Monday, January 25, 2016

How "Star Wars" changed the universe of my imagination

We finally caught up with most people and went and saw the new Star Wars movie last night. I enjoyed it very much; but this post isn't really about the movie--well, that movie, anyway.

One bright day, when I was eight years old, my mom told us "older kids" (and kids in big families know those divisions--the "older kids," the "younger kids," and that one kid in the middle who belongs to whichever group it best suits his present interests to be in) that Dad would be taking us out for a special treat. I ran upstairs and got dressed in the outfit that seemed the most suitable for a special event--my favorite dress, an ankle-length prairie dress of the sort that was popular in the 1970s, part "Holly Hobbie" (tm), part Laura Ingalls, and all, in the mind of an eight-year-old, awesome.

I remember now that Mom actually tried to talk me into putting on something a bit more casual than this dress which I usually wore to church, but she gave up; I was determined. To me, the dress reflected one of my current heroines: Laura Ingalls. I had moved on from an early diet of Nancy Drew mysteries to immerse myself in the books about Laura and her family, and even though the TV show wasn't all that much like the books I liked it too. The yellow paper covers of my Laura Ingalls books were already showing signs of wear, and I read them over and over again, sure that nowhere out there would be any kind of story capable of capturing my imagination quite so much.

I was wrong, and I was about to find that out.

The special treat Dad took us too that day was a trip to a movie theater, already a rare event (again, something kids from large families understand). As the previews ended and the lights dimmed, there was a sudden blare of stirring music, and across the screen the words began to rise: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

The movie was starting like a book, and not just any book; it was starting rather like a fairy tale. This was going to be good! (I do seem to remember one of my younger siblings, not yet an avid reader, whispering in disappointment to my dad, "Do we have to read the whole movie?" but perhaps I'm imagining that bit.)

A couple of hours later we all emerged blinking into the sunlight, and while I knew I'd just had an extraordinary experience, I had no idea that Star Wars had changed the universe of my imagination forever.  Soon, Laura Ingalls and Nancy Drew and all of my early heroes would have to scoot over on the bookshelf to make room for the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth; books by people like Elizabeth Marie Pope would be cherished as treasures, and a copy of the paperback novel version of The Empire Strikes Back would end up well-worn before we ever even got to see the second movie.

My love of imaginative fiction began in that dark theater that day, and so did my desire--my need--to create it. My brothers and sisters and I were acting out our own "Star Wars" based stories long before anybody had ever used the term "fan fiction," and though I didn't know it, my tendency to daydream about the characters and make up totally new and exciting adventures for them to experience was practice in the art of story-crafting that would come in handy in the decades that followed.  It's not an accident that the first publishable book I wrote is set in space--if anything, I wanted to write children's space fiction because I recalled my disappointment as a child that there was so little of it that was appropriate for an eight-year-old.

It's true that I never turned into a total Star Wars geek. I loved the first two movies (by which I, and most people my age, mean Episodes IV and V), but thought that the Ewoks in Episode VI were silly. By the time the prequels came out I ended up only seeing Episode I, and not being terribly impressed by it (and then, of course, there was Jar-Jar; enough said). I'd have to say that Episode VII was pretty good, overall--but, like I said, this post isn't really about that movie. Sitting there in the darkening theater last night, hearing that first triumphant burst of John Williams' now-famous theme, and watching the words begin to rise up on the screen, though, I had two thoughts: the first, that I am forever grateful for the way the first of these films gave a whole new scope to my imagination, and the second, that somewhere in some dark theater another child is thrilling to his or her first experience with this particular fictional universe, and will never be content to read or watch or create solely realistic fiction again, a thought that makes me smile.


Elizabeth said...

I was already an adult when Star Wars came out. My son was born in 1987, so we attended the reissued versions of the original trilogy in the 90s. My son was a complete SciFi and Fantasy geek, so he loved them all, ewoks and Jar-Jar included. Remember, these movies were made for 10-12 year olds. I've noticed that many people who were in that age range when the original movie came out were outraged by ewoks. Something about having matured, I think.

So we saw the new release right before Christmas. My joy was watching my son's face, and seeing in a 28 year old my little boy again. The same joy and excitement. Somehow he managed to hold on to the part of his inner child that adored ewoks and similar critters in spite of his maturity (he is no man-child).

I wonder, Erin, how much of the appeal to you as a girl was that Princess Leia was more than a helpless creature. She was pretty fearless, and a leader of the rebellion. JJ Adams hit the same note for young girls with his new heroine this time around.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Star Wars never really grabbed me. I remember the day I took a book off the shelf of the local public library at age 7 called Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein. I put it back on the shelf for some reason, but the title haunted me, and when I went to look for it two years later, I became a devoted fan of Robert Heinlein. That Heinlein wrote some silly stuff in his senile later years didn't faze me much, although I've never read Friday, regret having recently picked up The Cat Who Walked Through Walls at a used book store, and wasn't impressed with Stranger In A Strange Land. I added Asimov, Clarke, a bit of Simak. I liked the early Star Trek, but the "next generations" stuff just doesn't rate. I'm still re-reading the Narnia books, which I didn't run across until I was about 40 years old. I'm also writing an apocryphal tale of Narnia, but it can't be published before 2023. I know something C.S. Lewis never shared with the world, if indeed he knew it... how Susan was ultimately saved. Now that I've typed all this, I'm not sure if its because I feel a kindred spirit, or if I just took the opportunity to talk about myself.

There is a story I like to read every Christmas about a distant planet where people have a tradition of baking the walls for substantial outdoor Christmas castles, with battlements and windows (sugar glazed panes) and doors, decorated with elaborate frosted designs, to provide a stopping place for the Wandering Kings, searching among the stars for their Messiah, born but not yet found. Of course they leave toys for the children. Then the local fauna rely on the contents of the castles for food to survive the winter, especially several species that are essential to the farming ecology of the planet.

Anyway, those are the thoughts conjured up by reading Erin on Star Wars and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read all the Little House books as a child too.

MDiskin said...

...Was it the long red dress with the white pinafore? I had one, too. (And a doll, and a tea set, and matching nightgowns with my little sister.) I remember the difficulty of playing Red Rover in that dress, but doing it anyway, because that dress was the height of 2nd grade fashion!

Steve Perkins said...

Hi, Red! Glad to see you are still blogging. You may remember me from a past screen name...Magister Christianus. At any rate, thanks for this post. You and I hail from the same era. I remember being on the playground in 2nd grade playing dodgeball when one of my classmates ran up to me amidst a volley of red rubber balls and cried, "Even Darth Vader couldn't get us out of this!" I did not know who Darth Vader was then, but I did shortly after. As with you, the first two (Ep. IV & V) were the foundation and the Ewoks were silly Muppets. I did see I, II, and III and found them overblown with too much CGI and one of the worst acting jobs I have ever seen (Hayden Christiansen as Anakin). Our family watched the latest with geeky glee, and fortunately we saw it early in a theater with similarly minded people. There were shouts and fist pumps as references to the original films appeared on screen.

On another note, you will appreciate this as a fellow fan of Alexander Pope. This past summer, 2015, I was in a rare bookstore in Pennsylvania. I looked at a bookshelf and nearly passed out. There were the six volumes of Pope's Iliad translation from the first year of its publication, 1715...300 years ago. I was able to hold one of them, take pictures of it, take pictures of me holding, and basically fulfill a lifelong dream. If I had had six grand in my pocket, I would have left with the set.

Red Cardigan said...

Elizabeth, you're probably right! I still love Leia for that: she's not an unrealistic female hero (e.g., she's not capable of taking down six or seven strong men all by herself, like so many heroines today), but she is definitely still a hero, not a helpless ornament.

MDiskin, actually it was a handmade dress sort of based on that style (but it did have a pinafore!) My sisters and I each had one, and my first grade teacher (who was a nun) sewed the matching bonnets. Yes, there were bonnets (but I didn't wear mine to the movie). :)

Steve! Magister! Good to "see" you! It seems our tastes in Star Wars match up, and the Pope books--wow! What an amazing thing to see.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I've never heard that any person or culture in the Star Wars series practices any kind of religion. Oh, I know, there is "The Force," but that's rather impersonal. Its an interesting question when writing fiction about a future culture, or one light years distant. If you make them all Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or whatever, it may come off as laughably Terracentric. If you make up a whole new religion for the scenario, it implies that the religions we have on earth are merely cultural expressions, not manifestations of universal truth. Many writers, perhaps wisely, simply don't address the subject of religion. As a matter of fact, except for a brief reference toward the end of "The Last Battle," C.S. Lewis doesn't mention any religious practice by the human characters when they are on earth -- nothing about going to church, etc., and the interactions with Aslan are too up close and personal to be considered worship. When "Avatar" came out, some critiqued it as pagan. Well, there is this planetary deity, if you can call her a deity, but if its a material force that actually impacts life on a single planet, and has no reach beyond that, then its not really a deity at all, even if it does have a name and a personality. I really must get around to reading some Tales of Telmaja soon -- I'm dying to know how Erin deals with that.