Sometimes symmetry presents itself as if planned. Chance occurrences seem poetic, intelligently designed, and for a while, a belief in, say, a mystical Force arises, if only fleetingly. Like when you see both the first and the last movies in the Star Wars saga alone, all by yourself, 43 years apart. And you’re overwhelmed by it all, awash in memory, feeling both grief and gratitude, longing and relief. The onward crush of time relents for a few moments. Ghosts hover. You’re a mess in the Best Buy parking lot is what you are.
I saw the first Star Wars movie – A New Hope – alone in an Atlanta theater in the summer of 1977. I was 12, arguably the perfect age for it to have maximum impact. I was sensitive, a fan of fantasy and sci fi. Bookish, a budding romantic. Fatherless. In short, it was made for me. I would never again look at something with such a strong conviction of: that’s MINE.
I’d been intrigued by the all-black posters in the theater for months prior. They simply proclaimed: “… a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” No photos. Ingenious. My mom, Mary Lucchese, and her boyfriend came home after seeing it, raving, just out of their minds over it. So the next day, I rode my bike about 3 miles to Loew’s Tara cinema in cutoffs, and sat in the front row of a packed house.
In the same way Baby Boomers talk about everything being different after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, my world was changed when I stumbled back into my timeline, blinking against the Georgia summer sun. My molecules rearranged.
It’s not overstating it to say Star Wars offered me much of what I sense religion offers to the faithful: a story that articulates connectedness, a sense of destiny, of Fate, of someone watching over you, guiding you; a sense that you’re part of a story so vast you cannot comprehend it, but if you “trust your feelings” and act honorably and selflessly, it will reveal itself. And if you push through fear and hatred, interesting friends will come to your aid. Indeed, they will save you in ways your blood family cannot. Fortune favors the bold. Tyranny will never last. Death is painful, but not final.
I bought it all. Now that I have lived, I don’t buy it all. But some of it actually still resonates as true.
In the ensuing 43 years, the arc of my life would ensue. I would never miss a Star Wars movie in a theater. Early on, there was no choice, no VHS market yet. But even when video was an option, I insisted on walking into the darkened cathedral of the theater to experience the films as CINEMA.
I would see the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with friends, girlfriends. I would become a musician and an actor, I would leave home to find my life, my own interesting friends and enemies, and meet challenges seen and unseen, within and without. I would read Star Wars novelizations and geek out over the mythology with fellow fans, and annoy non-fans to no end. I would complain about George Lucas’ shortcomings, and watch as the various actors’ lives played out. To me, no matter where their careers took them, the stars from the original trilogy would always be Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, Lando, Vader, etc. It seems amazing and almost mystical that Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) held on (pretty much) for the final installment, The Rise of Skywalker, which I just walked out of at the Albany Crossgates Mall.
I saw the dreadful “prequels” with friends. We shared an ecstasy of indignation over their dreadfulness. This coincided with my time as a New Yorker, and my early years of parenthood. One of my now 22-year-old son Jack’s earliest memories is seeing Attack of the Clones with me. (Yes, it was a Parenting Mistake to take a 4-year-old.)
The JJ Abrams reboot/continuation of the saga has transpired in what I hope is my middle age, which is happening in the Catskills, and which is where my wife and I co-raised our son, who grew up with the Star Wars mythology. VHS tapes, DVDs, even a couple bootlegs. We would even watch the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special on YouTube and force hapless Thanksgiving guests to watch it with us. Interestingly, the previous inhabitants of the house we bought in which to raise him – an intact family of father, mother and three grown daughters – were also Star Wars fans. They gifted us with a Star Wars Monopoly set, on which I would teach my son to play Monopoly (and frequently be legit beaten by him).
When The Force Awakens came out in 2015, we were there as a family, at the Kingston Mall. The feeling of my then 17-year-old son expectantly and tenderly watching my face in the darkened theater is one of my dearest memories.
In the 2019 holiday time lead-up to the release of The Rise of Skywalker, Jack was home from college, and my mom was visiting. Although Jack and I successfully watched all 8 Star Wars movies in sequence over several days, prepping for Episode 9, we couldn’t find time to get to a theater to watch the new one together. Suffice to say a lot was going on. He headed back to finish his senior year of film school, and weeks passed. The movie left our local mall. I become consumed once again with my day-to-day life. Working money gigs, traveling, making music, worrying, planning, writing, hoping myself into exhaustion.
But today, a quick scan of technology my 12-year-old self would’ve thought very Star Wars told me The Rise of Skywalker is playing in Albany, about 90 minutes from my home.
Seemingly fatefully, I have a rare night open. So, just like 43 years ago, I don’t hesitate. I text Jack to tell him I’m going. No one else. And I don’t take the time to invite anyone to go with me.(I can’t think of anyone who would’ve said yes.) I just put all my chores and to-do lists on hold and head north to sit in stadium seating in the multiplex with four other folks and take it all in. Quite different than the summer of ‘77. But close enough.
Not gonna lie. I wept. Sat to the absolute end of the credits, teary eyed. The years compressed, and I thought of so many people I’ve farewelled. People I wish I could talk to about the movie, and geek out with. But I also realize with intense clarity how fortunate I am. At 12, I did not yet know what I wanted to be when I grew up. But I knew I wanted love, family, and a conviction I could take care of people who needed me, and they, in turn, would look out for me. And I have those things. As much as I’ve often convinced myself otherwise, some kind of Force, it seems, is with me after all.
At least tonight, in the Best Buy parking lot.
P.S. The movie is really good.
P.P.S: May the Force Be with You