At some point in the fall of 1996, my mother made a suggestion that would forever impact my life: “Why don’t you try watching Star Wars?” My then-next-door neighbor and best friend, Adam, had just started watching the movies and was hooked. She brought me to our local Blockbuster and picked up a copy of A New Hope, and immediately after screening it, I had become what is commonly referred to as a “fanboy”.
I recall sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall (it’s important for me to note that I was five years old at the time) telling him that I wanted the movie for Christmas, raving on and on about Darth Vader. On top of that, my grandfather had died about two years prior, and I told my parents that when I died and went to Heaven, I planned to tell him all about the saga. Sure enough, I was given the VHS tapes and a few action figures, as well as a plastic version of Luke’s green lightsaber from Return of the Jedi. Star Wars was so embedded into our home that when my youngest brother uttered his first words, they were none other than, you guessed it, Star Wars.
Not long after that, the prequel trilogy was released between 1999-2005, and in my youth and lack of expertise on film criticism, I was delighted with each installment, even proclaiming Jar Jar to be one of my favorite characters. There were more action figures, video games, and Halloween costumes along the way.
Then as a freshman in high school, I drifted away from that galaxy of imagination and wonder. I sought to establish myself as respectable in the social scene. A passion for Star Wars, not a simple interest and appreciation but a passion, was social suicide, and it was difficult enough navigating through the world through raging hormones. I kept my eye on baseball and That ‘70s Show, as well as determining which celebrity actress was the hottest.
Things changed within one week for me during my senior year.
I panicked, knowing something bad must have happened with Dad. Eventually Mr. Ceretta called us inside his office, and we prepared to sit down, but he said there would be no need to do so, since this would be a quick talk. He shared that our mom had called the school, informing them that our dad had pneumonia and they were taking him to Yale/New Haven Hospital. Our maternal grandmother would be waiting for us when we got home, and eventually our paternal grandparents would come down from Cape Cod to watch over us for the upcoming week (which happened to be our winter break).
The following week was one that I’m sure my family will never forget. One aspect in particular was how much prepared food friends left for us, which mostly consisted of pasta. We made a few visits to Yale to see our dad, and I was on the edge because feared the elevator I would take could potentially be occupied by a doctor escorting a body to the morgue.
On our ride home from a visit, my brothers insisted on playing NPR’s program Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! whose guest that week was Carrie Fisher, and she recounted many life stories that surrounded playing Princess Leia. When we got home, I flipped through the TV channels and came across SpikeTV playing the ending to The Empire Strikes Back. There was something about that timing that sparked a renewed interest in Star Wars.
I began listening to the soundtracks again. I checked out the original trilogy from my local library and re-watched them. I even brought in the DVD for Revenge of the Sith on my computer and played the final duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan during my religion class. My teacher noticed the sounds and slowly walked over to the corner of the room where I was sitting and saw the movie playing. He simply said: “Why don’t you watch a REAL Star Wars movie?” (I do not think anybody would be surprised if I clarified that he was a big nerd).
When I graduated in mid-May, congratulatory checks came to me through the mail from friends and family. I was such a poor student that I joked the gifts were celebrating that I ACTUALLY managed to graduate (on top of the fact we were in the middle of the Great Recession and finding a job that summer would be impossible). And you can be sure that a good deal of that money went towards Star Wars-themed memorabilia. On one of the first days of my life as a high school graduate, I went out and purchased all of the movies and began to re-watch them in order, averaging out two films a day. I discovered Wookieepedia, the online encyclopedia for Star Wars, and began playing the video games from my childhood, such as Episode I- Racer, Rogue Squadron, Battlefront, and The Force Unleashed (a recently released game for the Xbox 360). And then there came…
The Force FX Lightsabers.
They were collectable lightsabers with a realistic metal hilt, connected to a three-foot-long LED lightbulb. I first discovered them years earlier while searching through a high-end electronics magazine (either Sharper Image or Hammacher Schlemmer) and I was immediately won over. My mom probably saw my request for one as ridiculous and ignored me. Now that I had enough money on my hands, I knew I was in charge of my transactions. I ordered one through my friend who had his own debit card (since I was still sure that my mom would balk at ordering me one even if I paid her back), and when it arrived, I marveled at its beauty. It was Luke’s from the original movie (technically his father, Anakin’s), and I immediately reverted to being eight-year-old, eyes filled with wonder and awe. I managed to buy another, Darth Vader’s, and filmed quick duels with friends.
Later that summer, I ventured off to college. Lasell College, my safety school. I was dreading the day I would move out and viewed it as if I were reporting for my prison sentence. After attending my orientation that summer, I realized I could do better than Lasell, and vowed to work my ass off to get into a better school. My first few weeks were miserable as I dealt with being away from home for the first time, locking myself in my dorm and longing to be in what I considered to be a respectable college.
The bigger challenge was making friends. Both of my roommates were big partiers, one of whom, Bobby, was a high school classmate, and the other, Matt, was a star on the cross-country team. But something happened that proved to be an important spark.
One night, Matt and I began to talk about our Star Wars fandom, and one of his teammates, Miguel, joined us in the room, and we decided to watch the ending to Revenge of the Sith, and before I knew it, I instinctively followed them down to the community bathroom after the movie had ended to brush my teeth with them. They remain some of my closest friends to this day.
Star Wars saved me from my loneliness and brought me out of my self-imposed imprisonment (well, somewhat, as I did not attend parties, but at least I was socializing).
Three years later, Disney purchased Lucasfilm, and announced intentions to produce a sequel trilogy. Episode VII- The Force Awakens was released in 2015, which exhilarated me, tapping into core nostalgia as a way to move forward in the Skywalker saga with excitement. But Episode VIII- The Last Jedi effectively took that adventurous feel and threw it away, attempting to redefine the saga, which came as a major blow on top of losing Carrie Fisher to a heart attack in between those movies. Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker was released this past year, and I screened it with Matt and Miguel a full decade after we first met and bonded over our love for that galaxy far, far away that was born from the fertile imagination of George Lucas.
Within that stretch of time, I transferred to Quinnipiac University, but also endured many trials and tribulations, mainly through the diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which led to a prolonged college experience. I often think of my twenties as my own Odyssey, as the opening line of the poem invokes the Muses to tell the story about “the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course”. But in that time, Star Wars was always there for me. Mark Hamill will share with pride that strangers will approach him on the street and gush not just about how they loved the movies, but how it was an escape vessel through triumph and tragedy. In particular I will always look back on the year 2009 with sentimentality, despite the self-imposed burden I placed on myself to transfer into a better college.
2009 was my Star Wars renaissance. I returned to that source of imagination and wonder. By creating this epic space opera, George Lucas proved that childhood never had to end.