I’m six years old, running around my backyard with a blue broom handle, relentlessly whacking the hell out of an empty Windex bottle I throw into the air and then expertly slice with a two-handed swing, preparing for the day I’ll be lopping the heads off the Stormtroopers that stand between me and my nemesis, Darth Vader, the one I want to be like and must defeat so I can be like him, but a good guy. After all, when my first tooth came out at school and I lost it, thus missing out on the chance for that sweet sweet 25 cents that the tooth fairy paid for surplus enamel in Alabama, my dad made up for it by buying me my first action figure: Darth Vader.
I’m nine years old, and while we’re pretty sure that a new Star Wars movie is coming in a couple of years, I don’t have time to wait. So I plot out the next ten installments in the series. By the fourth one, I’m a main character. By the fifth one, we have crossed over with Battlestar Galactica. By the seventh, Star Trek. By the eighth, I’m THE main character and the action has moved to Earth 1981; so much for a long time ago and a galaxy far far away. And I want to fly a snowspeeder more than just about anything.
I’m twelve years old, and just starting to get a sense that there might not be an Episode VII in 1986. But then, I don’t do much with my Star Wars toys any more. The first movie just showed up on HBO last year, it only just aired on CBS, nobody has the movies on VHS yet, and it’s out of sight, out of mind.
I’m sixteen years old, and the original West End Games version of the Star Wars Role-Playing Game has landed in my lap (when the guy whose books they were runs away from home and gets packed off to military school). All of a sudden I have a framework to start thinking again about these characters – and others – much like what Marvel Super Heroes had done for me for comic books. And if I’m thinking of that battered Monte Carlo as an old but sturdy Y-wing, that’s nobody’s business but mine. (Those RPG books are still in Alabama. I need them back.)
I’m nineteen years old, and every guy in my freshmen dorm – even the ones pledged to the explicitly Confederate fraternity on a campus that runs on the Greek system – has run out and paid cash money for the hardback release of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, our first opportunity after eight years of blank space to learn what happened next. And since Zahn used the West End RPG as source material, it feels immediately comfortable and fits perfectly, and it’s like I never left.
I’m twenty-three years old, and going straight from cashing my grad school stipend check to the Target by Hickory Hollow Mall, because they have the toys that were sold out at White Bridge, and just like seventeen years ago, my first Star Wars figure is Darth Vader. And there’s a promise of new in-theater releases of the original trilogy, and a new prequel trilogy to come, and new stuff in the meantime like video games and novels that have their own soundtrack and even more on the way. And I’m playing the Dark Forces demo on my Mac over and over and seeing the beginnings of outlining a Star Wars universe that doesn’t have to involve a Skywalker to be interesting.
I’m twenty-four going on twenty-five, and all three movies are 1-2-3 at the box office. It feels like the Olympics, like for two weeks normal service has been suspended, because we’re all kids again and we’re popping like crazy for the bloody 20th Century Fox fanfare and again for “A long time ago…” and AGAIN for those words on screen. And we’re being teased with the prospect that there will be more on screen, and soon. And if my fleet little Saturn feels like a TIE Interceptor, or there’s a lightsaber-sized MagLite in the pocket of my long brown leather coat as I meander around campus after dark, that’s nobody’s business but mine, is it?
I’m twenty-seven, and the kid in front of us in the theater says “we’re about to see STARRRRR WARRRRRRS”, and my best friend leans forward and says “For the rest of the night, you have to say it like that” and just like that, STARRRRRR WARRRRRRS is a thing. And it doesn’t matter how iffy the actual movie is in retrospect, even after the seventh viewing in the theater, because it was new Star Wars. Sorry, new STARRRRRRR WARRRRRRRRRS.
I’m thirty, and our entire gang is going to the exact same theater for opening night of Attack of the Clones. My ex-girlfriend has a shredded knee that she tore up in a softball game only hours earlier, and we pulled her out of the ER and kept going, because STARRRRRRR WARRRRRRRS stops for nobody. And I’m playing yet another game demo on my PowerBook G4, and surreptitiously Force-pushing the doors open at the grocery store in a way I didn’t even do when I was ten.
I’m thirty-three, and I’m on a plane from California to Virginia, because I’m not going to miss the last STARRRRRR WARRRRRRRRS movie with that same crowd. My co-workers are all going to see it on Apple’s dime on opening day, but not me, I’m going to take a bird to the other coast for a midnight showing, because that’s what we do. And the Jedi starfighter in the first five minutes, so obviously the parent of the TIE fighter, is the spacecraft I’ve been waiting for my whole life, as much as the snowspeeder. And it feels like we’ve finally closed the loop on film, because there’s no prospect of Episode 7 or later, so the novels and such will have to do – the original Zahn trilogy will just have be an acceptable 7-9, and I’m OK with it.
I’m forty-three, older than my parents were when they took me to see the movie for the first time, and watching the second trailer for Episode VII, and I see Harrison Ford say “Chewie…we’re home,” and my throat catches and I choke back a sob in the middle of the office, because thirty years later, we’re finally gonna go into the theater and look up at the big screen and see what happens next. And when we do, turns out it’s dead solid perfect. Our old friends are there, and they’ve put the torch in the hands of a new generation, and I want to be Poe Dameron if I grow up.
I’m forty-four, and the world has been lit on fire and turned to shreds around me, and yet I’m watching something that looks and feels like it was plucked out of a 1979 that never was, and that last word, hope, resonates with me in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I can’t wait for episode eight now, and you can see why that elementary school aged kid wanted to be Darth Vader and slash effortlessly through a world that disputed him.
I’m forty-five, and I’m watching Luke Skywalker, who has to be well over fifty at this point, a man broken and damaged by the fact that things did not go the way he had planned, a man who has to stop perseverating on what was, a man who can’t be what he used to be but can be what he needs to be now, and for the very first time in my entire life, I feel like I get Luke Skywalker. See you around, kid.
I’m forty-seven, and I’m walking out of Galaxy’s Edge in Anaheim with something that isn’t so much a lightsaber as it is the thing that’s been missing from my hip for four decades. It’s lightly customized as best I can, and the blade is yellow, which I like to think is not “Jedi consular” or “Jedi guardian” but “Jedi IT support” color, and it’s a similar yellow to the inflatable blade of the original flashlight-based lightsaber that was in my stocking in 1978, and all I can think is, freeze me in carbonite until December, because I don’t want to die not knowing how it ends.
It’s December. It’s been almost forty-two years for me. I don’t want it to end, but it’s like the trailers say, “the saga will end – the story lives forever.” I want a good ending. I want to feel like I felt in 2015, or 1999, or 1991 or 1983 or 1980. I want to feel like it was worth the wait, that our questions are answered, that there will be victory and vindication and triumph, that General Princess Leia Organa will finally have her time to shine, that Poe will be redeemed and Finn will be complete and Rey will become who she was meant to be, that I can see the three of them with Chewie and BB-8 charging headlong into battle without choking up and blubbering, that I even can finish typing this without choking up and blubbering. I want the full payoff of the promise made to an eight year old in Alabama, that the most important thing in his life will have nine episodes. And I know I’m going to be a basket case on Saturday and probably right up until then, and I’m just going to have to deal.
It’s not an exaggeration to say my whole life has been leading up to this. Please be worth it.