I attended a quaint Anglican church on Sunday in Arlington, VA, called Restoration. Britt wanted me to go because she likes me and Jacki wanted Hudson to go because he really needs church right now (something about “spiritual leadership”). The head pastor had just returned from some sort of sabbatical and everyone was pumped. His sermons tend to be deep, from what I gather, and he does a good job motivating the parishioners. But I have a hard time with church these days, and I had the realization, as I sat arms folded, foot tapping, waiting for the sermon to begin, that this was the first time I had attended a church in the US in over a year. My cynicism is another topic, but somehow the pastor knew I was there and began his sermon with a title on the screen: “Every story has a beginning…” All proud of himself (as I would be), the pastor perused his congregation with a grin and said, “Now, take a second and try and see if you know where this is from.” I think his arms might have even been outstretched as he said this, as Moses’s on Mt. Sinai. I turned and quickly gave Britt the answer, “Star Wars: Episode 1, duh.” I looked around, expecting others to nod their heads and whisper the answer to their neighbors, but it is quite possible, after noting the puzzlement on the parishioners’ faces, that Pastor Hanke and I were the only ones who knew the answer in the whole church.
I even remember exactly when I first saw those words: my brother, my cousin, and I were all huddled around our Gateway 2000 computer, waiting for the quicktime movie file to finish downloading. The modem was a 56k, which was so slow that we even knew it was slow at the time, which seems to break the rules of technology; we’re always fooled into thinking that whatever we’re using right now is speedy and high-tech until the next thing comes out. Then, we look back at that printer or that Sidekick and we say, “How in the world did we ever use that?” But I’m pretty sure everyone always knew, somehow, that the 56k modem was really slow. Anyway, the phrase wasn’t even from the movie; it was in the trailer. I remember the goosebumps I had watching that trailer. I had always felt jipped that I wasn’t born in the 1960’s so that I was at the right age to fully enjoy the original Star Wars trilogy in the theaters when they came out in the late ”70’s and early ’80’s. Here was my chance to participate in history. Of course, being born in the 1960’s on its own wouldn’t have guaranteed me a quality Star Wars experience. My friend, Marvin Ball, was a teenager at the time of the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. He was waiting in the mile-long theater line, probably jumping miniature jumps and stretching his neck by tossing his head back and forth in anticipation, like an NFL player does when he’s about to get in the game, when some dumb-ass walked out of the previous showing. Marvin’s friend asked the kid if the movie was any good. “Yeah, man! I can’t believe it: Darth Vadar’s his father!” he yelled. Imagine the devastation. I’m surprised Marvin didn’t jump the guy right there and pummel him with his home-made lightsaber.
The pastor revealed the answer to the church and somehow I think we became life-long friends right then, even though I’ve never met him. He then proceeded to tell about the beginning of his church, a “prequel” of sports. He said he wanted to tell this story because “I think prequels are a fascinating concept,” he said. This was the first time our friendship took a hit. Sure, prequels are a fascinating concept, just like spending $300 Billion was a fascinating way to combat Y2K, just like Hitler is a fascinating man. We all know how the story ended. The Phantom Menace fooled a lot of us into thinking it was a good movie for a while because of the incredible lightsaber duel at the end (Duel of the Fates), and the epic score by John Williams and because, well, it’s Star Wars; it has the force and Jedi in it. Episode 2 didn’t fool anybody, and, whileEpisode 3 was actually pretty good, it still was marred by the previous 2 films, robotic acting, and the inability to evoke emotion, and it’s hardly a worthy addition to the Star Wars saga. “What went wrong with the Star Wars prequels?” is a fascinating conversation, mind you. The Phillips brothers and I always seem to end our evenings on this topic, and my Fiction Workshop professor in college began our first class of the semester with this question. His answer was: no Han Solo. This led into a conversation about characters and character development driving stories and so on and so forth.
But here’s the bigger question: is a good prequel even possible? Are there any quality prequels in existence? Every story might have a beginning, but does every beginning have a disappointment? Pastor Hanke then told the story of how Restoration began. There was this beautiful image of the original members taping names of friends all over the church walls. They would come together, scan their walls of names, and just pray for their friends. They would invite their friends to their church community, not for the purpose of eventually having them join their little “club,” but because they loved their friends. After church there was mingling to be had, and I met a guy named Jeff, who stiffly outstretched his arm to shake mine. Jeff was wearing his name tag he had gotten from an un-related event, just because he didn’t want to throw it away and because it was easier to introduce himself that way, he said. I sighed a sigh of relief: there were 3 people at church who knew where that opening phrase came from. Pastor Hanke, I, and Jeff with the name tag.
Aside: Here’s one thing I’ll give Rom-Coms: despite the formula they cling so dearly to, in a world completely lacking of originality, a world where we’re inundated with prequels, sequels, and franchise reboots, you don’t see My Best Friend’s Wedding 2 or Emma Begins. Though, admittedly, I’d like to.
Also, If Pastor Hanke comments on this blog with his opinions, and his definition of the word choice, “fascinating,” I’ll strongly consider becoming an Anglican.