The last thing the galaxy needs is another nerdy boy talking about how much he loves "Star Wars."
Given the pervasiveness of George Lucas' master creation in popular culture, it's not inherently interesting that I'm a fanboy of the space saga. I'm not under any guise that loving "Star Wars" is some rare trait that I can personally claim as only my own. I'm really just another Jar-Jar hating, "Empire Strikes Back" worshipping geek in a colossal crowd of Jedi wannabes.
But even if you don't like "Star Wars," you have some working knowledge of its lore. Even my Mom, who claims to know nothing about the franchise, has repeatedly referred to me as a "young Jedi" throughout my life. This is because the story of "Star Wars" is universal. We all know it, which is perhaps the key element to the franchise's continued success.
"Star Wars" is about fathers and sons, families both biological and self-made, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Any storyteller or causal moviegoer could tell you that none of these themes are particularly groundbreaking. But we feel that way because of "Star Wars," because countless movies and television shows in the 40 years since its release have copied its formula. And sure, "Star Wars" famously copies the formula of "Flash Gordon" serials from the 1950s, but there's no such thing as a new story.
You know what also isn't groundbreaking? The idea of a young man's life being altered by this fictional story that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But you don't have to use a Jedi mind trick to get me to tell you how much "Star Wars" means to me. George Lucas changed me with a silly little space opera that featured a walking carpet and something called "the Force."
I am who I am because a man sat his stepson in front a television in 1997 and watched the "Star Wars" Trilogy Special Edition VHS tapes with him. That's how my Star Wars story also became a story of fathers and sons. It's a story about how easy it can be for a father to disappoint a son, and how that son has to rise above his father to be a better man than he was.
Some of my earliest memories are of movies. I watched "Toy Story" in my parents' bedroom and ate vanilla wafers while they sold our home during their divorce. Weekends at my grandparents' house meant watching the original Indiana Jones trilogy and subconsciously falling in love with Harrison Ford.
I discovered "Star Wars" in a small apartment in Birmingham, Michigan when I was five. My mom moved us there after she and my dad split up. Her boyfriend, who later became my stepfather and then even later became my ex-stepfather, bought me those Special Edition VHS tapes as my introduction to the movies he grew up loving. I couldn't tell you about the very first time I watched Episodes IV-VI; for some reason those particular memories haven't stuck with me. But almost 20 years of obsession and appreciation speak to their impact.
I owned a toy Millennium Falcon. You could remove a section of its top and place action figures inside. Then you could unhook a panel in the floor and hide figures inside that, just like Luke, Han, and company did when the Falcon was pulled into the Death Star's tractor beam in Episode IV. As someone whose playtime was strictly ruled by a story's particulars, this was very important to me. I even insisted on having two toy speeder bikes from Episode VI because in the movie, Luke and Leia are chased through the forest of Endor by multiple speeders and to faithfully recreate the scene, I needed to have at least two.
I also had three lightsabers. They were red, green, and blue. My stepdad and I would turn all the lights off in the basement (that he himself had finished into my bedroom and playroom) and duel. It was a real good vs. evil scenario -- the dark side of the force against the light.
The man who introduced me to "Star Wars," who was there with me the first time I saw each "Star Wars" movie released so far, is no longer my stepdad. I haven't spoken to him in nearly eight years. For all I know, he could be spinning off into space in a rouge TIE fighter. Gone, but not defeated.
But in May of 1999 he was walking with me towards the old movie theater in the downtown area of the city we lived in. The theater where we saw "The Phantom Menace" was large to seven-year-old me. In my memory, it has box seats and velvet curtains, but that very well could be an embellishment I've added with age. If he hated Episode I, as I have grown to, he didn't show it. At the time I loved it, a continuation of a saga I loved but now made for my generation. This was my chance to feel like my stepdad felt when he saw Episode IV in 1977. I was too bedazzled by the visuals and the emotional weight I brought into the theater to notice that the movie was truly terrible.
When Episode II was released in 2002, my stepdad and I went to see it together. This time a few of my neighborhood friends tagged along, but I still insisted on sitting next to my stepdad, the man who had brought these movies into my life.
By 2005, I had moved to Indiana and my mom and stepdad were divorced. Though they had spilt, he also moved to Indiana to be near my brother, his biological son, and me. The day Episode III was released, he picked me up early from middle school and we went to see it together. At the time I believed it was going to be the last new "Star Wars" film I'd ever see. I also knew it was the last time I would see a "Star Wars" film with the man who was no longer legally my stepdad, but felt as much of a father to me as anyone I'd ever known. Only one of these feelings would prove to be true.
Later that year, my ex-stepfather would put me in a position where I had to pack up my things from his house, pick up my seven- year-old brother in my arms, leave his home, and run toward my mom, who was parked in the driveway. It seems trivial now, but as a 13-year-old it felt like the bravest thing I'd ever done.
That was the end of our relationship. I had occasional contact with him afterward, but I was done accepting the way he treated my mother – basically using my brother and I as pawns to attack and hurt her. The man who I called dad before he even married my mom, the same man who introduced me to Luke Skywalker, was no longer a part of my life.
It's hard to miss the parallels here. The man who I called dad left me. Granted, he didn't leave me stranded on a desert planet as a baby to work on my aunt and uncle's moisture farm, but it still felt pretty terrible. I've felt his absence ever since. He's saddled me with a clichéd emotional issue that I will, in some capacity, feel for the rest of my life.
Two years passed and then I met Chris. He wouldn't legally become my stepdad until he married my mom five years after they started dating, but he's been a father to me since the day that I met him.
And who could have guessed it? He likes "Star Wars," too.
When Chris moved into our house, I started watching his "Star Wars" DVDs because he owned the higher quality widescreen editions. (Mine were those dreadful full-screen editions that some unknowing family member bought me by mistake.) Chris was there with me when Lucasfilm released the first teaser trailer for "The Force Awakens" in November 2014. We watched it together on the biggest TV in our house. We were also together to watch the full-length trailer released this past October. When my family goes to Disney World and we ride Star Tours over and over again, he's the guy I grin at while we walk through the queue and watch an animatronic C-3PO talk to the people waiting in line.
(Side note: In 2009 my high school choir got to perform in "Star Wars: In Concert" with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Anthony Daniels, who's played the droid C-3PO in each "Star Wars" film. You haven't lived until you've stood in a dressing room and listened to Daniels tell you the story of "Star Wars" firsthand.)
On paper, Chris and I don't seem to have much in common. He's an excellent wood worker and he coaches my brother's high school lacrosse team. The closest I've ever come to engaging with a sporting event was when they debuted "The Force Awakens" trailer during Monday Night Football. I'm also useless with tools, so Chris is who I call when the sink in my apartment clogs because I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. But when big summer blockbusters get released, he's the guy I see them with. Sitting in the IMAX theater in my hometown with Chris and seeing movies like "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Edge of Tomorrow," and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," I've made some pretty spectacular father and son memories. On December 19th at 7:30pm, I get to make another of those IMAX memories with him.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is the first "Star Wars" movie I'll be seeing with Chris and not with the man who used to be my stepdad. It sounds like no big deal, and attempting to hold back tears when I explain that to people seems sillier every time I have to do it. It's just a movie, right? It may not even be a good movie.
But I've never been more excited for a movie in my life.
I try not to hold on to much baggage from my ex-stepfather. But maybe seeing "The Force Awakens" will be my final goodbye, my last thanks to him. Thanks for introducing me to this space saga that's shaped the way I write and the way I value storytelling. Thanks for giving me a passion for something I now get to share with the most loyal, generous, and loving man I know.
He may be a little short for a stormtrooper, but when the lights dim and John Williams' score blasts me into a hyperspace of nostalgic emotion, Chris is the only guy I want in the seat next to mine.