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.