We came into the world in the same year, within weeks of each other. So many of my childhood memories are tied to you. Every Christmas, there were Star Wars action figures under the tree. My little brother and I played in a grove of trees we dubbed the Ewok Forest. And I didn’t give him piggyback rides, but Tauntaun rides. When my dad drove our minivan through a Kentucky snow storm at night, the flakes coming toward the windshield looked to me exactly like the stars whooshing by as Han Solo took the Millennium Falcon to light speed. I never outgrew you, as evidenced by the photo of me hugging Chewbacca (after waiting in a very long line) on my 34th birthday. But it wasn’t until this week, as I watched “The Force Awakens” with my boyfriend’s two sons for the first time, that I started to understand how much I learned from you, how much you shaped who I am. And I just wanted to say thanks.
Thank you for igniting my sense of wonder at the vast scale of the universe. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” was mind-blowing for me. If all these fantastic creatures were having these adventures in a whole other galaxy, what else was out there? How much more was there? I wanted to know. My love for science and astronomy started there, and they continue to blow my mind more than thirty years later.
Thank you for celebrating imperfection. The Millennium Falcon was a piece of junk. Han Solo was a scoundrel. Luke Skywalker was a whiny farm boy with impulse control issues. Lando Calrissian betrayed his friends to save his own skin. Yoda was 900 years old and just a little crazy from being alone on Dagobah too long. Anakin Skywalker was seduced by the dark side and committed mass murder. Basically every humanoid, alien, droid, or piece of equipment that captured my attention was fundamentally flawed. And yet somehow, they all managed to come through when it counted, to turn toward the light and save the day.
Thank you for Princess Leia. She was so much of what I wanted to be. Her leadership in the Rebellion went unquestioned. She stood up to the terrifying Darth Vader, didn’t break even under torture. She knew how to repair a ship and could handle a blaster as well as anyone. She loved Han and wasn’t afraid to say it (or to come to his rescue when needed), but she was never going to put him before her mission to bring freedom to the galaxy. If he wanted to be with her, he was going to have to get on board with that, and to his credit, he did. So thank you for him, too. A relationship of equals isn’t easy to come by in pop culture, and maybe it’s in part thanks to you that I held out for one in real life (with a man who loves all things Star Wars as much as I do, no less).
Thank you for teaching me the hard way that it’s better to leave room for mystery sometimes. The original trilogy left a lot of questions unanswered. Then the prequels came along and we got midichlorians and trade agreements and the political workings of the Galactic Senate. Knowing so much made it all just a lot less cool, to be honest. It’s not a huge leap for me to apply that to my life as a minister and be content in not knowing all the answers. Why would I expect, or want, God to be easier to understand than the Force? I’ve grown to love the mysteries and paradoxes of my faith.
Thank you for learning from your mistakes. Like a lot of fans, I was pretty disillusioned by the prequel trilogy. So I was almost scared to get my hopes up when plans for Episode VII were announced. But you managed to exceed my expectations, to recapture all that was good about the original trilogy and build on it. If you can make such a comeback after Hayden Christensen making speeches about sand and the CGI hell of Jar Jar Binks, then I will not lose hope no matter how badly I may fear I’ve failed now or in the future.
And thank you for widening your world so that we might do the same. Star Wars is no longer overwhelmingly white and male, and that’s a good thing. Sure, some jerks on Twitter freaked out when they first saw a black man in a Stormtrooper uniform, and some are still complaining that a “girl” (woman) with all of Rey’s talents is too hard to believe. But their numbers are shrinking, and the next generation of Star Wars fans will learn bigger and better lessons. I could already see it as I watched those two little boys get pulled into your universe, as their dad and I made commentary on the important stuff. I have hope that they’ll grow up knowing heroes come in all colors, sizes, genders, and ages because they’ve seen Finn and Poe and Rey and Chewbacca and Maz Kanata and General Leia and Han Solo and BB-8. I have hope that they won’t believe it when kids at school say, “Girls can’t ____” because they’ll remember that Rey was a great pilot and fighter and was stronger with the Force than anyone else, and General Leia was still leading the Resistance, and Captain Phasma was (as 4-year-old Jackson put it) “the boss of all the Stormtroopers.” I have hope that they’ll learn some of the same things I did as a kid, that you’ll blow their minds and challenge their perceptions again and again. Thank you for all the games we’ll play and conversations we’ll have about Star Wars in the years to come. It’s going to be so much fun.