Occasionally around the English department, you will hear faculty shouting from their offices. They tend not to be reprimanding some sophomore for writing “less” when he means “fewer,” or for using a hyphen when the situation really demands a dash. Such gaffes deserve reprimand, to be sure, but seldom warrant shouting. No, a shout from the office usually means that a colleague just read some big news on the internet.
Actually, the person really wants bragging rights for being the first on the floor to know something in a general race against time to scoop everyone else. Anyone who has ever played the license plate game on a family trip will recognize this phenomenon, as siblings compete to spot the Subaru with a tag from Alaska. Unless, of course, you are from Alaska, in which case the novelty is gone, and the whole family scans the road for that elusive Arkansas plate.
So you’ll understand the quartet of voices that rang out a couple of weeks ago in American Studies 300, as several children of the ’80s all yelled out — virtually in unison — the news that Admiral Ackbar had died. No one technically got the scoop, though we were all too deep in mourning to care. Alas, Erik Bauersfeld, the radio actor who leant his raspy voice to a Star Wars icon, had passed away at the age of 93.
I saw “Return of the Jedi” six times the summer it came out, back in the days when an 11-year-old who had already spent his allowance on action figures had to convince every relative he knew to go see the film, and then ask if he could come along. Ever since I was 5, “Star Wars” had been my go-to fantasy world. So by early July 1983, I had every moment from “Jedi” memorized, virtually frame by frame.
And even though I at first thought it was a bit odd that the Rebel attack on the Death Star was led by a talking fish, everyone I knew wanted one of those moving admiral chairs that propelled Ackbar across the bridge of the command ship during the battle scene. I still would like one for my office, where I could hover over a student’s paper and give orders such as, “Concentrate all firepower on that dangling modifier.”
How could we know back then that the bulbous-eyed military leader would one day reach the pinnacle of fame in American culture by becoming an internet meme? When Imperial forces boxed in his Rebel fleet in “Jedi,” Admiral Ackbar uttered his immortal phrase, “It’s a trap!” Years later, variations on his signature line went viral during the 2000s, and he bypassed the second tier of American fame — being elected president — and went straight to the top.
So, for instance, when former President George W. Bush revealed his Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, online wits scrambled to be the first to say, “It’s a TARP!” It is hard to put into words how hilarious this was. In fact, centuries from now, when the high points of American culture are listed, I really hope someone mentions the internet.
Admiral Ackbar was back for a cameo in “The Force Awakens,” and an aged Bauersfeld rejoined a cast of old friends to supply the voice. Despite the epic hype, I waited until the holidays to see “Star Wars: Episode 7.” Three decades later, not much had changed for me, and I still bummed a movie ticket off my relatives. But there’s a funny story about that. For Christmas, my brother and nephew took me to see the long-awaited sequel. They had already seen it but wanted to enjoy the thrill again. So we made our plans to go on December 26 at 8 p.m.
I said to my 20-year-old nephew, “Would you like me to go early and get the tickets?” With the casual chill of youth, he answered, “No — we should be good.” When I suggested that the theater might be crowded the day after Christmas, he further developed his argument: “No — it’s alright.”
We got to the Regal McDonough Cinema 16 about 10 minutes before the movie started, and five minutes after the entire population of McDonough showed up. Naturally, our time was sold out, and the next showing was an hour away. We grudgingly bought tickets for the later show, and I suggested we just wait it out. But my brother and nephew are not in their glory being patient and had a better idea.
Speculating that there must be unsold seats, my nephew sidled up to the snack bar and chatted with his peers behind the counter. These fellow believers in the “it’s alright” philosophy snuck us into the 8 p.m. showing, right past the officer standing guard. Sweating like Luke Skywalker breaking into the Death Star in a Stormtrooper costume, I tried to look cool as I flashed my 9 p.m. ticket. I was prepared to take evasive action but pictured us all getting caught and thrown into the trash compactor.
But we made it in and even found three seats together on the second row. As the iconic John Williams score blasted onto the screen, I was suddenly 11 years old again, ready to soar to a galaxy far, far away. If only they had those movable admiral seats.