Dear Star Wars,
I know I say this about a lot of things, but I truly mean it when I say that I don’t know where I’d be without you.
You’ve been a part of my life for about 17 years. That’s more than 2/3 of my life so far. Honestly, that’s more than I can say about a lot of my friends and most other properties I geek out for (although Harry Potter might just have you beat). And not only have you just been a part of my life, but you’ve had quite an influence on me as well.
But let’s back up here for a second.
I can clearly remember the day I was introduced to Star Wars. It was a cold winter day and my family had just settled in for a long weekend at our lake house in Wisconsin. (Why we liked to go there in the winter when we couldn’t go boating and the heat barely worked, I’ll never know.) Unsurprisingly, we all got a little bored after a while so my parents suggested that we drive into town and rent something from the video rental store. (Remember those? Ah, those were the days.)
While I was looking through the VHS tapes of kids’ cartoons (like the Aladdin TV series, which was awesome by the way), my parents were trying to choose something that our whole family would like. They decided that it was the perfect time to make Star Wars fans out of their kids. (Or, that’s why I imagine they chose to rent the original trilogy.)
Everything after the video store that day is a blur. I know that we went home, put on Episode IV, and sat entranced in front of the TV. While my brother was entranced immediately, it took me a bit to warm up to you. But boy, did I warm up. Not only did you, Star Wars, give me something to do that dull winter day, but you also introduced me to sci-fi (as far as I can remember) and planted the seeds of geekdom.
That was also the day where I was introduced to one of my first strong female characters. A princess that carried a gun and defended herself. A woman who wasn’t a damsel in distress and didn’t need saving. Sure, Han and Luke save Leia in Episode IV, but she was more than willing to die for the rebel cause. She wasn’t waiting anxiously for someone to save her and she fought her way out of the Death Star. Leia really struck a nerve with me that day.
Fast-forward two years or so. It’s 1999 and my whole family took a trip to Walt Disney World for vacation and it just so happens that we were there over a Star Wars Weekend at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While that park isn’t normally my favorite Disney park, I didn’t want to be anywhere else the day we visited.
The whole area by the Star Tours and Indiana Jones rides was transformed to look like Tatooine and there were cast members dressed up as my favorite Star Wars characters just walking around. Needless to say, I completely freaked out! After all, it’s a little kid’s dream to be surrounded by their favorite characters. (And by “little kid,” I mean every geek because that’s a huge reason why I love comic book conventions.)
I met characters from the original trilogy (like Darth Vader and a few storm troopers) as well as characters from Episode I which had just come out that summer (like Queen Amidala and Darth Maul). It was the best day. If my parents hadn’t have made me leave, I would have stayed there forever. That day, thanks to you, I learned that other people liked Star Wars as much as my family did and that it was fun to share geeky interests with others.
(I also learned that I love taking pictures with people in costume, which has led to many great experiences. That lesson has also led to me dabbling in cosplay myself. So, thank you, Star Wars, for leading me to discover one of my new favorite hobbies.)
In addition to showing me how to cultivate and celebrate my interests, you also taught me about disappointment, Star Wars. And yes, I’m talking about the prequels. I know other people harp on them at length, but stay with me here.
I don’t remember much about seeing Episode I and Episode II for the first time, but I do remember seeing Episode III with my family. It was another uneventful day at our house in Wisconsin, so we drove to a theater in town to see this last movie together. I just remember walking out of the theater and through the alley in a bit of a daze.
I just remember feeling an overwhelming wave of disappointment. Yes, I was disappointed in the movie just in that I thought it was strange and not as charming as the Star Wars I knew (and I honestly don’t think I’ve seen it since 2005). But, truthfully, I think I was most disappointed in the fact that that was it. That was the end of the series.
Because I wasn’t around when the original trilogy ended and jumped on the Star Wars bandwagon right before the prequels hit, I never really thought about how it would feel when there were no more movies coming out. It didn’t cross my mind. Just because I preferred the original trilogy over the prequels didn’t necessarily mean I wanted the movie train to stop.
But that’s what happened. And it would happen to me again and again over the years, most notably with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Without you, Star Wars, it would have been a long time until I learned what that kind of loss and closure felt like and I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to deal with it as well as I have. (Plus, the prequels weren’t my favorite thing, so I was able to learn about disappointment without being completely devastated. So that’s a plus.)
In the years since the prequels, I would have thought that Star Wars’ influence on my daily life would have waned, but nope. It follows me wherever I go, in the best way possible.
Thanks to you, Star Wars, I learned that anyone can be a fan of anything. Growing up, I enjoyed watching Power Rangers. However, my mom would tell me that that was a show for boys and that I should watch something else. (It’s not her fault; that was just the culture back then.) So I’d always have this voice in the back of my mind telling me that I should only enjoy “girl” shows and movies.
But Star Wars was different. Though (at the time) I’d categorize it as a “boy movie,” I soon realized that anybody and everybody could watch and love Star Wars. Star Wars knows no gender. After encountering fans of all ages and genders at Disney World that one summer, that voice in the back of my head disappeared and was replaced with one that said things like “You do you!” and “You can like whatever you want!” Without having Star Wars as a constant reminder, it would have been a lot tougher to get to the point where I’m not ashamed of what I enjoy.
On a related note, thanks to the series, I’ve been able to talk and relate to complete strangers just by discussing the series. My love of the series has allowed me to find other like-minded people and forge bonds with people I may never have befriended otherwise.
But I guess what I’m thankful for most at this very moment is the way in which Star Wars: The Force Awakens has gotten me excited about Star Wars all over again. I honestly haven’t felt this level of emotion or excitement for something in a long time.
From the time when the sequels/continuations were first announced through the reveal of the first film’s title art, I was skeptical at best. After all, Star Wars has a presence in my life for a long, long time and I didn’t want anyone messing with something I loved (even the talented J.J. Abrams). But after the first trailer gave me goosebumps and made me burst into tears, I was sold. Since then, I get goosebumps and tears during every TV spot, trailer play, or actor interview (which is partly why I’ve stopped watching them; I want the full-on goosebumps to happen as I watch the movie!).
Who’s to say if, down the line, another beloved property will be revived in the same way that Star Wars has. I personally don’t think that will happen just because of how revered and culturally ingrained it is into our culture. So, for now, I’m ecstatic to just be able to take in all of this excitement because it feels like a once in a lifetime kind of moment.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Thank you, Star Wars, for being such a big part of my life. For teaching me lessons I may have not otherwise learned. While I may not have been a first generation Star Wars fan, I feel just as connected to the series. I feel lucky to have grown up and lived through a time where the franchise had not one but two major resurgences, as well as special theme park events, new merchandise, and different storytelling mediums through which the universe expanded. (I sometimes feel like I got the better deal, being born in 1990, than those who were around in the ’70s!)
Star Wars, I wouldn’t trade my experiences and memories of you for the world. Thank you for everything. I can’t wait to see what else you have in store for me over the next few decades.