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The Galaxy Right Here at Home

Anyone who spends more than a few parsecs with me knows how much of a Star Wars fanatic I am. I live for the galaxy far, far away. I’ve seen the entire saga hundreds of times, never going more than a couple months without re-watching the misfortunes of the Skywalker family in one gruelingly amazing sitting. Anytime new information becomes available about new iterations of the franchise, the news travels to me so fast you’d think I’d sent many Bothans to their deaths in order to gain it. I scream at anyone near me to shut the fuck up when a new trailer pops up on the TV, even if I have seen and dissected it thousands of times. There is not a damn thing in this world that could possibly bring me as much joy as Star Wars does

Even for many Star Wars fans, my infatuation is perplexing. I mean, after all, it’s just an entertainment franchise. They’re just stories that some unknown indie-film director made up in the 70’s and late 90’s (sorry, I refuse to believe Lucas originally planned three films, let alone a full nine). How can anything that isn’t real mean so much to someone who doesn’t believe in anything? It’s an easy answer for me: Star Wars is real to me. Star Wars made me exactly who I am today, the stories may not be real, sure, but Star Wars has always been around. From some of my greatest memories with people who I can’t live without to some of my darkest days with people who are heart-breakingly absent from my life now, Star Wars was there.

The Lego Y-Wing was a massive pain in the ass to assemble but worth it to recreate the trench run more accurately, aka making it explode in a fiery explosion against a wall.

Where it All Began

My memory is just slightly better than C-3PO’s after having it wiped before the Galactic Civil War. Apparently six concussions by the age of 21 (I am 23 now) isn’t so great for the old noggin. There are some things I could never forget though, some things are ingrained into the fabric of my being. One of these milestones was in 1997, when I was a four year old youngling without the slightest notion of Jedis, stormtroopers, or even space, probably too excited more about getting chicken nuggets after the movie to even notice the life changing adventure I was about to witness. Lucasfilm had made the decision to re-release what was then simply known as “THE Star Wars trilogy” in theaters to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars. I am not going to lie to you and provide a detailed account of exactly what I saw and felt that day. I was fucking four. Here’s what I can tell you:

To this very day, I distinctly remember sitting in the theater watching a moisture-farmer named Luke shop for droids with his Uncle, Owen. I remember the silhouette heads of the people in front of me, only being able to see over them because the new beach-front movie theater in Oceanside had revolutionary “stadium-seating” that minimized eye-line obstructions. What I failed to mention when I started this floating paragraph in space is that this is my earliest memory. This is as far back as my weary mind can take me. My mom, dad, sister Megan, brother Matt, and myself going to the movies as a family, spending time with one another. I can’t explain why, and I am not going to make up some mitochlorian riddled bantha fodder in an attempt to explain it, but this memory brings me warmth. Brings a sensation that when Star Wars is around, things are right, that I am loved, that I have somewhere I belong.

Some kids had teddy bears, well I had R2

The Phantom Pain

Lucasfilm not only released the new “digitally enhanced” (I prefer the term altered because we all know Han shot first) re-releases to celebrate the second decade of Star Wars’s existence, but to build a hype for the highly anticipated prequel films that George Lucas famously claimed he had planned all along. As I eluded to earlier, my memory isn’t the best, and I can’t remember when I saw The Phantom Menace. Knowing my father, I doubt I saw it on opening weekend to avoid crowds, but I promise you I saw it within a week of release. I do remember, however, truly falling in love with the saga after seeing podracing, a double-sided lightsaber, and Ewan McGregor’s sweet double front flip-to-dismemberment Mortal Kombat-esque finishing move (Still kind of blows my mind that a movie rated PG ends with a man being impaled and another being chopped in half). That probably explains why I will not stand for anyone calling it the worst Star Wars of all, especially after the nightmarish assassination of character from Hayden Christensen’s performance in Attack of the Clones.

My brother and I ate, breathed, and slept Star Wars after The Phantom Menace. Every toy we got for years was a Star Wars toy and we endlessly reenacted the Battle of Naboo to near perfection, whether we had a supporting cast around us or not. When we couldn’t play outside (never due to inclement weather, we did grow up in San Diego after all), we either re-watched the movie on VHS or glued our butts to our state-of-the-art Windows 97 computer, plugging away at the PC game adaptation that actually let you play as Captain Panaka (this was huge for us). One day, that game became something I would never forget

My brother (Obi Wan on the left) and I thought that move where Obi Wan blocks Maul's lightsaber with a behind the back parry was the coolest shit ever when we were 8 and 9, hence the uncanny reenactment in this photo

I don’t remember the exact day, but I remember it was morning. I was wrapped up in my blue and red comforter sitting on the floor watching something on the TV, Megan was on the couch bundled in her white and pink comforter while Matt’s blanket lazily fell to his sides as he played through the final scenes of the Phantom Menace computer game for what had to have been the 13th time. Mom had either just walked in or been there for a while, and then Dad walked in, or vice versa, I was probably too glued to the TV to notice. I was too young to really get what was said, but Mom was a wreck and Dad’s words were quivering. Matt had stopped playing the game and was asking what we did wrong. Megan was crying uncontrollably. I was probably crying too, but I also doubt I knew why. Dad wasn’t going to be living with us anymore. Mom and Dad loved us very much but didn’t love each other. Mom and Dad were divorced.

While that is undoubtedly a painful memory to revisit, my parents getting divorced is the greatest thing that happened to me. I couldn’t imagine the life we would’ve had if they’d forced that square peg into a round hole and I don’t want to. I have an amazing Step-Father who has never once regarded me as anything less than his son, two rad younger siblings who keep me up-to-date with whatever the hell is popular now, and a Step-Mom who makes my Dad happier than I ever thought any human could possibly be and is there for me even when I don’t deserve it. Most importantly, both my Mom and Dad are happier than they ever could have been with each other. You know what was there to make that memory a little less painful though? Star Wars. The galaxy that was so far away, was right there, right beside me and my family through the darkest of times.

A Long Time Ago But Somehow in the Future

My love for Star Wars burned bright throughout my adolescence. I saw every movie in theaters as soon as they came out, owned them all on DVD, and did everything I could to share this passion with my little brother and sister, who had spawned from my Mom’s second marriage to my aforementioned kick-ass Step-Dad. A love for Star Wars was not something I was going to grow out of, it was a part of me, and my connection to the force was just as strong in high school as it was when I was that chubby cheeked four year old with a mouth full of popcorn.

When my senior year rolled around, I entered into the annual “Mr. Wolfpack” pageant. This was an all boy’s beauty pageant that was really just 13 senior guys dicking around in the spotlight for 2 and a half hours on a spring night before graduation. One aspect of the show was to create a video featuring a character. My original character had been deemed “inappropriate” (slide in my DMs if you want the full story), so my best friend, Ryan, and I decided we were going to be unabashedly nerdy and make our characters Jedis. Spoiler alert: We were Knights worthy of record keeping in the Jedi Archives.

Sadly, the Jedi Video has been lost in the ether, but this screenshot shows the movie magic Ryan used to give us actual lightsabers

Ryan is as much a film nerd as he is a Star Wars nerd. I don’t mean that he knows a lot about movies, I mean he knows how to act, write, film, and edit like a pro (if you don’t believe me, just scan for the name Ryan Toussieng in the credits next time you watch any of the Marvel Netflix shows). So when we set out to make our little fight film, we launched into it with an unabashed intensity that Rogue Squadron would’ve been proud of. We scripted lines and choreographed our moves, but what really made us one with the Force was Ryan editing ACTUAL MOTHER FUCKING LIGHTSABERS into our video. I say that with such tenacity because, even at 23, I still get hyped over this video.

When the final product was presented at Mr. Wolfpack it was a hit. We got the gasps we were going for when we drew our lightsabers and all the laughs we were after through our downright graceful swordsmanship. Looking back, making this video, sharing this passion with one of my oldest and closest friends, is a standout memory in my life. I still laugh whenever I think of the video and smile remembering all the fun we had making it. Ryan and I are closer than ever now, despite living on opposite ends of the country. The one thing that has and will always bring us together is Star Wars, and that video cemented the franchise’s ability to do that.

The Force Brings Balance

I was finishing up my final year in college when The Force Awakens finally came out. Just as Sith Lords use emotion and pain to strengthen their connection to the force, I think the pain and turbulence of being so far from home in a place so drastically different from where I grew up brought me closer to Star Wars while I was in school. Which is why I gorged like a Hutt on every little tidbit of information I could find about The Force Awakens leading to it’s release. I sat inches from my roommate’s TV in the living room of our house when the first trailer premiered during Monday Night Football, yelling “SHUT YOUR SLUT MOUTH” anytime somebody tried to talk during the 90 second TV spot. The release of The Force Awakens was a monumental event for me- my oldest friend was returning from the dead to bring me joy once again.

I met plenty of lifelong friends while I was in school, but I had become particularly close to one person in. This person had become my closest friend and confidant despite us having almost nothing in common other than a complete lack of confidence in ourselves. It’s hard to adequately put to words, but there was an innate yet unique darkness in each of us that we constantly helped each other battle, each other’s dark almost complementing or balancing the other. Easily the most surprising aspect of our friendship was that this person had never seen Star Wars, or at least “barely remembered seeing them since I was a kid except the gun-gun guy or whatever.” Blasphemy. Sharing Star Wars with this person was something I was anxious to do. I wasn’t worried whether they’d fall for the series as hard as I did, I was simply elated to share my first material love with somebody who meant so much to me. So as soon as The Force Awakens tickets went on sale, I bought two tickets for the earliest showing in Reno and made sure we both had the night off from work to enjoy the newest Skywalker adventure without interruption.

December 17 came around and the movie absolutely blew my expectations away. I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie. I eagerly bounced up and down during the crawl with the energy of a nine-year old, clapped furiously at the site of the Falcon, and miiiiight have shouted “NO!” at an ear-shattering pitch when my childhood hero, Han Solo, died at the hands of his My Chemical Romance stand-in of a son. The film was fantastic and made everyone in the theater inexplicably delighted at the return of the saga. This included my uninitiated friend sitting to my left, who despite not having any inkling of any idea why I was losing my shit throughout the movie, genuinely loved the movie. This person didn’t even notice the tears rolling down my face when Han Solo fell to the abyss because they themselves were too lost in the film, in awe of the hero who had been slain.

I thought I’d leave the theater talking incessantly to half-hearted “yeah,” “totally,” “Uh-huh” replies from my friend. Holy shit was I wrong. They were just slightly less excited than me, exclaiming how surprised they were at how much they loved it, how they wanted to dress up as one of the new characters for Halloween, and that they just had to see the other six films. I’ll never forget the feeling on the drive home, of seeing something that had brought me so much joy throughout my life bring pure excitement and wonder to somebody who I cared about more than these movies, somebody who I had seen struggle so much be so happy with something that brought me pure joy.

This is a bittersweet night for me to look back on these days. The Force Awakens is still one of my favorite movies and I watch it often, just in the hopes of recreating the comfort and community I felt on that drive home. Just as The Force Awakens ends with ties severed between the Solo family in order for Kylo Ren to become who he has to be, the story of this person and I had to come to a close, each of us going our separate ways. The separation was necessary, will lead to each of us being healthier, happier people, but in no way does that dilute the fucking pain of losing someone who was such an integral part of your world. I will always have that night though. That one night where I felt more connected to that person than ever before. Star Wars did that. Star Wars brought us closer together than I had ever been with anyone else.

Balance Brings Hope

Just when I thought I couldn’t get more hyped about a Star Wars movie, inklings of information about the first spin-off film started coming out. The story of the rebels who stole the Death Star that would end moments before the original Star Wars begins?! Sign. Me Up. The movie could not have come at a better time either. I was struggling mightily, battling mental health issues that had re-surged with a Sith-like vengeance, unhappy at work, and suddenly feeling a homesickness I hadn’t felt since I was 18. All that and it was the beginning of the end of the friendship I mentioned above and I knew it was ending. I remember for weeks just telling myself “Hold on. Rogue One is almost here. Rogue One will be out, you’ll feel happy again, then you just make it for another week and you can go home and be around your family. Hold. On.”

I am the biggest, and only, Star Wars fan in my group of friends in Reno. Sure the rest of them will go see the movie at some point, but none of them are really Star Wars fans so none were interested in going to the premier. That and my version of Chewbacca that I mentioned in the last section wasn’t an option forced me to go alone to the premier, which was alright I guess.

I got off work at 5:30 the day of the movie, which started at 7. I hopped to the bar a block from my office and grabbed a pint of Lagunitas before the movie, even caught a bit of the Thursday Night Football game that was on that frigid December night. I was doing everything in my power not to think about where I was at this time waiting for The Force Awakens, terrified that I’d remember who I was with that night which would effectively put me in a funk for the entire movie. Luckily, a very nice, VERY cross-eyed man sitting next to me at the bar kept my mind at bay, telling me the story of where he was when he saw the original Star Wars in 1977 (full disclosure, he had no idea Rogue One was a thing so he may have just been drunk and full of shit).

I sauntered into the theater at 6:50, shocked there wasn’t a line, and grabbed a seat among the last row of seats before the old-school rows gave way to stairs and stadium-style seats. The movie, like The Force Awakens before it, was fantastic. Not only that, but it was the first Star Wars movie to actually feature the war from a foot soldier's perspective. Leaving the theater alone with such excitement was weird. I just wanted someone, anyone to talk to. I called my dad, called Ryan, called anyone in my phone book who would listen to me. I was too happy from the movie that I had completely forgotten to block out the memory of the previous premiere from my head. It was at this moment that it clicked for me why Star Wars is so damn important for me.

Me having the revelation about how integral Star Wars is to me

Star Wars has been a catalyst for me my entire life. Whether for love, loss of love, friendship, or the loss of friendship, Star Wars has played an integral role in my life ensuring I remember these fleeting moments. It’s been there for me always, brought me closer to those I care the most about. It’s a franchise that was simultaneously present in the best and worst parts of the short time I have spent on this floating rock so far. Star Wars has been the balancing act, not just there to entertain me with wonderfully crafted worlds where anything is possible, but to remind me that life has been and is going to be turbulent. For every great moment there will be a bad one. For every relationship strengthened one will crumble under it’s own weight.

Until Rogue One, I hadn’t been able to see that about Star Wars, nor understand what made the franchise so special to me. Now I know, Star Wars reminds me of the balance in my life and the need for balance. Star Wars, despite how fanatical it is, grounds me. When I watch it during my best times, it makes me happy, yes, but also reminds me that there will be bad times too with harsh memories from the past that are intertwined with the movies. More importantly, it picks me up in my dark times, reminds me that there is an ebb and flow with feelings of community and belonging brought on by bright moments related to the saga.

It may just be a movie, they may just be stories, but the balance that Star Wars brings to my life? That is real.

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