Growing up as an only child on my grandparents’ farm in rural Virginia, I learned a thing or two about the importance of imagination.
With few playmates and elderly caretakers who believed in depression era childrearing tactics, such as tossing the child outside from sun up to sun down and hoping for the best, time was spent largely on my own.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was the first time my mother rented the Star Wars movies for me to keep me entertained on a rainy day, but I was pretty young. Five, maybe six.
I immediately identified with Luke, the dreamer who longed for adventure, instead of being stuck on a farm with boring relatives who just didn’t understand him. My grandfather desperately wanted a grandson, but instead got stuck with a granddaughter who was – and remains to this day- quite prissy. I wanted to play dress up and mess with make up, he wanted to teach me to hunt and fish.
It was somewhere during a repeat viewing of The Empire Strikes back that I began to dream about running away and joining a rebellion, and on those long summer afternoons when I was excommunicated from the house so that my grandparents could watch Matlock my play began to reflect that desire.
Traipsing through the thicket of brier patches and pine trees that surrounded my grandparents’ little farm, I invented my own galaxy far, far away, and my own stories where I was invariably the hero. No power in the galaxy could stop me. I was a champion on the side of good, a defender of the light side of the force. If I couldn’t be inside playing with my barbies, the world I created in those woods was the next best thing.
Later, when I was a teenager, liking Lord of the Rings and Star Wars wasn’t a very cool thing. By the mid 90s, the initial craze of Star Wars had begun to fade, and the hype of the prequels was a few years away. The re-releases didn’t received as much traction as one might think in our little town. It was a dark time for me… I was too old to play in the woods, but I still found myself feeling lonely and misunderstood. I was a teenager, and I very much loved clothes and make up, but I also loved Star Wars… and my friends didn’t. At the risk of being labeled uncool, I put away my “nerdy” things. I hid my posters. I pretended not to get excited when my girlfriends and I would walk past a table in the cafeteria where two or three guys would sit playing Magic: the Gathering, and debating who shot first, Han or Greedo. I wanted so badly to fit in, but I wanted so badly to talk about bagging wamprats with a t-16 on Tattoonie, too.
It was sometime around the release of Revenge of the Sith that I started to shrug off the pretense of trying to be cool. What’s the point in being cool if you can’t do the things you like? I embraced my true nerd status and I haven’t looked back. I bought my tickets to the midnight premier. I found some friends to go with, and I had a good time… Despite the fact that it really is not a very good movie.
I have often said that I give my heart equally to all my fandoms, but that’s not quite true. Star Wars was my first real fandom, and the one the holds the biggest piece of my heart. I grew up with Star Wars, but came to know my other fandoms later in life. I know Star Wars like I know myself. I kick a fair amount of ass at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, you know.
People say “It’s only a story.” And to them, perhaps it is. But to the lonely little girl in rural Virginia, it was more than a story. It was a friend; it was a way to deal with all of the confusing emotions of my parents’ divorce and my subsequent separation from my father. It was something to turn to when I was angry, or sad. It was salvation when a classmate’s teasing proved too much to bear, or when I felt like a teacher was picking on me for not having the right answers on my math homework.
Star Wars gave me the tools to build the foundation of what would later become such a big part of myself: being a writer. Star Wars taught me to imagine and to build my own worlds.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I find that the sense of wonder I had as a child is largely gone, but when I see those famous words appear on the screen with each new film, I can feel the gooseflesh raise up on my arms, and in the words of Han Solo: