Star Wars Day is coming soon (May the Fourth be with you!), so I’ve been thinking about how I got into that universe. My route in was a bit odd.
I’m a little bit too young to have been caught up by the original movies. I wasn’t even born yet for the first one. I vaguely remember when The Empire Strikes Back was a thing. Return of the Jedi is the first movie trailer I can actually remember seeing on tv. Even if I had been old enough to go to the movies, though, I wouldn’t have gone to see Star Wars then. It just wasn’t a thing I was interested in.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t aware of Star Wars. Star Wars merchandise was all over my childhood. Friends had Star Wars lunchboxes and t-shirts. I saw the posters and the toys. Before I was reading on my own, I could recognize Darth Vader and Yoda. Some of the neighborhood kids staged a recreation of a scene from Return of the Jedi. (As the youngest of the group, I was cast as an Ewok. I had no idea what that meant, but all it required me to to was run around and scream unintelligibly, which was about the limit of my acting ability at that age.)
When I did discover science fiction, it wasn’t Star Wars but old reruns of the original Star Trek that lit up my young brain. I was completely hooked on Star Trek and, with the stubborn, stupid loyalty of the very young, decided that there was only room in my life for one Star franchise. For years I scoffed at the Star Wars memorabilia around me and snootily dismissed anyone else’s interest in the movies.
I was nearly in junior high before I finally decided to give Star Wars a try. Oddly enough, though, my first experience of Star Wars was not with the movies themselves. In my school library I found a set of picture books that told the story of the original trilogy movies (the only movies there were at the time) illustrated with stills from the films. My memory of the books is hazy, but at a best guess they were The Star Wars Storybook, The Empire Strikes Back Storybook, and the Return of the Jedi Storybook. I decided to give them a shot.
To my surprise, I enjoyed them, enough to hop on my bike, ride over to the local video rental shop, and check out the movies themselves. It was a weird experience. In a sense, I felt like I had always known these stories. I certainly couldn’t remember a time when I hadn’t known that there were heroes named Luke and Leia who fought a villain in a black helmet while accompanied by a couple of shiny droids. Reading the books filled in the details of a story that already felt familiar. By the time I actually saw Star Wars on screen, I knew who the characters were and what was going to happen. Watching those movies for the first time already felt like revisiting old friends.
Weirdly, one thing that wasn’t spoiled for me until I read the books was the Skywalker family tree. I can still remember the shock of finding out that Darth Vader was Luke’s father and then that Leia was his sister. That may be hard to believe in today’s world of fan sites and social media, but I made it through more than a decade of knowing who those characters were without knowing how they were related. Somehow, in all the years of my childhood, I never heard any of my friends who were into Star Wars put on a deep voice and say “Luke, I am you father.”
Star Wars has a special place in modern pop culture because it is special. It is one of the few stories we all know, even if we’ve never seen it. Whether you love it or not, and however you may feel about the prequel and sequel trilogies or any of the vast outpouring of other media in the Star Wars universe, it’s a story that we all have our own stories about.
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