Friday, December 18, 2015

The Force is Strong in My Family

I was six when I went to see The Empire Strikes Back. It is the first movie I ever remember seeing in a theater. I remember being terrified of Darth Vader. When the camera focuses on those weird walls that look like they are made of teeth and as they open up, his bald head is revealed as his helmet is being lowered down and back into position? That is the stuff of nightmares! I remember clinging to my sister in fear, but loving every minute of it. I had the original Star Wars poster on my wall and probably had the sheets and comforter to go with them.

I was ten when the first VCR came out. We were still living in the old house and I remember my sister coming home with a video rental card. I don’t know when Star Wars was available for purchase, or how much they cost, but we had them early. My dad didn’t watch sports. He has never in his life turned on ESPN or a sporting event (excluding the Olympics.) I didn’t know football was played on Thanksgiving until after I went to college. What he watched was Star Wars. He was a cop, so when he came off shift, he liked to wind down by watching TV. We never had cable growing up (in fact, my parents still don’t), so he liked to pop in a movie. That movie was always, always a Star Wars. Each one had a little number written in tape on the side of the box because he could never remember the names of the movies or the order in which they were filmed. He would just say, “put on the first one,” or, “I want to watch number three.” Together, my father and I have watched those movies hundreds of times. My mother would quietly sit and do needlepoint while ignoring the TV entirely. In fact, she once asked me, long after this question was one of those pop culture references that even babies are born knowing, “Was that big black guy Luke’s father?”

I was twenty-five when The Phantom Menace was released. I will never forget that frisson of excitement when the Lucasfilm logo came up on the screen, all neon green and black. A group of people I knew through an ex-boyfriend were going to sleep out in shifts in the movie parking lot to get tickets. I volunteered to stay out all night long because I wanted to fully enjoy the experience. However, I didn’t want to do it alone. So I called a boy I liked, and asked him to stay out all night with me. Someone had stolen electricity from the building and had rigged their TV/VCR to play the original series. (Remember, this was only 1999, doing that was high tech!) There were lightsaber battles. Come morning, the theater employees walked around with free water and popcorn to feed everyone. But that boy and I snuggled under blankets, watched the crowd, and had a great night together.

I was 27 when I married that boy. We played John Williams at our wedding and when he texts me, Chewbacca roars. Every. Single Time.

My son was five the first time he watched Star Wars: A New Hope. We had to turn it off midway through because I thought he was going to give himself a heart attack. The child didn’t just sit on the edge of his seat, he was literally standing on the edge of the couch, lunging, parrying, thrusting along with the action. While his sister was able to remain on her chair, she too, was totally enthralled. They fell in love at first sight and have never once looked back. She has been Princess Leia twice (once with the buns, once in the Endor costume. I draw the line at the gold bikini.) He has been an Ewok, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Boba Fett. His room is a Star Wars merchandisers dream. He cannot go through a day without making the “pew pew, pew pew” noises that indicate he is having a lightsaber battle in his head. He lives, breathes, and dreams Star Wars.

I was 40 when we took the kids to the opening of the Lego exhibit at the Franklin Institute, which was celebrated with a day of Star Wars characters and events. The first time Darth Vader walked by, my daughter cried. To see the character in the flesh (as it were), very tall, very broad, very inhuman is actually rather terrifying. Boba Fett, who is roundly adored in my house, was so foreboding in person that the kids wouldn’t go near him. The many Stormtroopers all milling about were freaky as you don’t realize how authoritarian they really are until they all walk in formation down a hall. Luckily, one of the Stormtroopers saw how distressed my daughter was becoming, came over, knelt down so he was on her level, turned off his voice changer, and explained that he was just a guy who loved Star Wars and loved interacting with kids. I had no idea there was an entire volunteer organization of cosplayers who go to events, hospitals, and such – but this guy told us all about it. He calmed my daughter down, got her to laugh, and got her into the spirit of the event. I never got his name, rank, or serial number, but I will forever be indebted to that kid in a costume who helped her overcome her fear.

This weekend, we will all sit together to watch The Force Awakens. I bought tickets before the commercial advertising that they were on sale had finished airing. I will take my dad, the man who first introduced me to it, my husband, the boy who stayed up all night with me all those years ago, and the children who we made in our own geeky image. Three generations of fans will sit together, in reclining seats, with 3D glasses, and enjoy what I can fervently hope is a good movie. May the force be with you.