“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .”
The fact that almost everyone reading those ten words not only knows what I’m talking about, but probably sees them in the familiar light blue text and half expects to hear the opening notes of the iconic theme tells you how iconic the Star Wars saga is. Forty years ago, the original film released and changed… well, everything. The imprint of the Star Wars saga can be seen everywhere from the silver screen to the toy aisle, from characters emblazoned on a wide range of food and household products to quotes that have become a part of our lexicon. No doubt today will produce a slew of articles citing its influence and speculating on the future of the brand.
But for me and no doubt many other fans, Star Wars will be linked to memories of family. The Star Wars saga, on its most basic level, is about family, and not just the direct blood relations either. You could argue the original trilogy is about a found family as well. Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO comprise as close knit and familiar a family as we’ve seen in film. I’d argue that’s what made the prequel trilogy less popular, as those connections were never forged quite as well. In the new trilogy, the relationships between Rey, Finn, Poe and BB-8 are off to a similar strong start.
Now, think about it. What’s your first memory of Star Wars? Odds are it involves either your family or a close group of friends. Whether it’s going to the theaters to see one of the movies on the big screen, a parent excitedly putting it into the DVD player(and maybe telling you how the original theatrical cut was better) or even picking up branches or broomsticks and pretending they were lightsabers, I doubt many people experienced Star Wars alone.
“It’s just a movie,” is a common refrain we hear when we celebrate a film we love. You could put TV show, book, video game or whatever else you like into that statement. You hear it a lot with Star Wars when people talk about how much they enjoy it. But for me, Star Wars is more than just a movie. It was ever present in the memories of my childhood.
There was the night our motor home broke down in the middle of the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. In the age before cell phones, my dad hiked back to the nearest gas station to get help. While he was gone, we produced a giant ziplock bag filled with Star Wars figures and played with them the entire time.
During the Walt Disney World trip with my family when I was a child, many of the photos have my brothers and I wearing Return of the Jedi t-shirts. And later, when Return of the Jedi came out and my younger brother was too sick to risk going to a packed theater, we had a private showing of the movie. It’s a big part of the reason it will always be my favorite of the series, even if it’s not the best. Watching that movie, and seeing Luke deal with the loss of his father, actually helped me cope with the loss of my brother.
I remember eating the amazing Return of the Jedi vanilla and chocolate cookies at my aunt’s house, while we watched the movies in their living room with one of the first great home sound systems I can remember. When I got older, I would play the X-Wing and Tie Fighter games with my cousin and find myself immersed in the world once again, or how we once pestered my aunt to let us open an original, in package Luke Skywalker in his black Jedi costume to join the fight between G.I. Joe and Cobra.
There was the year the Special Edition films came out, and I got to see the first Star Wars film in a theater again with my Dad, or running around trying to find the reissues of the original figures that Christmas to give as gifts to family members. The new versions, the ones with the WWE physiques? I bought those for myself.
One of the more vivid memories I had as a kid was how my mom kept a Yoda figure in her jewelry box because she loved the character so much. In one of the care packages she sent to us, she’d found a series of Star Wars stamps that still have a place of pride above the door in my office. When we went to the Wichita Mountains on Mother’s Day to spread her ashes, that evening I bought a Yoda Tsum-Tsum and put atop her jewelry box on our memento shelf.
Even now, Star Wars remains a big part of my life. Thank goodness I married an amazing woman who loves geeky things as much as I do. On the day of our wedding ceremony, we ran around to a couple of different stores so we could find the Disney Infinity Rebels figures. During our honeymoon to Walt Disney World, we rode Star Tours three times and brought home the Zeb Infinity figure we hadn’t been able to find. Star Wars will always hold a special place for us, going forward.
And I’ve already told my family that we’re going to Walt Disney World for the fiftieth anniversary in 2021, and no doubt our first trip into the new Star Wars land will forge new memories for us.
Star Wars endures today because of the millions of fans who have those same associations, who can sit in a darkened theater and hear the familiar roar of a TIE Fighter’s engines or the hum of a lightsaber and feel like a child again. It’s a story about the best of us, rising through adversity and heartbreak to become the best version of ourselves, and how we can come together to become something greater.
And it’s about family, and how the ones we love are always with us in some way. Forty years later, that’s still the biggest impact for me.