Welcome to the Party! Please allow me to invite you for a walk down nostalgia lane.
My family was living in California (Palo Alto, to be precise) when the first Star Wars movie came out. Somehow my younger brother, who was five then, cajoled my parents into taking him to see it about twice as many times as I did. (I shouldn’t have been surprised: this is the kid who as a pre-schooler talked dozens of drunk college students into giving him “just one sip” of their warm, cheap beer during a faculty-student intramural softball game at my dad’s college.) Before my family made the cross-country trip back to our hometown in central New York, my bro and I saw Star Wars more times than the sum total of our years on the planet. I have an excuse for a kindergarten baby beating me in the viewings race: I had a seven-year-old’s crush on my second grade teacher, which is to say, I had other priorities. Still, losing to my brother in that and losing out to some other kid who was able to impress Ms. Buntin with his knowledge of the fancy word for “spit” were no fun to experience and just slightly less not-fun to remember (note to Party leaders: a great topic for a future Open Thread would be confessing — and ranking — the worst of your life’s trivial disappointments).
To tell you the truth, I have a terrible memory, so bad that I don’t have anything that specific to share about my reactions to Star Wars, at least anything that everybody else who saw it for the first time at that age isn’t likely to say, too (Darth Vader: scary! Luke Skywalker: cool! Princess Leia: hot! C3PO and R2D2: funny! Special effects: awesome!). Many things from that CA interlude stand out far more vividly still today than those movie-watching experiences: how cool it always was at night and in the morning and how clear and hot it always was during the day; how my mom panicked during a little earthquake — she thought my bro and I were jumping on the bed; we thought the dryer was being particularly rambunctious that morning — and drove us to the empty parking lot of the Star Wars mall to wait it out in safety; how my bro and I once fought over who would get to hold our pet anole (named after the lizard protagonist of a children’s book we loved) so violently that one of us (me, I think) accidentally stepped on her head in the scuffle, leading her to die a slow death a few weeks after we accidentally poisoned the egg she had laid and leading us to have to catch a toad from our yard for our neighborhood’s annual Pet Parade; the banana slug we found in our house one morning that my mom eventually had to remove from the house because my dad refused to get within three feet of it; the flea infestation bequeathed to us by the people who did the house exchange with us that year, which left my mom and I practically unbitten while my dad and bro suffered; playing catch with my mom in the backyard, “up against the wall” with my dad and bro in the schoolyard across the street from our house, and golf with the family at the Stanford University golf course (which stayed a burned-out brown that year); collecting rain water in a barrel and asking my parents whether I could flush the toilet because of the drought; riding bikes around the block with my bro, trying to catch lizards with him at my dad’s office complex, and using our squirt guns to attack the bumblebees that frequented the many fruit trees in our yard…. The more I write, the more I remember of that year — or at least I think I do, since we stayed in Palo Alto the following summer, too, and I may be dragging in some memories from then. But I don’t believe so.
So you can see that unlike the reminiscences of most people doing the SW30 thing, who have focused on the competition to be cool at school through memorabilia and trivia collecting, mine from that era are all family-related (although often linked to sports, animals, and weather). My only memorable memorabilia memory is thinking I had a much cooler Hanukah gift than my bro because my Battlestar Galactica fighter could shoot little red plastic missiles while his X-Wing Fighter could only light up and make noises — only to be foiled again when my safety-conscious mom preemptively impounded my weapons of minute destruction. I never even thought of trying to enter the school cool sweepstakes. Sure, I turned out to be well-liked, for a stuttering, glasses-wearing, puberty-hating, bench-sitting (I was the only person on my high school basketball team under 6 feet tall), cartoon-drawing, and (duh!) not-dating golfer and eventual salutatorian who hung out with the working-class ethnic kids playing kick the can and exchanging A-Team lines (I did a mean Mr. T) at lunch time. Being popular was out of the question. That was my little bro’s department, along with getting better than me at my two favorite sports by junior high school and starring in both during high school (and being salutatorian while doing all his homework in front of the tv). Even among my geeky friends, I don’t remember many being into science fiction or fantasy (note to sf purists: the fact that Star Wars is both does not make it not science fiction). The funny ones were too busy making cartoons I was too innocent to see were viciously attacking a female science teacher for being (they assumed) a lesbian; the arty ones were too into certain illegal substances that shall not be named here; the nihilistic ones were too into their differently-illegal “liquid lunches”; the smart ones wanted to talk about other things. My town and school were just too small to sustain a properly diversified high school loser population in the ecosystem.
But, you know, I don’t remember those years as particularly horrible or scarring. And Star Wars had just a little bit to do with that. You see, my dad was a science fiction fan before Lucas helped make it part of mass culture (the first Toy Story movie, with Buzz Lightyear triumphing over Woody What’sHisName, retroactively reads that transition back into an earlier time). His one big pop culture wish (besides that my bro and I would appreciate High Noon — of course we mocked that baby worse than we mocked our parents’ taste for country music in the Constructivist Family Ten Commandments my bro and framed for their anniversary one year) was that his sons would follow in his science fiction-loving footsteps. Well, one did. Guess who? After Star Wars, I kept collecting comics, of course, but I specialized in The Uncanny X-Men during Claremont’s sf kick and Rom: Space Knight when I first began to branch out from my Spider-Man obsession. So in addition to fantasy writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson, Robert Asprin, Terry Brooks, Dave Duncan, Charles DeLint, Guy Gavriel Kay, David Eddings, L.E. Modesitt, and Steven Brust — and hybrid or switch-hitting fantasy-science fiction writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Madeleine L’Engle, Ray Bradbury, Robert Silverberg, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, Sheri Tepper, and Orson Scott Card — I also had E.E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Stanislaw Lem, Douglas Adams, Alan Dean Foster, Jack Chalker, David Brin, and Dan Simmons to keep me company during what my dad refers to as my “awkward years” (strange how he leaves the end date ambiguous). Who could feel lonely or left out for long with such great writers, worlds, and wonders for their enjoyment and edification?
I like to think it was Star Wars‘ influence that lead to my appreciation today of Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson, Alan Moore and William Gibson, Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler, Marge Piercy and Maureen McHugh, My Neighbor Totoro and Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Spirited Away. It sure wasn’t that Flash Gordon remake starring that former Jets quarterback. Even I knew it sucked, right as I was watching it, even though as a then-Jets fan I was trying to give it the benefit of the doubt. And it definitely wasn’t Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. That was such a Battlestar Galactica ripoff.
So I look forward to your own true confessions, otaku autoethnography, and general wit and raillery in comments. Just don’t ask me about most any tv or movies since the end of 2003 (even sf ones!). That’s when onechan was born. I’ve been plotting and implementing my grand golf/sf indoctrination strategy for/on her ever since then (and redoubling my efforts since imoto’s grand entrance about 13 months ago). That’s also the reason you’ll have to find on your own the SW30 Blog-a-thon posts assessing Lucas’s first script, identifying fans’ best YouTube homages, self-reporting on a dad’s indoctrination attempt, and appraising much memorabilia for glimmers of retroactive coolness.
It all comes down to other priorities, people, other priorities. Some things never change. But some do. Girls are up. Gotta go. See you in the funny pages! (Wait, that’s more a Stan Lee letters page thing. Anyone got any good Star Wars/WAAGNFNP mash-up ideas for sign-offs?)
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