BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - First things first - I am a pretty big and unapologetic Star Wars fan. From the day my father brought home something called a VCR and a random pile of tapes that included Episode IV - A New Hope, I was immediately intoxicated with George Lucas' amazing creation and John Williams' timeless, soaring, musical score.
Soon after, I was stalking and interrogating the family/staff at NuNu's grocery store in Milton, Louisiana, demanding their lone VHS copy of Empire Strikes Back. "Who has it? Where is it??! Get it back!" And forget about another potential Pacquiao/Mayweather snoozefest in the ring, Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi was the ultimate rematch. I can distinctly recall my Jedi viewing experience in 1983 - a theater in Shreveport, with my cousin Collier and my heart pounding uncontrollably as the green and red light sabers violently collided on screen. "Wait a minute, Luke's winning!" I thought to myself.
Eventually, the terrifying and seemingly unbeatable Vader was finally overmatched. Yet, this was hardly the end of the film - more huge surprises involving finger lightning and a villain's redemption would soon follow. The ability to specifically recount these movies and where I was speaks directly to the genius of Lucas. He firmly captures you and your emotions as a child. And then Star Wars never lets you go.
It is useless to resist. And LSU football is much the same.
Several years after The Empire crumbled and Ewoks danced, I attended my first ever LSU game in Tiger Stadium. On October 3, 1987, the No. 7 Tigers defeated the No. 19 Florida Gators, and a star freshman running back named Emmitt Smith, 13-10. The 79,313 that packed Death Valley on that cool, autumn night created a resounding and undeniable impact. Never had I seen that many people or heard such a deafening roar. Immediately hypnotized, I quickly memorized LSU's cast of characters - Tommy Hodson, Wendell Davis, Harvey Williams and Eric Hill were just a few of my new, favorite heroes.
Roughly a year later, Hodson would fire a laser pass through a tiny window the size of a wombat rat to Eddie Fuller. Suddenly, millions of Auburn voices cried out in terror and were then silenced at once, as Fuller reached high in the back of the end zone to secure the game-winning touchdown. LSU fans then exploded like Alderaan or the Death Star, for that matter. (I combined Star Wars references, so take your pick) "The Earthquake Game" was famously born and I was emotionally spent again, just like watching Luke/Vader II. LSU - 7, Auburn - 6, became another VHS favorite and like the Star Wars movies before it, was viewed (at least LSU's final drive) countless times.
That was before the dark times. Before CURLEY.
So, here we are in the year 2015. People aren't flying around on speeder bikes yet, but a very interesting fall/winter lies ahead for both Star Wars and LSU football alike. Both have new, highly-anticipated works set to debut. The Force Awakens hits theaters around Christmas, while the Tigers open their season in less than three weeks. There are, likewise, a pair of very spirited, demanding and some would say insane fan bases eagerly waiting these creations. And yes, the pressure is definitely mounting for both Star Wars director JJ Abrams and LSU head coach Les Miles to deliver.
You see, some people believe both powerful franchises have slipped a bit. The Star Wars prequels, which Abrams obviously had nothing to do with, divided the fan base some. Much like Sammy Hagar-led Van Halen (you knew it was coming), the money and hit releases kept rolling in, along with the big crowds. But critics claimed the quality of the product had suffered. Instead of an influx of power ballads, Star Wars became bloated with CGI and seemed more like a video game than a movie. The prequels often failed to capture the human essence and emotion of the original three films. Look, no one cares about Padme and Anakin rolling around in the grass. Not until perhaps the final 15 minutes of Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, did the prequels finally get it right.
And the LSU Tigers? Well, last season was their Phantom Menace. Certainly, there were some thrilling moments. The 30-27 triumph at Florida often had the breakneck speed and then exasperating finish of young Anakin's pod race, but overall, the product fell short of the Tigers' usual, lofty expectations. You could also equate the Tigers' breathtaking 10-7 home win over Ole Miss in Tiger Stadium to the climactic battle scene pairing the amazing Darth Maul against the youthful Obi Wan Kenobi and his master Qui-Gon Jinn. Unfortunately, the magic from the Tigers' win, much like Darth Maul himself, disappeared far too quickly for many fans' taste. And the performance of the LSU quarterbacks was quite honestly a bit unbearable, like *Star Wars' most dreadful character ever Jar-Jar Binks - "Mi sa can't pass! Mi sa receiver drop ball!" Our lovable, powerful and tiny green friend, Yoda, might also add, "If a quarterback it is that you lack, a long season it is you will have. Yes? Fournette do it all himself, he cannot. Hmm??!"
Both Abrams and Miles have met with media numerous times during the recent weeks and months, speaking very passionately and enthusiastically, about what quickly lies ahead. Yet, the words spoken at these news conferences are mostly generic and reveal very few tantalizing details. Abrams has a cast and crew, while Miles has players and assistants, all basically instructed to do the same thing - speak with great feeling and positivity, but give as little details as possible. Abrams has delicate plot twists and endless geek data to protect against today's asteroid field of Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. And it will be somewhat amazing - kind of like "she has lost the will to live" - if nothing substantial leaks before December 18.
Miles' secrets, on the other hand, seem far less dramatic or potentially shocking. Unlike Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, it hasn't been 30 years since we've seen THIS team in action. And while Miles is protecting his starting quarterback decision like the plans to The Death Star, many Bothans shouldn't die to bring us this information. It'll hardly be as staggering, as say Abrams finally killing off Han Solo or drifting Luke to The Dark Side.
Here's the exciting storyline Miles needs to develop - after rushing to face the enemy too soon and quickly being bloodied and humbled - much like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back - LSU sophomore quarterback Brandon Harris reappears and is now ready to complete the training.
"I am an SEC Jedi," Harris will proudly proclaim, "Like Zach Mettenberger before me."
By the time we flip to hyperspace and reach the year 2016, there should be a pretty good consensus on whether or not Abrams and Miles have pleased their masses. Will our emotions soar - like seeing the Millennium Falcon twisting and spinning its way into action during the initial The Force Awakens trailer? Will we feel the euphoric rush of Anthony Jennings tossing the game-winning touchdown to the most unlikely of heroes Logan Stokes? Or will we be left utterly underwhelmed and disappointed - like the unveiling of Darth Vader's mask in Jedi or the Tigers' performance in a certain championship several years back?
We will all patiently wait. Until then, Abrams will continue to edit his film feverishly and Miles coach his team passionately. Do or do not, guys. There is no try.
And of course, may the force be with you.