I don’t know when I saw the original Star Wars movie. I don’t believe it was during the original release – I was only 3 years old at the time – but to be honest, I’ve never asked my parents. My memories of seeing it mostly revolve around a VHS tape that I would watch over and over and over again when I was older, long after the movies came out. Apparently, my dad had recorded it, or I did (or asked him to), because we had a recording of it taken off of the TV…somewhere. I’m not certain where. May dad sacrificed a recording of Das Rheingold, Wagner’s first Ring opera, but the thing I remember most about it was that you had to put the tape in, rewind it and then fast forward through about 10-12 minutes of Das Rheingold, including the Rhein Maidens, which was always this weird little thing I would kind of watch…just waiting until…
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
I did see Empire in the theatre – we went to an old theatre in downtown Kansas City that had a giant (for the time) screen. I have literally no other memories of it. Jedi I saw with my mom, brother and some friends of ours – my mother fell asleep during it, which we were all mortified by (of course). The prequels – those I all saw at the Uptown in Washington, DC.
But for some reason, I keep thinking back to that tape. A VCR tape labeled “Das Rheingold” that had the original Star Wars on it – long years before you could buy movies on videotape. I would watch it endlessly – over and over and over. I’m relatively certain it drove my brother crazy. I was filled with so many questions: Who were these people? What were they doing? What was going on? What was the Empire? What was underneath the stormtrooper armor – were they robots? How did a lightsaber work? Etcetera, etcetera.
What made Star Wars so fascinating to me were the questions – the questions left unanswered. The movie had the feeling of being a small part of a giant universe. A giant universe that felt lived in and with every possible corner. There was room in it to daydream of it’s past, future and myriad corners. Room for the imagination of a lonely little boy living in the middle of nowhere.
I haven’t made a great secret that I was a lonely kid. I didn’t have many friends. And what friends I did have, I never really understood. There was a part of me that always felt that anybody who was spending time with me…they were doing it because their parents made them, or out of pity, or under duress. I didn’t make friends easily, had trouble opening up to them and always felt like an outsider. I was afraid to call kids to do things on the phone (a fear of calling people would paralyze me for a long time – I’m still absolutely terrible on the phone, so much so that my fears almost cost me the great love of my life before it even started…when I failed to call the woman who’s now my wife for a second date because I was afraid of rejection), afraid to ask them to play…always prepared for the rejection I knew was coming.
I know now that a great deal of this was due to my being a classic introvert. Listen, I feel most personality tests are interesting as conversation starters and little else. I know people who’ve taken them dozens of times and come out different every time. Not me. I’m always an INFP and usually pegged pretty hard on the scale. And there’s much in the traits ascribed to that personality that is familiar and some things that aren’t, but one of the big ones for INFPs is that they often have rich “inner worlds” that are very different from the outside. This is a place they keep private, not to share with other people.
Mine was Star Wars. I have spent my whole life daydreaming about Star Wars.
Star Wars was my escape. I had friends there. It was exciting there. It was a vast place without any of the problems in my own life. I could be a soldier or a diplomat or a mystic warrior or a pirate or a smuggler or anything I wanted. I could visit places I could only come up with in my imagination. I could fly spaceships and have sword and gun fights and there would be nobody to reject me. It was about the furthest thing I could possibly think of from my humdrum middle class friendless life in North America’s unwashed armpit (Topeka, KS).
And it was made possible by being vague. And old. And lived in. I could devise elaborate stories with my LEGOs involving the adventures of Renegade Flight (a rebel X-wing flight, detached from Red Squadron referred to in the opening minutes of the Empire Strikes Back radio dramatization on NPR that is cut to pieces trying to bring supplies to Echo Base – poor, poor Ketku…he was always dying) and their new force-sensitive pilot Dex Mallory. I could look at the Sears Christmas catalog and see all these awesome figures and imagine how I’d incorporate them into the war of Rebels/GI-Joe vs. Empire/Cobra (my love of Boba Fett would show up early here – he was always switching sides to whomever I was playing with – he and Storm Shadow). I could doodle planets and read RPG sourcebooks (I never ever had anyone to play the West End games with – and yet, I owned most of the materials).
In my inner universe, the Clone Wars were against clones. The Empire was thousands of years old. The Rebels under-equipped (largely due to the fact that so many of my toys were second-hand, and missing parts – save my glorious Snowspeeder…still the greatest toy I ever got). There were frequent mashups with the Joes/Cobra or with TRON or Battlestar Galactica…never Trek, oddly enough…and endless combat across the backyard. Han Solo memorably died once – I buried him in the dirt near where we’d buried a dog I loved in the back yard…he got better (I dug him up the next day – turns out he’d faked his death).
I listened to the audiobooks until the cassettes wore out (only when I would aquire them on CD did I ever get to hear the Jedi adaptation, or the missing first two episodes of Star Wars, which my dad and I failed to record properly). I read most of the books, which ranged wildly in quality, and a good portion of the comics (far more uneven). I bought RPG books. I held onto the toys I had left in any kind of reasonable condition. And I daydreamed.
Star Wars allowed me to dream. Of being something other than I was. Of being somewhere else. Someone else. Somewhere and someone bigger and better than the lonely shy kid I was.
As the years would pass by, I kept up my love of Star Wars when so many other things fell to the wayside. Star Wars and the Kansas City Royals – the first two things I loved unquestioningly that weren’t my parents (the unquestioning part would die around the same time…1999). They would get me through my parents terrible divorce. Through being picked on and bullied in the nightmare that was my 11/12/13 years. They’d make me friends…eventually. And in the back of my mind, I was still writing adventures for Renegade Flight and Dex Mallory – I still think of them all the time.
I’ve been asked many times what my favorite Star Wars moment is. There are so many. But there is a moment in EVERY Star Wars movie that is my favorite. It’s the moment I’d get so excited while watching that old videotape.
The crawl has ended – it is fading off into the distance. The music is bridging to the first music of the movie itself and the camera is getting ready to pan to whatever will happen next. In Star Wars, it is right before it pans down to the Tantive IV and the Devastator battling over Tattooine. In Empire, right before the Star Destroyer Avenger launches it’s probe droids. In Jedi, right before it pans to the new Death Star under construction.
It is a moment of purity for me. Pure possibility and expectation.
In that moment, Lieutenant Commander Dex Mallory…force sensitive pilot…call sign Renegade 12…and the brave heroes of Renegade Flight….they fly again.
In that moment, they’re as real as anything on the screen.
In that moment, a shy and terribly lonely Kansas kid…he’s flying with them.