I often wonder what kind of a nerd I would have been without Star Wars. I mean, to be fair, at the time (at the tender and impressionable age of 7) I was a fairly die hard fan of Spider Man and had, around those months of the glorious summer of 77, I had just discovered that although Spider-man was in fact NOT an actual person (spoilers!) but was a construct of badly paid writers and artists in New York City, so I was already kind of leaning towards storytelling at that point.
But 1977 really put its foot in my stream of consciousness, and I may never truly know what kind of person I would have been had this movie not come around.
George Lucas was born in my home town of Modesto, California. In fact, he’d grown up a block over from where I had been raised; he had gone to the same high school I was later to attend, and when American Graffiti came out, we all reacted like he was OUR man, that Lucas chap. My father told me a lot of stories from his teenage years that had weirdly enough inspired the movie, and my dad’s second wife once bragged that George had asked her out and she’d turned that nerd down. I told her she was an idiot to brag about that, because she could have ended up marrying that “nerd”, to the sum of BILLIONS of dollars.
I really was a cruel nerd. But I was 11, so whatever, right? Ugh. 11 year old me. I don’t like remembering that.
My point is that I had already heard of Lucas before Star Wars, and when THAT movie came out, my little northern California town kind of went monkey nuts for it. It came out right at the end of the school year, so that freed us up to go see it at matinee prices, which, for a 2nd grader really is pretty much like a caste system delineation.
At some point, my siblings and I had begged and scrounged (there may have been some couch diving done at some point, I’m not proud) and we each had just barely enough to see it at that dramatically discounted price point.
I don’t even remember how we arrived at the Briggsmore Seven theater. I just remember that POOF we were there, and the line went all the way around the block. No lie, we waited for about 3 hours, all the way through an entire showing. And then, as we were mere bodies from the usher, he proclaimed that they were full and we would have to wait until the next showing. Except…. the next showing would be AFTER the cut off! We wouldn’t be able to see it!
So my older sister turns to me, the youngest, and tells me to cry. I’m not sure any pinching or threats thereof were necessary - after all, this was STAR WARS, and I had been waiting for three hours, only to be denied?!?
Yeah. So I cried. I wept like only a seven year old boy can weep at the prospect of being forever denied the showing of a movie that would probably change his life forever. Because it was the BEST MOVIE EVER.
Long story short (too late), the usher had mercy and let us in. I think we actually sat on the floor to watch it - legal (not really) in those days. Floor sitting was kind of like seat belts in those days, for those who don’t remember.
And so there it was.
On the screen.
Larger than the universe.
Seven year old me faced a life changing moment that would ultimately exist in the pantheon of Life Changing Moments with my parents divorce, my getting married, having a child, that kind of thing. Okay, I’m being dramatically sort of hyperbolic. But the truth is that seeing this film at that moment in my life made my entire comprehension of all things fantastic turn a corner.
Suddenly, I started to love science. And math. And literature. And filmmaking. And acting. And all those little parts that flowed from the film, both aesthetically and pragmatically. The idea of being a writer made sense, as much as finding life (or being found BY life) on other planets. The universe became….possible.
About ten years ago, I was volunteering at a local comic book convention - several years before the Emerald City ComicCon exploded into the mega-circus it has become today - and I got to work with Peter Mayhew - the actor who played Chewbacca. He greeted me with a handshake that literally dwarfed my hand and I was instantly shrunk back into that 7 year old boy. I chatted with him and his wife later and got the chance to personally thank him for the part he played in a film which had so completely transformed me. I thanked him for helping instill in me and so many others that sense of conscious and believable wonder which had led so many of us to pursue careers in the arts and sciences, and, really, just for being part of that touchstone of our childhoods.
I got a hug out of it (and yes, being hugged by a wookie is amazing, whether in or out of costume), and it somewhat generated a bridge to the 7 year old me and the adult me in a way I cannot entirely describe.
Which leads me to this current stage of my life.
I’m doing my own fictional trilogies now, and as I embark on this last chapter of the current series, I am once again replanted into that soil of my childhood wonder. Where retired wizards, farm boys and lost princesses take a jaunt through hyperspace with a cynical criminal and his loyal co-pilot, and a pair of too-long-since-they-were-memory-wiped droids, as they wrestle with the obligation of fighting against evil with a couple blasters, the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, and the force to guide them.
It’s a nice mythical tale, and it weirdly still holds up, so long as you don’t get blinded by the limitation of special effects back in that day.
Life is good, my friends. The empire may try to shut us down, but the rebellion will not be defeated.
May the force be with us.