of memorable characters and good versus evil battles, not to mention lightsabers, that tapped into the imagination of countless youngsters (and indeed some adults).

For me and my brother inclement afternoons during the school summer holidays were invariably spent watching and re-watching the films and when the sun came out we were in the back garden, which doubled as Tatooine or Endor (or some other Star Wars planet), playing with our action figures.

Because let’s not forget that part of the appeal of Star Wars was the merchandise. The figures were as much a part of this make-believe universe as the films themselves - you could even get model versions of the spaceships, including the most prized one of all … the Millennium Falcon.

Collecting the figures became something of an obsession and with each of the original three films came yet more to add to your collection. There were different kinds of collectors, too. Some kids wanted one of each while others, like me and my brother, wanted to build up armies so that we could have our own Star Wars battles.

This sometimes meant swapping figures with your classmates in the playground - I once got three figures in exchange for a single Gamorrean guard. This became a shared experience in the same way that marbles, cigarette cards and football stickers were.

One of my abiding memories was going to Fenwick’s department store in Newcastle with my mother and brother. We were in the North East visiting relatives and were taken to Fenwick’s as a treat. I’d been to other toy shops before, including Hamleys in London, and seen some impressive displays of Star Wars figures, but nothing prepared me for the scene that greeted me on the top floor.

Row after row of action figures, which seemed to stretch the length of three football goals, opened up before me - and I can still recall the trembling excitement I felt that day.

I don’t know how many figures I collected in the end, but I still have some of them which are kept in a box somewhere in my attic. The last time I saw them they resembled a collection of miniature down and outs with their chewed arms, battered faces and torn cloaks.

It’s interesting that today some of these original figures can fetch big sums of money - as long as they’re in mint condition and still come with their pristine boxes.

But what self-respecting child does that? Toys are there to be played with and mine certainly were. They fought epic battles in sand pits and bushes and died terrible deaths in the bathtub before tea time.

Yes, these little plastic figures were a clever marketing ploy but they were also part of my childhood, which is why I’ll be among the hordes trooping to cinemas across the country this week to watch the latest instalment of the greatest film franchise of them all.

When the credits start to roll and that unmistakable music begins, I will be transported back in time to a world far, far away and a shy little boy gawping wide-eyed at a giant silver screen.