I owe my love of Star Wars, along with almost all other appreciation of science fiction and fantasy, to my Mum. Born in the Eighties, I grew up in the Nineties, playing X-Wing and TIE Fighter and wishing every Christmas that Santa would bring me a Kenner Millennium Falcon. I remember the day that my Mum bought the VHS boxset, explaining that Star Wars had been a huge part of her childhood. I remember us all sitting down as a family to watch the films through over one weekend. I remember thinking, as my Mum had a couple of decades before, that lightsabers were the coolest things ever.
It was Star Wars that gave me comfort growing up. It was pure escapism — a universe stuffed with archetypes that my young brain could connect with, and well-worn stories that I could follow with ease. There’s much about Star Wars that is clichéd and lacking in originality, but I didn’t care as a kid, and I still don’t now. That universe, those characters, they gave me a home away from home, tales of lives lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
I remember going to see The Phantom Menace when I was twelve. I won’t lie, I loved it. Jar-Jar was more annoying than funny, but I was watching Ewan MacGregor and Liam Neeson and Jake Lloyd. I hadn’t quite reached the age where child characters are dismissed with a roll of the eyes, and I was young enough to imagine myself in his shoes, at the levers of a racing pod. Of course, then the arcade game of Episode One: Pod Racer popped up in cinemas, bowling alleys and arcades everywhere, and I didn’t have to imagine any more. The Phantom Menace also had the best villain in the striking, snarling Zabrak apprentice — Darth Maul. I remember jumping for joy when Jedi Academy finally let you muck about with a double-bladed lightsaber.
I don’t detest the newer films the way that some do, though I do rather think that Haydn Christensen, not Jar-Jar Binks, is the worst thing to happen to Star Wars in recent memory. His emotional acting looks more like constipation than anguish. I realise that those two things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but you get my drift. It took three well-respected actors to get Darth Vader right in the original films. Anakin deserved better than a plank of wood. Nonetheless, I still watch the prequels every year alongside the classic movies, and I enjoy myself greatly. The strength of Star Wars has so often been the little things, the details, what’s going in the background. The camera can only be in one place at a time, but there’s so much more to the Universe than just what we can see.
I was already an avid reader, but I plunged into the Extended Universe with gleeful abandon after seeing the first three films. My Mum had bought all of the books that she could, and I delighted in the thrilling possibilities of transmedia. Granted, the EU has some duds (*cough* Darksaber *cough*), but it gave us Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, we got to see Han Solo grow up on Corellia and then fight for the love of his life on Hapes, Luke fell in love with a computer, the Emperor turned young Skywalker to the Dark Side, we got to ride shotgun with Wedge and the rest of Rogue Squadron.
Speaking of which, Star Wars is an IP that has given some of my favourite games. From the heady days of X-Wing and TIE Fighter, to likes of Star Wars: Rebellion. The first PC FPS I played wasn’t Doom or Quake or Wolfenstein, it was Dark Forces. I loved the way it had about three recorded lines of speech, one of which hits you the moment you step out of the lift in the first level and an Imperial Officer spots you and mutters, ‘You Rebel scum!’ just before you blast him in the face.
Knights of the Old Republic is, to this day, quite possibly my favourite video game of all time. I mean it changes… on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays it’s Grim Fandango. But BioWare’s fantastic RPG gave me something I’d always wanted: a chance to live out my own story in the Star Wars Universe. And what a story it was. Looking back, it’s all too easy to pick out the massive signposts that foreshadow the game’s twist. But when I played it through for the first time I had no idea, and when it came it hit me in the same way that the twists in The Usual Suspects and Primal Fear and The Sixth Sense (I managed to watch that film without having it spoiled!) hit me — with jaw-dropping shock.
Star Wars helped to fashion my identity growing up. It helped me connect with friends, which in turn helped me to embrace being a geek at a time when such a thing was nowhere near as popular and mainstream as it is now. Star Wars, along with Star Trek (BBC 2, 6:45 PM, straight after The Simpson and The Fresh Prince), opened the door to a huge genre of fiction across multiple mediums that still amazes and dazzles me to this day.
Finally, as my girlfriend likes to remind me frequently, Star Wars is part of the reason we got together in the first place. Our pop cultural backgrounds are so very different, and as much as differences can make for decent matches, I’ll admit that a part of me worried right at the start about what we’d have to talk about and how our varied interests might align. I remember a rather tipsy conversation at a house party where my jaw had just dropped in disbelief at the blank stare I’d received at the name Indiana Jones. I couldn’t really fathom it. Surely everyone’s seen Raiders? my sozzled brain argued. So I went for broke.
‘If I said the name Chewbacca would that mean anything to you?’
She’s never let me live that one down. We’ve been together just over two years now. One of the first things we bought together was a LEGO tabletop strategy game titled The Battle Of Hoth. I love her more than anything.
But Star Wars comes a close second. May the Fourth be with you.