Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the initially limited release of the original Star Wars film. So it’s been almost four decades since I was an imaginative, shy, and somewhat precocious seven-year old when my father took me to the Yorktown theater in suburban Chicago on a rainy Saturday afternoon in June. I can still remember with eerie clarity watching for the first time the opening shot of the seemingly endless Star Destroyer looming overhead in pursuit of the fleeing Rebel Blockade Runner, and the accompanying bone-rattling rumble.
I can also recall laughing aloud with my dad when C-3PO and R2-D2 managed to make it across the corridor unharmed through a hail of laser bolts during the firefight between the Imperial Stormtroopers and the Rebel fighters. I remember marveling at the imposing Darth Vader as he held the doomed rebel officer by the throat, his feet dangling off the floor. I can still see the daunting expanse of the Tatooine desert as if it were the first time. I remember being awestruck when Luke Skywalker first ignited his father’s lightsaber. The dizzying cast of alien characters in the Mos Eisley cantina… The fateful lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi… The Millenium Falcon’s battle with the TIE fighters… I can still readily recall seeing it all as if it were yesterday.
And, of course, there was the suspenseful edge-of-your-seat Death Star trench run when Luke fires off the proton torpedoes into the thermal exhaust port (no more than two meters wide) after having switched off his X-Wing’s targeting computer and surrendering himself to the guidance of The Force upon the advice of Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice. And back in that June of 1977, this seven-year old boy cheered and clapped right along with the rest of the theater audience when the space station exploded in a fiery ball.
For as fantastical as the film was with its exotic planets and otherworldly characters, it still seemed so immersive and real–and so relatable. The scene when a discouraged Luke Skywalker stares off into the twin Tatooine sunset while the John Williams score swells still gives me chills forty years and countless viewings later. I yearned to pilot my own X-Wing fighter (I still do), I wanted by own R2-unit companion (I still do), and I desperately wished for my own lightsaber (and, yes, I still do).
As that seven-year old, I had no concept of how Star Wars would quickly ensure its enduring place in our collective culture by redefining archetypes and somehow tapping into a widespread need for us as a society to return to the simple mythology of hope and heroes in the cynical post-Watergate and post-Vietnam 1970’s. All I knew was that it resonated within me, and it was magic. And it instilled in me a lifelong love for the power of stories–which I’ve tried to incorporate into my own humble attempts at writing and story-telling over the years.
So Star Wars became my obsession. I got my hands on as many of the bubble gum cards and action figures as I could–scraping together my pennies when it wasn’t Christmas or my birthday. I looked forward to the Sears holiday catalog every season for the multi-page spread of the newest Star Wars toys. I eagerly awaited the subsequent sequels and repeated the cycle of collecting toys and merchandise.
As I grew into a know-it-all teenager, I found myself torn between clinging to what I then perceived as a childish pursuit and my evolving identity as an adolescent lumbering his way to adulthood. I still kept Star Wars close to me, though–but at more of an arm’s length. It wasn’t until adulthood that my passion for Star Wars was rekindled. Perhaps partly because I no longer felt I had anything to prove anymore, but also because those retreats back to the simple wonders and perceived safety of childhood were a needed diversion away from the sometimes suffocating obligations and challenges of adulthood. I still have my most treasured Star Wars collectibles on display, and my favorite movie posters adorn my bedroom walls. (I even have a homemade custom-designed lightsaber hilt manufactured by my father that would rival the official replicas.)
As a parent, I’ve naturally introduced Star Wars to my children–a daughter and two sons–and they’ve been receptive (perhaps in part because they may have felt they didn’t have much of a choice). And as they’ve grown older, they continue to remain patient and good-humored with entertaining my obsession (my recent birthday presents included a Darth Vader head mylar balloon and a Darth Vader toaster). They’ve even been eager to join me at the latest round of films (The Force Awakens and Rogue One). And I’ve had the unique and gratifying opportunity to take my father to these more recent films, as well. This past holiday season, three generations of Star Wars fans watched Rogue One in the theater together.
Star Wars has resonated with me for many of the same reasons I suspect it has resonated with countless others. At their core, the Star Wars stories are about the belief that there is more to life that what is usually readily apparent to us. Star Wars speaks to the hero within all of us–no matter how unlikely of a hero we may seem even to ourselves at times. Star Wars teaches us that none of us (even the villainous Darth Vader) is beyond redemption for our misdeeds or lapses in judgment. Star Wars reminds us all that there is deep within us more than even we ourselves comprehend–that we are all capable of heroism, even the quiet heroism that usually goes unnoticed and unrecognized.
Put even more simply, Star Wars is about hope.
So to George Lucas and now Lucasfilm, I offer the sincerest gratitude from that seven-year old boy back in 1977 and the 47-year old quasi-adult now (and all the iterations in between) for welcoming all of us into that unforgettable galaxy far far away…