I first saw the original Star Wars the week after I turned four years old. My dad took me, and I have only the vaguest, most foggy recollection of this event.
When Darth Vader appeared on the giant screen, I’m told I took refuge under the seat, spending the next few minutes there as the great Dark Lord of the Sith lifted a man off the ground and broke his neck, and then accused a woman of being a part of the rebel alliance and a traitor. My initial fear, however, rapidly sloughed off me as the magic of what was happening on the big screen replaced my gut-level fight-or-flight response, and, by the time Luke Skywalker appeared, I was back in my seat and utterly transfixed.
Like many people, Star Wars holds a relevance in my life that is likely far greater than it deserves. I’ve bought the movies in various formats and various states of enhancements more often than I care to admit. The soundtrack makes a periodic appearance in my listening schedule, and to this day I get dopamine-induced goosebumps when I listen to the final two minutes of music from the Death Star trench run.
In a way, when I revisit the universe of Star Wars, I feel like I'm home.
I first saw Return of the Jedi the week after I turned ten years old. Not a lot was going my way when I was ten, and not much in the world seemed to connect with me. While I would grow into my social skin at around the same time that I grew into a six-foot-four frame, at ten I was – as so many of us who were predisposed into nerdom were – an uncertain, depressed outcast. I had a few friends, but they were in the same social stratum as me, and for the most part I just kept my head down and hoped to get through any given day with a minimum of assaults on my self-esteem.
I’m not asking for you to feel sorry for me, here. I was a middle-class suburb kid with a roof over my head and food in my belly every night. My biggest concern was the neighborhood bully, and while he made my life feel miserable to me, it’s only because I didn’t have great context for what miserable really is. But I was lonely, and I felt like I was living in a world that wasn’t particularly interested in the things I liked.
At ten I was living in my 5th or 6th city, which, if you do the math, means I had never really gotten the chance to build a life in any one place. If I had one solace, it was that I could reasonably count on the fact that if things got bad, I’d only have to endure it for a year or two before I never saw those people again. Of course, this pseudo-nomadic lifestyle was part of the problem in the first place, but I wasn’t in a place to really think down to that point.
I’d like to say this is part of the reason that I didn’t have a lot of friends, that it was some kind of choice not to get involved in people’s lives because I’d just leave them behind after a few years, but that wouldn’t be true. I didn’t have a lot of friends because I suck at making friends. I just didn’t learn how. I’m still pretty bad at it frankly – a lingering skill-gap forty years in the making.
There’s this thing about Star Wars, particularly as a young kid for me: It made me feel heroic. It whispered at a secret strength inherent in everyone, and suggested that, physicality aside, we are all bound together and all powerful. And, for whatever reason, when Luke or Yoda said it, I believed it in a way that I didn’t with any other movie. It spoke to a fundamental desire to feel connected to others and to be strong because of that connection.
Most of the rest of the time, that didn’t really feel possible.
Most days I felt distant from others, and I was weak as a result. Not when I watched Star Wars, though. The movies evoked a different feeling entirely, and it was one I longed to embrace.
This is the part where I should probably talk about how disappointing the prequels were. But, honestly, why bother? I’ve come to accept that those movies simply weren’t made for me, and hopefully they spoke to the people for whom they were made in something like the same way.
But I think this is why so many people seem so enamored with the most recent trailer for The Force Awakens. “We’re home,” the words spoken by a geriatric Han Solo at the end of the trailer, is a powerful idea, a familiar sentiment from a far-too-long-lost friend. It feels suddenly like a place that I haven’t been to in a long time is suddenly accessible to me again, and I can tap back into the feeling of being accepted and strengthened by that place again.
It’s silly of course – a gross over-reaction to a work of nonsense fiction that, in reality, doesn’t even exist as a thing in the world yet.
Here’s the thing, though: There’s very little of my childhood that still exists, that allows me to reach back in time and mark the story of me across the years. We never took many pictures. We only finally settled in one place when I was in high school, and I never feel quite right saying that I’m “from” any one place. I couldn’t tell you the name of any middle-school or elementary teacher; they were just a series of faces that would sometimes change mid-year. I don’t have a home to return to in the way that someone who grew up in the same house or even the same town does.
But in that moment, while I was watching the most recent trailer, I think I may have had a feeling that brushes up against what someone must feel when they walk into the house they grew up in. I cherish that, and so be it if it’s only through the avenue of Star Wars that I can know that sensation: that feeling of belonging to and being from a place. Because that feeling and that universe hold a hallowed spot on the small mantle labeled “the first things I remember.” It was a rare and precious constant in a world that seemed to have no firm and permanent ground.
Who knows if the final result will meet expectations. To some degree, at least for right now, that’s irrelevant. Because for two minutes I sat down and tapped into a place I’ve not been for a very long time, and for that second in time – for that promise of going home – I’m grateful.