One With the Force

For as long as I have been alive, Star Wars has been in my life. I was only a year old when The Empire Strikes Back came out, a time when apparently a lot of people were angry about the twist that revealed Luke Skywalker’s parentage. I was not aware of this until I was in college, and frankly, does it really matter about the twist or the context of the day for fans?

I think it does, as history has a way of repeating itself. These eleven films (along with a couple of animated shows, a holiday special, and a couple of live action shows) continue to mean something, even when they come out to mixed reviews. The Star Wars saga itself is bigger than those reactions, and I’m happy to see the saga transcend generations.

I’m only a few days removed from seeing The Rise of Skywalker for the first time. I thought it was a fantastic film in the Skywalker saga. And since I’m not a filmmaker or a producer, I’m not one to make a bold claim about how I would have done it better. Because Star Wars doesn’t belong to one person. It belongs to many people, of all sorts of walks of life. It has not been just for white males grappling with the pressures and responsibilities of adulthood (and wishing to recapture the innocence of childhood) for quite some time.

I can safely and confidently say at age 40 that Star Wars means even more to me now because I can share it with more people at any age, race, economic background, and/or sexual identity. And sharing is way more of a better way than the opposite.

In the house I grew up in, I was the only Star Wars fan. I watched it alone on the sole TV we owned at the time, playing on a Betamax dub a family friend made us. There was something about this film (along with the aforementioned films) that warranted multiple viewings. I had no reason to doubt this compulsive behavior. I got something new out of it with every viewing.

When Return of the Jedi was released in theaters in 1983, I had to see it then. (Strangely, I did not see The Empire Strikes Back until 1987, but I heard about the basic plot points through various people well before then.) I have faint recollections of seeing it in Birmingham with my parents while we stayed with my grandfather, but I somehow I remember vividly the feeling I had watching it, especially during the Vader/Skywalker duel in the third act.

The years would pass and I eventually stopped playing with my Star Wars action figures, gravitating more towards sports (like soccer, karate, baseball, and football) along with a budding interest in playing music (and listening to it on the radio and watching it on MTV). I never outgrew the trilogy, but when I reached the end of my high school years, I started to see differences of opinions about the three films.

By way of Kevin Smith’s films, I realized more people my age preferred the grimness of Empire more than the other two. From Dante Hicks’ thoughts on which sequel he preferred to criticizing the tinker George Lucas made with Greedo shooting first (something I didn’t realize until I saw Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) in the special edition of A New Hope, I came to know about the angsty take on the films that defined our youth.

Empire had the better ending,” Dante says in Clerks. “I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets.”

Life is a series of down endings? That was not encouraging to hear at 17. But there are people who see life that way, but I can’t in my heart fully agree with that sentiment. My life will end one day, but that doesn’t mean I should live life in the dumps until it happens.

As the prequels ramped up and I went into Film School Snob mode, I found myself at odds with my classmates, teachers, and friends when it came to what they thought of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. I didn’t think they were great ones that outdid the original trilogy, but they weren't as awful as people made them out to be. (Biggest observation I had was, if the prequels were to present a view of a future before a dictatorship, things should be stilted and restrained, right? It was like making a Buck Rogers movie in the age of The Matrix.)

As I waited for each prequel to arrive, I looked into the method behind what George Lucas wanted to make in the first place. He wanted to make a space adventure based on the sci-fi serials he saw as a kid, mixed with the influence of Akira Kurosawa’s films and Joseph Campbell’s take on mythology. It bridged a youthful interest in adventure mixed with tropes and patterns from centuries of myths from all over the world.

But as a four-year-old who saw Star Wars, if you had tried to overload me with reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces or forced me to watch The Hidden Fortress at the same time, I would have declined. Only until I was an adult that I looked into the hows and wheres this Star Wars thing came from.

Fast forward to seeing The Force Awakens with my then-girlfriend (and now wife) and I realized what was missing from the prequels. In only one film, I care much more about these new characters than I did with any of the three prequels.

It was in that screening of The Force Awakens that I noticed how important this continuation of the saga was for old and new fans. A family seated next to us was made up of two white parents with two white children and a black son. The boy, dressed in a Darth Vader outfit, watched in amazement at the film, and was especially scared when Finn was gravely injured. I came out of that film feeling a new sense of joy with this new series of films, and thought that kid in the Darth Vader outfit will be a Star Wars fan for life.

Only a short time after that screening, I heard my nieces saw The Force Awakens for the first time. Previously, they showed no interest in anything Star Wars, but now, they were fans. Since then, they have seen every new film in the Disney-owned version of Lucasfilm. Talking about the films with them is something I enjoy, and it's a great connection between us.

And I'm happy to say this connection includes my sister. She texted me after she saw The Rise of Skywalker for the first time. She loved it and looked forward to seeing it the following day. Now with the holidays in front of us, I look forward to talking about it with all the spoilers.

I never would have thought I would have this kind of belonging to the saga. It feels right. And that's the power of the Force, 40 years on.