Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fathers and Sons and "Star Wars"

While this is not a review (that will come this weekend), I do have some relevant thoughts and feelings about Star Wars: The Force Awakens I'd like to share.  Please bear with me, dear readers, for they are a bit personal.

Tomorrow is December 17th.  It is "The Day." There will be a new Star Wars movie on screens tomorrow night.  This is a day that nerds like me have been awaiting for years, a day we once thought we'd never see again.  It will be a day of excitement and happiness that more serious-minded folks just won't understand (to their detriment).  I am a small part of this enormous community because my father introduced me to it, and given tomorrow's date, and how Star Wars has (so far) been a story about fathers and sons, my dad will be with me tomorrow, even more so than he is every other day.

My dad took me and a friend to see Star Wars in the summer of 1977, at the then-known-as Camelot Twin theater in Orangeburg, South Carolina. I was a spoiled-rotten brat of nine years at the time, and actually didn't want to go to the movies that day for some reason that I honestly can't remember, but for some other mysterious reason that'll I'll never know, Dad was adamant that we go, and he was Dad, after all, so his vote ended the argument.  I don't think he even really had any idea of what we were going to see, but maybe he did.  Regardless, he was responsible for introducing the Star Wars universe to me, a universe of characters and stories that has been running rampant through my imagination ever since that summer afternoon thirty-eight years ago.

On May 19th, 1999, Episode I - The Phantom Menace debuted in theaters, and whatever opinions anyone may have about it or any of the other prequels are irrelevant to me right now, because that day was a day much like tomorrow will be.  People like me were stoked about a return to that galaxy far, far way, and I wanted to share that happiness with my dad.  I was an adult by that time, so it was my turn to insist that he accompany me to the movies, as to my mind, it was only appropriate that I take him to this new chapter in Star Wars history, just as he had taken me twenty-two years earlier.  Caught up in the moment as I was, I loved that first viewing of Episode I, but whatever doubts I may have had about Dad's level of interest were put to rest when, as we were leaving the theater, he asked "now that little kid was Luke's son, right?" Geez...

Tomorrow is also ten years to the day that my dad entered a hospital and never left.  Cancer had been doing its best to take him down for almost a year, and it was finally getting the upper hand.  I was the one on the "night shift" at his bedside when he gave up his mortal coil.  I had been listening to his Darth Vader-like breathing because of the ventilator that had been keeping him alive, until it was removed.  He hadn't spoken for several hours before passing, so he had no final words of wisdom for me, but I'm confident he was thinking of Mom, my sister and me.  We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day making his final arrangements, and much like Luke cremated his father's remains in the forest on Endor's moon, I scattered my father's ashes along the wooded banks of a river several days later.

It's hard to explain how much my mom, my sister and I have missed Dad this last decade.  Looking back through the years and recalling my childhood, I can now see how often I was the petulant Anakin-like child, spouting off at the mouth and doing stupid things, and how Dad was the wise, stoic Obi-Wan-figure, patiently trying to show me wisdom and steer me along the proper path. In the years since Dad's passing, my sister has often described him as our "Yoda," the wise elder who was always the calm in the center of whatever family storm we encountered. Oh, how right she is.

Sure, I'd have probably discovered Star Wars on my own if he hadn't dragged me to the movies that summer afternoon, but he DID drag me to the movies that summer afternoon.  It was he who pushed me in front of this spectacle that was so incredible in its day and changed how we all see movies forever, and even though he didn't think that afternoon trip to the movies was anything life-changing, it actually was, and I have him to thank for it.  Oh, he liked Star Wars himself just fine, as I'd find him watching the movies on VHS on the occasional Sunday afternoon through the years, but he was never as devout in his worship of George Lucas' creation as I was.  That's okay, though - Anakin Skywalker was never as pure in his devotion to the Force as his son was, either.  Maybe it's just a Father's job to show his Son the proper way, and mine certainly did, and as such I can directly trace my life-long love of Star Wars to him.

While my wife and I are sitting in the theater tomorrow night, hearing that blast of John Williams' B-flat fanfare and seeing that huge yellow logo zoom out into the starfield, I will be feeling all the geeky giddiness that will fill that auditorium.  How often do we get to have the experience of sharing such excitement and joy for something with several hundred perfect strangers?  If that ain't the best way to feel the Force binding the galaxy together, I don't know what is.

I just hope I can also catch a glimpse of Dad's "Force-Ghost" in the flickering projector-light.  It wouldn't feel right if my Dad wasn't with me for a new Star Wars flick.  If the Force is with me, then surely he will be, too.