You have heard a little something about a new Star Wars movie being released today. While The Force Awakens conquers theaters, we thought we’d examine how this scifi franchise has conquered the world—by discussing what Star Wars means to each of us. Please, add your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
Rob Bricken: Let’s begin by explaining how and when we first became aware of Star Wars.
Personally, one of my earliest memories was seeing Empire Strikes Back in theaters—not in 1980, but a couple years after, when it was replaying prior to Return of the Jedi.
I must have somehow seen the first Star Wars movie before I went there, but it feels more like I came preprogrammed with it.
Star Wars was always part of my childhood—something so omnipresent that it was a while before I discerned what made it special from stuff like He-Man and GI Joe.
Germain Lussier: I was born in 1980, so my first memories of Star Wars are playing with the toys: My parents hiding the Millennium Falcon behind a chair. Sitting in the snow with Hoth action figures. Those are MY memories.
My mom tells a story that, when I was two-years-old, Star Wars came on TV. She was exhausted after a day of me running around, put it on, sat me down, and fell asleep. She says she woke up two hours later and I hadn’t moved. I was just staring at the TV. She knew I was hooked.
I didn’t see them in the theaters until the 1997 special editions, but by then I was such an obsessed fan, I bought tickets in advanced and lined up for good seats. I had multiple versions on VHS and all that by then.
Cheryl Eddy: My parents took me to see it in 1977. It was my second movie after The Wizard of Oz (I was born in 1975). I don’t remember it, but I do remember seeing a man dressed in a Darth Vader costume in the mall and being TERRIFIED.
Katharine Trendacosta: I know exactly what it was: my parents took me to see the special edition in theaters when I was nine. After, we stopped by a video rental place and picked up the next two.
Rob: Katharine, how aware at all were you of Star Wars before that?
Katharine: None aware. I was really into Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Narnia instead.
Charlie Jane Anders: I was already a Doctor Who and Star Trek fan when I discovered Star Wars, but it was still a huge big deal to me.
James Whitbrook: I was born in the wilderness years of Star Wars—1991, just as the expanded universe was taking form. So while I had this vague understanding of the saga from a very young age, my first true experience was similar to Katharine’s.
My parents, who’d both seen the originals in theaters, took us to see the special editions in 1997. I was pretty much hooked from that moment on, seeing the next two, getting the videotape collection in that shiny golden box for Christmas... and toys. Some of my earliest memories of the series were defined by those hyper-muscular Hasbro/Kenner figures.
Rob: What were everyone’s feelings about Star Wars prior to the prequels?
Katharine: I always describe it like this: Star Wars was my first fandom. Star Trek was my best fandom.
Germain: Ha ha, that’s great, Katharine.
James: I had no idea that the original movies and the prequels were at all separate things as a kid. It was crazy hearing that these were films my parents had seen when they were younger, and yet there were MORE coming!? It amazed me more than anything else.
Cheryl: I loved it, even though I was extremely annoyed by the changes in the special editions.
Germain: I’ve been obsessed from as long as I can remember, but the prequels shot it to a whole other level for me.
Rob: I had enjoyed Star Wars immensely as a kid, then kind of put it away when I hit middle-school high—partially because nothing much was happening after Return of the Jedi.
It was the beginning of the Expanded Universe in 1991 that pulled me back a little, although none of the stories really grabbed me. But they primed me for the rearrival of the toys in 1995, which took over my life.
I had such powerful nostalgia for these dumb action figures it was like I was 40 instead of 18.
Charlie Jane: I barely paid attention to Phantom Menace until it was in theaters.
I had just moved to the Bay Area and a theater was showing Phantom Menace, and I was like, “Oh, there’s a new Star Wars.” I knew nothing about the plot or anything else before I went into the theater, and then I slowly realized what I was watching.
Germain: CJ, how did you miss all the hype?
Charlie Jane: Well, it was 1999, and the internet was less intense. I was watching Deep Space Nine obsessively, so I must have seen ads, but it just passed me by.
James: I was still so young that, like Katharine: the source of information for me was magazines or TV shows. My first vivid memory of Episode One was this morning talk show in the UK on Channel 4, called The Big Breakfast. We always had it on before we’d head out to school, and one morning the show a trailer for a new Star Wars movie... and there were all these splindly droids, tanks rolling over green plains, Lightsabers...
As someone at that point already hooked, I was sold. Who didn’t want more Star Wars at that point? How was that even possible?
Germain: I literally went to a theater just to see The Phantom Menace trailer. It was with Meet Joe Black and it was playing before and after. So I jumped around to see it about four times.
Katharine: I remember being told that Jar Jar would be a standout character.
Katharine: They were technically correct.
Rob: So prior to The Force Awakens, where would you consider Star Wars on your personal pantheon of nerdiness?
Charlie Jane: Prior to Disney buying Lucasfilm, I mostly thought of Star Wars nostalgically, although I did enjoy Clone Wars. It was definitely below Doctor Who for me, after Who started up again in 2005, which was the same time that Star Wars and Star Trek sort of ended.
Germain: It’s #1, always. Nothing has ever come close for me.
Which is odd, though, because being a Star Wars nerd is like being the most basic, simple nerd ever. It’s almost embarrassing because it’s so obvious; it’s like being a New York Yankees fan. But Star Wars has always been my favorite.
James: After Revenge of the Sith, I assumed Star Wars had basically ended, and I thought that was a chapter of my life that was mainly done. So I let another dark mistress into my fan-life: Doctor Who.
Charlie Jane: ha
James: For a good decade or so, I’d say I prioritized my love of Doctor Who over Star Wars, but Star Wars was a very, very close second, even in that period where there wasn’t really anything going on.
Rob: It’s weird for me, because I technically get more passionate about He-Man, although I think that’s mainly because no one else ever cares about He-Man and I’m always trying to explain why it’s so great. Obviously Star Wars never needs that; even non-fans get why people are fans of it.
But that said, I can’t imagine life without Star Wars. I really can’t imagine me without Star Wars. I may not live and breathe the books and comics and all the nitty-gritty anymore, I may not think about it every day or watch the movies every six months or so anymore, but it just feels like it’s an intrinsic part of my world.
I still know more about Star Wars than I do about most of my family members, sadly.
Cheryl: I think it’s #1 for me, too. I like a lot of stuff more that isn’t necessarily nerdy but in the pantheon of nerd, it’s my #1.
Katharine: Below Star Trek, above everything else.
Rob: What do you believe makes Star Wars so special in general, and so special to you in particular?
James: What amazes me, is that even though we’ve all said that there’s been times where we move away from an active engagement in it, we all still rate it as one of our biggest fandoms, if not the biggest.
I think that is partly what makes Star Wars such a magical phenomenon—once it’s touched you, it never really leaves. It creates this shared experience with other people that’s kept it relevant for decades and decades
Cheryl: I love quoting Star Wars as part of that shared experience. So many quotes for every occasion.
Germain: It’s so, so many things. But the more I really think about it, it’s because it’s a universe that I can almost live in. I can play with the toys, put up the posters… even when I’m not watching the movie, I’m still engaging with the movie.
I don’t dress up or anything, but Star Wars is almost everywhere I look at all times—that just ingrains it into you.
Rob: For me, it’s almost a security blanket. Whether I’m 18 or 38, if I see something cool and Star Wars-related, I can be just as excited and interested as I was as a kid, and the older I get the more special that feeling is.
I mean, I’ve been a pretty passive Star Wars fan for this last decade, and I was so crushed by the prequels that I don’t even own them on DVD. But somehow The Force Awakens has me as giddy as I was before The Phantom Menace, despite me very clearly remembering how that worked out.
Katharine: Star Wars has such a low barrier to entry, in comparison to the other things we’ve mentioned.
James: What’s made my love of it endure is that because it’s managed to be so prevalent throughout the past 40 years, it’s become part of so many people’s childhoods. You’ve got people who saw A New Hope as kids, fans who saw the special editions and the prequels as kids, you’ve got kids who came to it through Clone Wars, and there are gonna be kids who come to it through Rebels and The Force Awakens.
Katharine: For all we talked about the expanded materials, you could just know the movies—and only the original three—and still be a huge Star Wars fan.
Germain: Or even just the first film.
Katharine: True, Germain.
James: It’s almost like a fable or a fairy tale. Star Wars is a story that it seems like everyone has grown up on, to some degree or another.
Rob: Yes. So Star Wars fans of all generations can see that in each other, and share their fandom together. All that said, though, I think I’d be just as much a crazy fan if none of you guys gave a shit.
Like, I’m not into Star Wars because it brings me together with people. It’s just something that speaks to me personally, maybe fundamentally. That other people are equally bonkers about it is nice, certainly. But even after the prequels, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped feeling like I’d like to live in that universe.
Germain: Rob, I agree with you, but sharing it just makes it that much more exciting.
Katharine: I will reiterate that no one in my life cared about Star Wars. Maybe my dad.
James: Growing up with Star Wars is a very personal thing. Not many of my friends liked it, so it was something that I only really shared with myself and my brother. It became very insular for a while, something I could seek comfort in.
But I think the fact that it’s so shareable now is what makes it even more special to me.
Germain: It’s also just so insanely filled with imagination. Every single inch of every frame is filled with something interesting.
Like, Jabba’s Palace has stuff in it that makes my mind melt. Stuff that has nothing technically to do with the movies.
James: Because so many people come to the series as children, there’s a comfort you can find in Star Wars that you can rarely find in anything else that’s on the same sort of scale and scope.
Germain: Watching the movies is totally a fountain of youth. You just instantly go back to that first time you saw them. You can see them a million times but just pop one on and it all floods back. It just taps into this wonder inside all of us. The adventure, the creatures, this universe.
Katharine: Star Wars is a universe, so you can always find things for yourself in it.
Star Trek, which I love, is definitely more of an ethos, which makes it less appealing.
Rob: Nicely put, Katharine
James: I think because there’s that fantastical edge to it. Star Wars is something that sits in your heart, rather than your head, primarily. I mean, I think about Star Wars, I can look at it critically and analyze what works and what doesn’t—but regardless I still have this groundswell of emotion about it, that’s connected to all these memories, that overrides the thinking part of my brain.
Rob: One more thing before we wrap up. If there was one Star Wars moment that will stick with you forever, from a movie or from a game or a book or one of the TV shows, what is it?
Germain: Han Solo getting frozen in carbonite. Your favorite character is frightfully taken out of the mix by two of the coolest villains ever, just as he and the princess fall in love. It’s jarring, but it’s beautiful and oh so cool.
Katharine: It’s going to be Yoda saying, “There is another.”
For two reasons: 1) That was a mystery that I genuinely had to know the answer to immediately, and was the moment that I realized I wanted to know everything about this world.
2) Immediately after we watched the movie, my mother turned to my dad and said “He’s talking about Leia, right?” and my dad looked at me and my brother, and then looked at her and went “SHHHHHHHH”
Pretty much my family in a nutshell, right there.
Rob: I could pick about eight moments from Empire Strikes Back with the rest of you, but I’m going to choose the Cantina scene from A New Hope. Seeing all those creatures in there—many of them aliens which were just humans with their faces painted a la Star Trek—blew my mind. It really showed that Star Wars was a universe beyond what we were seeing, that it encompassed pretty much anything and anyone.
Cheryl: “I love you.” “I know.” Han Solo was definitely my first celebrity crush.
Charlie Jane: Hmm. Probably the scene where Luke goes into that cave and hits Darth Vader with his lightsaber... to reveal that Darth Vader has Luke’s face.
James: I think for me, it’ll always be Luke staring out at the twin suns in A New Hope.
It’s the ultimate expression of wanderlust that defines Star Wars. He’s looking out onto the horizon, dreaming of being somewhere else, anywhere else. It’s optimistic and full of hope, but there’s this strange sadness to it that aches in my heart every time I hear it.
Such a mix of pure emotion, combined with that feeling of a huge galaxy out there beyond those two suns, that pretty much nails the magic of the entire saga for me.