Growing up with Star Wars: Childhoods of Long Ago Spent in Galaxies Far Away

Growing up with Star Wars!

If you’re my age (that being an incredibly young, perpetually vital, valid and edgy 42), you were about 4 or 5 years old; you were barely aware of different colors let alone the paradigm shifting arrival of the greatest science fiction epic of all time, Star Wars: A New Hope. At the time, my imaginings consisted of indulgences in sweet syrup for my waffles, sugar for my cereal, and how many limbless Fisher-Price figures I could fit onto a stack of waffles or into a bowl of cereal. I had no idea that, outside of my bubble, filmic and cultural history was being made; humanity was under threat of having its collective perspective forcefully widened and elegantly enlightened.

It happened in a flash; I wasn’t expecting it at all. I think I was playing with some other toys, maybe some LEGOS. I also remember, faintly, that I was cross with my mother. I couldn’t tell you why, but I was annoyed and decided to ignore whatever requests she happened to be making in favor of bashing LEGOS together. Anyway, there I was, ignoring Mom, slamming LEGOS together, and quite content on our fluffy, olive green sofa with giant, sharply ridged buttons. The door swung open, and it was Dad; he just arrived home from work. We were usually excited to see each other, but I could sense there was some additional electricity in his smile and demeanor. Did it have something to do with the box he was attempting to hide behind his back? Oh, yes…it absolutely did.

He placed the box on the floor and began removing little white plastic trays, each individually wrapped, each containing 2-4 figures. Attempting to remember this now, I’m not quite sure if I knew who (or what) these action figures represented, but I certainly learned quickly, and realized the significance of this moment a few years later: this was the first time Tiras and Star Wars occupied the same space.

But wait! Let’s rewind a bit. Who were these figures? My education was quick and glorious; we had Luke Skywalker, C3-PO, R2-D2, Princess Leia and Darth Vader. Not only did my father bring figures, he brought a display stand with a cardboard, Star Wars-themed backing. Figures could be placed onto the stand and held fast by protruding pegs; these pegs were perfectly sized to fit into holes located beneath the heels of each figure. A brilliant bit of top-notch toy engineering, if you ask me. I remember putting the figures on the stand, sliding the lightsaber in and out of Luke’s forearm using that dangling tab beneath said forearm (because that’s how the first batch of lightsaber wielding figures came, including Vader and Kenobi), and turning the characters left and right with movable arms attached to swiveling islands upon which the characters stood. As excited as I was, I couldn’t help but notice how ridiculously excited my father was. Honestly, if we’re gauging excitement, I was somewhere between above average and slightly ecstatic, whereas he was absolutely through the roof. Star Wars came to my house that day, and with it a science fiction juggernaut that projected us so effectively into its world that we had no way of resisting.

For the life of me, I can’t recollect the first time I actually saw Star Wars. I can recollect the 754 times after, but not the first. All I know is, Star Wars was an amazing thing to behold and after each viewing, I was positively bursting with an immeasurable sense of excitement and hope; a sense that myself, that anyone, all of us, could accomplish great things in a vast world; a vast galaxy of discovery and potential. What was truly wondrous: this feeling wasn’t mine and mine alone; this was a feeling experienced and expressed by an unfathomable viewership across many nations…and perhaps across social divides (exaggerating these last parts a wee bit because I like to think Star Wars brought about world peace during its initial  run in theaters).  Anyway, yes, Star Wars arrived and changed the landscape. Not just fresh innovations in articulating amazing concepts on film, but the landscape of common attitude. People seemed…hopeful, empowered and energized. Star Wars sparked us with 10,000,000 volts of face-slapping amazement, and then, cleverly and without tripping our defenses, galvanized us to seek greater worlds within ourselves.

And then there were more toys; there were more vehicles, playsets and action figures, more physical representations of the film we could grab a hold of and manipulate, allowing us to continue the adventure. Now, these toys were pretty gosh darned involved, especially the larger ones. The Millennium Falcon wasn’t just a solid hunk of plastic shaped like the legendary spaceship, it was hollowed out, allowing the figures to inhabit space within the Falcon. You could have Luke manning the rotating laser turret while R2 and C3-PO continued to argue over a game of holographic chess. Just remove the lid, insert figures and play on! Again, this was a clever bit of toy engineering.

Look, kids! It's the Millennium Falcon Spaceship!
Look, kids! It’s the Millennium Falcon Spaceship!

By this time, Star Wars fever had hit completely and absolutely. Thanks to my father, I had a Star Wars t-shirt for every day of the week, an R2-D2 toothbrush, cup, plate, bowl…and a few other things I can’t quite remember. And then…things escalated. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back debuted, and the infectious fervor already expressed by my father subtly dipped into the red; a level of questionable escalation. I actually remember the first time I viewed The Empire Strikes Back. I remember this because my father and I were sitting in front of two people who already saw the film. At the time, I was unaware why my father turned around and gave those movie-goers a serious case of the Stink-Eye but apparently, they were recapping the entire film. My Dad, wanting to actually see the film WITHOUT any prior knowledge regarding its plot or characters (perish the thought), wasn’t about to have his experience spoiled…hence, the Stink-Eye.

So, what’s this escalation I’m speaking of? Well, shortly after the debut of The Empire Strikes Back, I spent a week in Cape May, NJ, with my mother and a few members of our extended family. When I returned…I returned to a veritable Star Wars cocoon. You see, as I vacationed, my father took this time to transform my bedroom into a Star Wars oasis. I remember walking into the room and being completely overwhelmed – with joy, of course – by the unbelievable amount of Star Wars decorations festooning the walls and, honestly, any other surface with the potential to be covered in Star Wars imagery. What did I see? The walls were filled with Star Wars character posters, each placed in perfectly measured distances from the other. The shelves, newly built and painted a deep blue, were not only purposed to hold items, but to display them as well. My room became an almost infinite diorama of Star Wars figures, vehicles and playsets. My bed? Oh yes, it was wrapped in an Empire Strikes Back blanket, Star Wars sheets and pillowcases. Curtains? Check; they were Star Wars, showing an X-Wing/TIE Fighter/ Millennium Falcon dog fight over a background of glistening nebulas and an especially imposing Death Star. This was it; my father had created his masterpiece. For my part, I was lucky enough to inhabit this marvelous space during a wondrous, science-fiction filled childhood.

And then Return of the Jedi hit, which meant new figures, toys, bowls, tablecloths, oven mitts, collector cups, posters, etc. Yes, the deluge continued, and my father and I were there to soak up the continuing narrative, the mythos, and a good portion of the accompanying product. Shortly after Return of the Jedi, I saw my interests change, and my Star Wars interest wane. My father, witnessing this (and due to a severe lack of forthcoming films), also experienced said waning. Our interest in sci-fi, collectively, was still present, but the galvanizing force behind this interest, a series of films that refocused a nation’s attitude towards the future, seemed to be dissipating.

Was this the end? Not completely. Star Wars was permanently nestled into the consciousness of the masses; a deeply rooted, shimmering anchor humming subtly in the backs of our minds. Product was still available, we still remembered and the legend still lived, but it wasn’t the spectacle it once was. Yes, we were granted a series of prequel movies, but they really didn’t hit the mark. Hmmm. Was Star Wars still relevant? Did this particular mythos still contain the power to inspire and instill within us a sense of our own personal greatness? Answer: YES!

Hello, 2015. It seems that you have something special for us, something we’ve been asking for, albeit unconsciously, for quite some time: another chapter of the Star Wars saga. But there’s something different about this one, an electricity in the air. The persons helming this particular chapter are approaching it from that same sense of collective awe shared by those of us who experienced the original trilogy. The story being told continues the events from Return of the Jedi, and the characters integral to those events are back to bring Star Wars before a new generation. There’s a gravity, a sense of importance; there’s a need for this, and we, you and I, are responding loudly and passionately.

It seems the galvanizing spirit of Star Wars still exists; it’s still a cultural phenomenon that permeates many, many aspects of our lives, regardless of age, color, creed, etc. I mean, is hope limited to these physical, small-minded demarcations? Heck no. So…I can say, with a higher degree of certainty, that Star Wars is back…and welcomed. Not convinced of its cultural significance?  Really? Well, the picture below might change your mind.

Learning with Star Wars!
Get your learnin’ on with help from Star Wars!

I mean…look at this (above)! We’re using the Star Wars mythos as a tool to teach our children! Look! Who better than C3-PO to teach English or Chewbacca – a very well-groomed Wookie – to teach the importance of hygiene? It’s here, folks. Star Wars is freaking HERE! It’s on the cup you drink from, on the poster hanging from your wall, and on the cooking apron you wear for each and every cookout. Star Wars is in your thoughts, your dreams and aspirations. You are molecularly composed of Star Wars with atoms shaped like X-Wings. You like to think you helped shape this phenomenon, that it was your dedication that created this universal success. Well, sorry, but you’re wrong… and powerless. You see, Star Wars shaped us; Star Wars was the stage from which we crafted our personalities and longings, and it’s preparing to affect us again in the very same manner.

Get ready, folks. Star Wars is back, and I’m putting my adulthood in a cardboard box, burying it deep in a murky swamp (because that’s where you literally bury figurative adulthood), holding the hands of my nephews and celebrating the resurrection of my childhood. I’m welcoming the return of hope born long ago in swirling, infinite galaxies that were never truly far away. It’s back, I’m back. YAY! Thank you, Star Wars.