I was perusing YouTube videos of custom vans when I saw a comment that resonated. The '70s, declared the commenter, were a time when people tattooed their vans rather than their bodies.
Deep truths: you find them when you aren't looking for them.
But, yeah, tattooed vans were a thing in the '70s, so much so that at least two movies were based on them.
The best of the pair, the 1977 The Van, is a sweet-spirited coming-of-age thing about a boy named Bobby who believes a custom van is his ticket to manhood. Of course, it doesn't take Bobby long to learn that being a man is somewhat more complicated. There aren't any tickets, and it turns out that mag wheels create more problems than they solve. But the lessons don't diminish the fun of the movie or our investment in Bobby's wonderment as he beholds for the first time the glistening van with all its outré accoutrements. To Bobby the van represents freedom, the ascendancy of personal style, and the kinky rush of unmitigated consumerism -- which to most American boys of that era were the prerogatives of adulthood.
I include myself in that cohort.
As a kid I assumed that when I was grown up I'd have an amazing stereo system with lots of fancy knobs and also probably a fish tank. A really large and expensive fish tank that looked great lit up in a dark room with maybe one or two neon signs and posters of naked ladies next to it. Shoot, I'd be an adult and most likely rich. Who was going to stop me from having a ridiculous fish tank with neon signs?
I'm now in my 40s and I still don't have a fish tank. And stereos, like custom vans, are mostly a thing of the past. The possessions I once associated with adulthood now seem dubious, or at least highly impractical.
You know what the 40-something me has in the way of possessions? Action figures. And I had those when I was 10.
Irony, thy name is middle age.
Since this is a Star Wars blog, I'm sure most of my readers have already noted that The Van was released in the same year as Star Wars. Yes, 1977: it was a great year for vans and space opera. (Also disco and inflation, but let's not talk about those.)
In hindsight, a mashup of vans and Star Wars was probably inevitable.