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Our 2002 Road Trip, Part 1 of 5: A Special Sojourn for Star Wars

Star Wars party!

Anne with our companions Shannon and Katrina in a movie theater far, far away. Well, okay, admittedly it wasn’t far for them

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son rode along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. From 2004 to 2011 we recounted our experiences online at length for a close circle of friends. From 2012 to the present we’ve presented our annual travelogues here on this modest website for You, the Viewers at Home, which I’m grateful includes some of those same friends who haven’t quit us yet.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, we told the stories of our first three road trips together: Wizard World Chicago in 1999; a St. Louis science fiction convention in 2000; and the 2001 Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois. In 2002 we continued our convention streak with Star Wars Celebration II, which was held here in Indianapolis and saved us the hassle and joy of a road trip. We had a ball, stood in lines for actors from the first five movies, and were pleased to meet a dozen-plus friends we knew from the Star Wars message board that was like a second home to us for years. Great time, but not a road trip.

We remedied that two weeks later with an idea that combined elements from our first three outings: a major cultural event plus Star Wars plus internet friends plus driving hours away from home. Add a dash of MST3K and a bit more standard tourism than usual, and that’s the story of how we planned a five-hour drive for a four-day getaway to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to hang out with fellow fans and see Star Wars: Attack of the Clones on opening day. Twice.

Remember, this was early 2002, not 2017. Longtime Star Wars fans who loathed all the Prequels with the power of a million exploding suns were still considered a cynical minority. No one had had enough time or really bad prequel moments to reevaluate their opinions yet. We were three years into the new generation of Star Wars movies that we had assumed since childhood would remain as eternally fanciful and nonexistent as Santa Claus. AOTC ultimately earned itself a 65% Tomatometer rating, which still counts as Fresh and therefore officially Not a Bad Film if you hold the Tomatometer with any academic esteem. Can’t say I truly do, but it’s a fun source of random, subjective stats sometimes. One of the lovely things about permanent online recordkeeping is we have the power to dig through all those archived reviews and see which critics and amateur wannabes loved a film with immortal lines such as “I don’t like sand…it’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere!”

Dateline: May 14-17, 2002. Opening day was on Thursday the 16th. We drove up two days early to get settled in, see what Michigan looked like up close for our first time, and meet a few friends who were expecting us. Both Katrina and her mom posted on the boards frequently because Star Wars fandom covers all demographics, but her mom stopped by our hotel lobby first for a casual meet-‘n’-greet and some good ol’ parental vetting. Remember, kids: if an internet friend is dying to meet you and thinks your first hangout should be alone in their hotel room or at a Lovers Lookout next to an abandoned amusement park on the seedy side of town where lusty teens keep disappearing, the correct response is to mute and block them across all your networks right after you answer with a brief but polite “NOPE”.

Obi-Wan!

Even if they swear they’re basically this guy. You never know when someone role-playing as an Obi-Wan will turn out to be a Dexter Jettster.

Only after the initial in-person chat were we invited over to their place to meet Katrina along with her dad and siblings, whose collective existence we took as evidence that we were probably also safe and not walking into a trap. Over the course of the next few days, they were one of the friendliest, most welcoming families we’ve ever met, past or future to date. And I’m not saying that just because her mom cooked us a special dinner in honor of my 30th birthday on Friday.

When we weren’t preoccupied by New Star Wars Movie, we drove around a fair amount of Grand Rapids, hometown of 38th President Gerald Ford, Betty Ford, Gillian Anderson, Andy Richter, the DeBarge family, future werewolf Taylor Lautner (who was a 10-year-old in nearby Hudsonville at this time), and corporations such as Meijer, Amway, Zondervan Publishing, and Bissell. Fellow board member Shannon joined us for a few of our excursions when work permitted and was likewise upstanding company to keep. A wonderful time was had in general, but we confess we have gaps in our memories of that special occasion because it was fifteen years ago, we failed to compose a proper write-up of the experience at the time, and we’re decaying fortysomethings now. I’m sure we mentioned it on the boards at the time, but any such traces appear to have been pruned years ago.

Making matters worse, a handful of photos from the trip — all 35mm, our standard as of 2002 — are missing and possibly lost forever. We have a few dozen to share over the course of the next four chapters, but some remain on hand in severely cropped versions from Anne’s scrapbooks, while another handful or two are only unsubstantiated memories that have had me tearing the house apart this week in a vain effort to recover them. I suppose there’s the option of delving into our unsorted piles of negatives and praying there’s still a company that reprints those, but…eh. It’s a big, incomplete pile.

Assorted non-photographed memories that linger with us include our post-birthday-dinner watching of the MST3K episode The Final Sacrifice starring Zap Rowsdower and his wimpy ward Troy; a frightening moment of decelerating from 75 MPH to zero in seconds on a Michigan interstate in the middle of a blinding downpour; and stopping for my weekly Wednesday new-comics fix at one of those shops that carries Marvel and DC and not much else. We’ll cover others here along the way.

Our feature presentation on that trip was, of course, Thursday’s double feature of Attack of the Clones followed by Attack of the Clones again but at a different theater. Fun trivia: Attack of the Clones turns 15 this year. Congratulations, we’re all really old now! I’m going out on a limb and guessing Lucasfilm will not be commemorating the occasion with an AOTC Special Edition that packs in value-added improvements such as an awesome, extended duel between Mace Windu and Jango Fett that lasts more than six seconds.

Angry Anakin!

This is my angry face! Grrr! Argh!

In hindsight and with our heads cleared, we realized later that perhaps the second showing wasn’t absolutely necessary and that time could’ve been spent seeing more of Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas. But being around fans who appreciate the same works on the same levels that we do is such a rare occurrence for us outside of those infrequent conventions that we couldn’t help wanting to prolong the experience, not to mention getting a second gander at that great big Jedi army battle in the Geonosis arena. We can only hope we weren’t too exasperating an imposition on our amazing hosts while we tried to figure out what to do with our time in our own awkward way. We owe them thanks for their grace and patience, and for giving us the excuse to visit a few nifty attractions away from home.

To be continued! In our next chapter: literally sand. Coarse and rough and irritating and getting everywhere.

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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