Part II – That Faraway Galaxy That Felt Like Home: Seeing “Star Wars”

Tomorrow is Star Wars Day – May the 4th Be With You! So I will jump the gun just a bit here and share my own Star Wars tale, which is also the companion piece to my previous post about Apollo. In earlier posts I have described my youthful fascination with space and science, which waned somewhat in the intervening time. This is how the spark was rekindled, and some changes that followed.

An ordinary afternoon in August, 1977. My family, which consisted of the trio of my parents and myself, desired an outing but we were tired of the usual. I think it was my mother who suggested we “go see that movie ‘Star Wars’ and see what all the fuss [was] about.” Dad and I agreed, so off we went to the mall theater. As we settled into our seats with our snacks and sodas, bits of memories of those Apollo missions and children’s sci-fi books, and popular “flying saucer” mythos tickled the back of my brain.

This new movie would probably be weird, I thought. I wondered if it would be scary. At that point I wasn’t into action-adventure much. I’d seen a few episodes of “Star Trek” here and there, but I hadn’t read much science fiction for several years, nor had I gotten into mystery yet. I avoided horror because I was very easily grossed out. I tended to prefer “family stories” and teen romances. Safe, comforting traditional girls’ books. With my eclectic tastes, I still have a soft spot for those.

But it was time, in August ’77, to step away from my usual. The movie started with the John Williams fanfare, the iconic word crawl giving the backstory, and then – spaceships! Laser beams! The inside of the spaceship. Robots. The laser guns called “blasters” rather than the quaint “ray guns” of early sci-fi. I was caught up pretty much right away. The shift to the scenes on Tatooine, with Luke Skywalker as the farm boy dreaming of adventure among the stars, and R2-D2 and C-3PO fearing a horrible fate as spare parts.

And a princess in distress. A multifaceted princess who could shoot a blaster, sass Darth Vader, and plead vulnerably from a hologram, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.” I’m in danger right now of reciting a litany of Star Wars scenes and props that most anyone reading this will already know. I’ll stick to highlights of my own reactions. Still – there were so many! The world of wonder George Lucas had created was full of them. Little things that gave it believability, the grimy, dented, lived-in look that drew everyone in. You could live in that galaxy, it felt like. I wanted to live there.

A few things were recognizable from existing tropes – I remember thinking the Millennium Falcon was the first spaceship in the film that looked something like an actual “flying saucer.” Yet at the same time, the hotrod Falcon it turned the cliche’ on its head. Amidst all the amazement and suspense and action, it was as if the years between this time in the theater and the days of watching Apollo missions just fell away. I had this immediate, major epiphany – I had really never stopped loving space exploration, spaceships, science fiction, and science! Some part of me had quietly stored the wonderment and the passion away. Now, this movie had opened the box and let it all out again.

I became immediately obsessed. I bought the novelization (by Lucas himself) and read it over and over. I bought memorabilia including the original twelve action figures, Luke’s landspeeder, and X-Wing and TIE Fighters. I bought bubble gum card packs and comic books. I found other science fiction books to read. I founded a science fiction club my senior year of high school and was its president. And one evening, in my room, I sat down at the manual typewriter and started writing a science fiction story of my own.

This led to a complete change of plans. I realized I wanted to go to college after all, and major in creative writing, instead of becoming a secretary as I’d been studying to be. But since I was a senior, I could only tinker with my schedule a little and fit in an English Literature class – it was a great class, though, and the teacher agreed to become one of my science fiction club’s advisers.

I was sad at not being able to start college at the same time as my peers, but I was determined to see it through and start in a couple of years. In the meantime I read and wrote more science fiction, and went to local conventions. The show “Battlestar Galactica” debuted on TV, borrowing not a little from “Star Wars,” and my geek friends and I got some of our fix watching it. It didn’t hurt a bit that the show featured two good-looking young male leads – interestingly enough, in my school science fiction club females were the majority, shattering a stereotype of our time.

My parents, being rather conventional, found my sudden passion for science fiction a bit disturbing. And there were times that in reading I encountered viewpoints about God, humanity, sex, violence, the occult, and so on that were shocking to my sheltered self. Some books I felt too uncomfortable to read. Still, I was learning so much. I wasn’t quite sure how I would balance some of what I read and my religious beliefs; it was too early to know the things I do now, that faith and science needn’t be in conflict for instance.

I was also learning what the science fiction “establishment” thought of “Star Wars,” and was disappointed to realize it was not all positive. The term “space opera” was used sneeringly by some who only wanted their science fiction deep and thought-provoking. While as an amateur writer I was beginning to see their point, it couldn’t dim my “Star Wars” love all that much. What I really enjoyed was that I could connect with and sustain those feelings of excitement and wonder that “Star Wars” brought me. I could reconnect those feelings with earlier childhood wonders about the mysteries of the cosmos and mankind’s place therein, and the sense that we were living in extraordinary times.