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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

30 years of ‘Star Wars,’ and I feel old, and young

It’s the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. I feel old. I was eight that summer, so I’ll be 38 this summer. Which is better than the alternative (not getting any older at all), but still.

Millions of parsecs of virtual ink are being expended on the milestone, and there is much celebrating: tens of thousands of fans are gathering in Los Angeles, geeks are excited about the saga done up in Legos (now there’s a geeky mashup for you) and about the new Star Wars stamps. (I have to stop by the post office today, and I’ll probably buy some. Not to mail stuff with — who mails stuff anymore? — but to cover up some blank spots on the cover of my laptop.) Every possible angle on the anniversary is being exploited, from how fans live the Jedi philosophy and use the Force to how science is catching up to science fiction (hyperspace might be real! yippee!).
I feel like I, as a member of the Star Wars generation, should have something profound to say. But I don’t, and I wonder why. Perhaps because the Star Wars mythology has been so much a part of my life that it doesn’t feel distinct from any other deeply ingrained aspect of my life, like my atheism or my love of science. Or my love of movies. How do you talk about things that you so take for granted that you don’t even realize you take them for granted, like your gender or how many siblings you have or the attitudes with which you approach day-to-day living?

It sounds ridiculous when you say it like that, but this is the truth. Who I am has been shaped by:

• sitting in a dark movie theater when I was eight years old, and being scared to death by the Stormtroopers, who looked like skeletons to me, and by Darth Vader, who was like the boogeyman and the devil all in one

• playing with my brothers in the yard with our Star Wars toys, and how we had to play with the kid across the street we didn’t like very much because he had a Landspeeder and we only had figures, though it was cool that Mom let us freeze Han Solo in the top of the butter dish

• being convinced that I, too, could lift rocks with my mind, just like Luke on Dagobah, if only I tried hard enough

• staying up late at night as a kid reading the spinoff novels Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Han Solo at Stars’ End under the blankets with a flashlight because I was totally desperate to spend more time with Luke and Leia and Han

• waiting on line for hours with hundreds of other overexcited kids to see Return of the Jedi, and the near riot in the theater when the film got caught in the projector and burned up right in the middle of the speeder chase.

Perhaps the profound thing is that millions of people had the same experience as I did at just the right moment in our young lives for them to sear themselves into our memories. Our parents never got it and never will, no matter how tolerant or even indulgent they were of our obsession — my mother sat through The Empire Strikes Back with me for my second viewing of it, though she had less than no interest in it, because she knew I couldn’t get enough of it, and she was the only way an 11-year-old could get to a theater in our unwalkable suburbs. Our children will never get it, because they grew up knowing that Darth Vader is Luke’s father — like, duh! — and no matter how dedicated they are as fans, they will never experience the shock and the awe that accompanied that revelation. They will never experience the years of geeky speculation that went with Yoda’s cryptic announcement that “there is another.” And that’s their loss.

I think I’ll go watch the original trilogy again, and feel like a kid again.

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