I Saw Star Wars for the First Time at Age 38
– Mom, which Star Wars movies have you seen?
– I don’t remember.
– No, which ones? Number one, two, three, four, five or six?
– A New Hope?
– I guess.
– Have you seen the one where Han Solo gets turned into carbonite?
– I think so?
– And Princess Leia comes to save him and guess who she brings with her?
– I don’t know.
– Then I don’t know.
– No, GUESS. I’ll give you a hint. He is very big and hairy and makes a noise like HNEUW HNEUW HNEUW.
– YES. And she also brings along R2D-toon and C-3PO.
– R2-D2. Two.
– No, R2D-TOON.
– No, really, R2-D2. No N at the end.
– Mom! It’s R2D-TOON.
– If you say so.
– Did you see the one where Darth Vader battles the Emperor?
– No, I don’t think I saw that one.
– He does. Because the Emperor is a Sith.
– Are Siths bad?
– Yeah, Siths are the bad guys. Jedis are the good guys.
– Did you see the one where Yoda dies?
– I don’t remember.
– Matthew’s seen all ten movies. He’s even seen number nine.
– Matthew can’t have seen all ten movies, honey. There are only six.
– No, he said he’s seen the ninth one.
– But there are only six.
– Mom! He SAW NUMBER NINE!
– OK. He said he saw the ninth one.
– And in the first movie, do you know who you get to see? You get to see Anakin Skywalker. When he is just one number old. Guess what number?
– YES. And you know who he grows up to be?
– I’ll give you a hint. He starts with DV.
– Darth Vader?
– And you know who else you see?
– OK, I’ll give you a hint: he has four light sabers.
– General Grievous.
– YES! How did you know that?
– Because you told me yesterday.
And the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that, too, an endless series of days before that stretching back to this past summer, when my son was introduced, against my better judgment, to the first three movies of George Lucas’s fucking Star Wars franchise.
A confession: I managed to get through the first 38 years of my life just fine without seeing any of the Star Wars movies. OK, that’s not entirely true: I have a vague memory of being dragged to see Return of the Jedi in a theater, but I remember nothing of the film aside from a general confusion about both the plot and the big fuss: this was what everyone has been waiting for?
When I first refused to see the movie, I was 6 years old and I chalked up my reticence to a simple boy-girl divide. My older brother and my two Ritalin-deprived cousins were boys, and therefore interested in spaceships and light sabers and shoot-’em-up intergalactic war stories. I was a girl and therefore interested in gymnastics and baking and reading the Little House on the Prairie series. End of story.
But it wasn’t. I would soon discover that most of the girls as well as the boys in my first grade class had seen and loved the movie. It was a pattern that would repeat itself for each of the subsequent two films, and yet again, two decades later, when the prequels came out. I began to realize that my disinterest in the cinematic fate of the Jedis had less to do with my gender than with my general inability to fit in neatly with pop culture. In seventh grade, other girls bought Teen and Tiger Beat and knew all the words to every Duran Duran song, while I couldn’t have picked Simon Le Bon out of a lineup. In an effort to fit in, I put up a picture of Andrew Ridgeley in my eighth-grade locker and told people that, while most people liked George Michael, I preferred the darker, broodier half of the Wham! duo. In truth, though, I preferred listening to the Chorus Line LP.
Eventually, I grew to embrace my status as a cultural oddball: the only North American child of the 1980s who hadn’t seen the movies. It became good cocktail party conversation; I could always gather a small, incredulous crowd with the admission that I had never seen what my former girlfriend, an English professor, preciously calls one of the “sacred texts of our generation.” Yeah, there’s the Old Testament, the New Testament, Ulysses and… The Empire Strikes Back. Whatever.
I had fully intended to uphold my Lucas refusenik status for the rest of my days, if only to prove that one can live a full and rewarding life without having seen any of the series. But then I had children. And then our sperm donor—a film and cultural studies professor, damn these intellectuals—decided to intervene. “Mom!” my older son shouted one day after returning home from a sleepover with said donor. “Rob showed us this movie! Do you know what a light saber is?”
And now I have a 6-year-old and, by extension, his 3-year-old brother, who are obsessed. It’s light saber this and light saber that and I’m going to be General Grievous for Halloween and Mom, Mom, Mom, which movie have you seen? A few mornings ago, I walked in on my boys, the elder commandeering a toy light saber while the little one made do with a broom. “Come, Luke, come with me to the dark side, and together we will rule the universe,” said the older one. “OK,” said his brother. And now, every day, I am held hostage by a 6-year-old boy who subjects me to endless Star Wars interrogations. If you’re reading this, I may still be alive: send help.
By the end of the summer, I cracked. I agreed to watch the first trilogy, much to my sons’ delight. I half-hoped, going in to the experiment, to find myself in the wrong, to emerge enlightened, changed, rapt. Seriously—I’ve seen the joy that the Lucas oeuvre imparts, and I’m jealous. I’d love that high, love to be taken back to some sense of childlike wonder. I listen to people talk about Star Wars and it’s like a youth potion. They’re just so…happy about it all. And I am all for happy.
Of course, it didn’t work. Maybe I’m too old, too jaded. Maybe the intervening 30 years’ worth of advances in special effects has hardened me. Maybe it’s the fact that my seminal memories of Carrie Fisher are less Princess Leia then they are Postcards From the Edge. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back were entertaining, but not entertaining enough to, say, prevent me from checking my email while watching them or volunteering to leave during the final ten minutes of the latter to make an airport run. To pick up said sperm donor, who just sighed when I told him I had walked out on George. It’s the lament of so many who have held onto their virginity for far too long: when the Big Event finally happens, you inevitably wonder what all the fuss was about.
Still, I will admit that it’s good to know what the hell the rest of the world is talking about. As tedious as my Star Wars interrogations with my son are, I can only imagine how much more tedious they would be without any background knowledge. As for sacred texts, I’m not convinced, but seeing the movies has, ironically, made me at least slightly more well-rounded as a reader. When Mary Karr writes in her memoir Cherry about a strung-out dancer who evoked “the big hairy Wookie who follows the hero around as a looming sidekick,” I have a mental image that I couldn’t have had before. When Newfoundland novelist Jessica Grant, in her novel Come, Thou Tortoise, talks about the resemblance of a woodcut on the wall of the St. John’s airport to “Han Solo when he gets frozen by Darth Vader,” I know what she’s talking about. And this, I will admit, makes the reading richer.
For Halloween, I’m not sure we’ll be able to pull off a General Grievous costume—apparently, the General has four arms, and I am fairly convinced that this is my 6-year-old’s sneaky attempt to finagle four light sabers out of us. But I’m kind of hoping we can convince both kids to dress up as Darth Vader. Big Darth Vader and little Darth Vader. “You should all go as Darth Vader,” my acupuncturist said, and a mental picture flashed to mind of my sons, their two mothers and their sperm donor, all decked out in black, light sabers bared, ready to rule the universe.
And it wasn’t a bad picture. Not a bad picture at all.
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