In what might qualify as a Christmas miracle, my wife and I actually managed to have a date night. What we didn’t know is that the restaurant we chose included a floor show. The eatery was adjacent to a multi-screened movie theater and it just so happened to be the opening night for the new Star Wars movie.

Never have I seen so many full grown adults, men and women, arrayed in so many costumes this side of ComiCon. There were Jedi Warriors, Sith Lords and even a few droids. One costume was pathetic, constituting a simple cardboard box in an ill-advised attempt to replicate R2D2. As this young man waddled past our restaurant window I could only wonder how he managed to sit through more than two hours of sci-fi splendor in that get up. Overall though, the amount of time, money and personal commitment put into these costumes was both inspiring and disturbing.

I was just a little too old for the original Star War series to imprint on me and way too old for the middle installments to have any effect. That is not to say I am immune from this kind of cinematic obsession. When I was 11 — a long time ago — a bunch of my siblings climbed into our sister’s Ford Galaxy and traveled far, far away from the Valley to Westwood to a “must-see” movie. For us, it was like going from the earth to the moon.

Going to the movies in Westwood, instead of one of the two local theaters on Van Nuys Blvd. was a trek in every sense to alien and unfamiliar lands. For starters, the $3.50 ticket price that came with seeing a movie “over the hill” was daunting. This was not the usual buck-and-a-half the Fox or Capri Theaters in Van Nuys charged. To get us to this big movie event would require determined prospecting. Our mom might be good for a dollar for each of us, but if we were going to cover the rest of our expenses it required digging underneath the cushions of living room furniture and gathering the stacks of empty soda bottles on the back porch for the bounty of their deposits.

I believe the statute of limitations has expired so I will confess that we also popped our own popcorn at home and smuggled it into the theater inside my sister’s over-sized purse. Tube socks were the primary conveyance system for cans of soda in order to avoid the 1000% mark-up of the soft drinks all theaters, whether they were in the Valley or in the more refined air of Westwood, were wont to charge.

The movie that generated this urge toward industry in us when I was 11 was the original Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston — similar to Star Wars as it revolved around space travel and a seemingly alien world. When I left that theater that summer night in 1968 I was utterly convinced I had just seen the greatest movie of all time. I was enthralled. When it came to the Fox theater in Van Nuys I saw it again. And when it came to the Capri theater in Van Nuys it was back mining for loose change in my dad’s chair to raise the capital to fund that venture. I couldn’t get enough of it, so I do know what some of those people in their Star Wars costumes are feeling.

Only I don’t know exactly what an adult in a Star Wars costume is truly feeling. I still appreciate the movie Planet of the Apes and, although the acting, effects and other elements that so enchanted my 11-year-old self do not quite hold the same sway over my adult sensibilities, it is still a fun movie to watch every now and then.

Not so with Star Wars, which continues to hone in on people well past their childhood expiration dates, like some kind of Jedi tractor beam. As much as my 11-year-old self adored the story and plot twist of Planet of the Apes, I had no ensuing compulsion to dress up as either a stranded astronaut or elevated simian. Since the “take” on the new batch of Planet of the Apes movies is a topsy-turvy rejection of the original’s premise that humans should not be in reversed roles with apes, the newer versions of Planet of the Apes — where humanity deserves what it gets and the intelligent ape is both victim and Simon Bolivar all wrapped into one — have had to sail without me.

Star Wars strangely abides with its pseudo-religious “force” and other pagan mumbo jumbo. The parade of costumes also spoke to the fact that going to the movies can build a sense of community, where hundreds of strangers gather at a time for a common purpose — even if that purpose is a little silly since, in essence, Star Wars remains just an old fashioned 1940s movie serial with a mega modern budget and neo-Gnosticism thanks to George Lucas’ muse, the mythology guru Joseph Campbell. I know not what course other men may take, but, as for me, give me a real, personal God who loves and you can keep your “force.”  

I know what you’re saying: it’s only a movie. Well tell that to the 30-something pony-tailed guy dressed up like Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Robert Brennan has been a professional writer for more than 30 years, including many years in the television industry.