I’ve loved movies as long as I can remember. Before I could read, I had amassed a collection of videos that I could identify, simply by the design of the text printed over the tape’s surface.
I have a handful of vivid memories of those movies that had a particularly lasting impact on me, from Buzz and Woody’s awe inspiring flight at the end of Toy Story to Heath Ledger’s terrifying reveal as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. These memories have lived with me. They have shaped me.
Of this group, there is one memory that stands far above the rest.
I was about 5 years old, and I had grown particularly fond of the podracing Nintendo 64 game, Star Wars Episode 1: Racer. Like most kids, I was obsessed with racing games like Mario Kart, but there was something special about this one. Seeing these sleek, high-tech vehicles race through the desert had some sort of hypnotic effect on me. I was hooked. I needed more.
I was too young at the time to see The Phantom Menace in theaters, but when it finally landed on VHS, my parents were quick to rent a copy for me to watch at home. I popped the tape into my cassette player and sat back, unaware of how my life was about to change.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”
Suddenly, I was transported. Everything around me went dark as the large yellow letters, “STAR WARS” engulfed the screen, and the iconic John Williams score boomed through my living room. The crawl text continued to scroll. I did not comprehend a single word. I was overwhelmed. I had never felt anything quite like it, but I knew that it was special.
And that was just the first 30 seconds. It only got better from there, as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi entered, wielding magical “laser swords” that were unlike anything I had ever seen. I had no idea what a lightsaber was, but I was convinced that it was the coolest thing ever (honestly, I still feel this way and probably always will).
Over 2 hours of action, mysticism, and humor that was perfectly catered to 5 year old Raj. I loved seeing my video game come to life in the forever incredible podracing sequence. I was captivated by the menacing Darth Maul and his two sided lightsaber. I was enamored with Jar Jar Binks, simply because his name was mine backwards…and twice. I worshiped the droids, creatures, Jedi, and The Force.
It sparked a sense of imagination and creativity in me that I had never felt before. I purchased lightsabers of every color and reenacted the battles with whatever friends and family I could convince. And when they said no, I had action figures that I could use to recreate my favorite scenes on my own.
I acted as if I had The Force, and tried to move things by sticking my hand out. It instilled in me the willingness to believe in something grander than what the world had shown me, an idea that I still, to this day, carry into each of my creative endeavors.
All of this and I had no idea at the time that there were 3 other movies out in the world that had been released 20 years prior. It wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 when I was introduced to the original trilogy, and my fascination morphed into an obsession.
I will admit now that I was one of those kids who hated older movies. Even with Star Wars, I was hesitant to watch movies from the 70s and 80s. But thinking back on it now, I’m glad I caved and watched them, because I think this is when my love for the franchise really crystallized.
The magic, the allure of the galaxy far, far away was more potent than ever. Admittedly, I even watched the movies out of order. The Empire Strikes Back was the first of the original trilogy that I watched. I was even more spellbound this time than before. Maybe it was the practical creatures and settings that made the viewings more immersive, maybe it was the greatest movie villain of all time, Darth Vader, dominating each scene he was in, or maybe it was just the storytelling, which amazed me with visuals and ideas that surprised and amazed me at every turn. I can’t quite pinpoint a particular reason, but something about the experience was religious, life changing even.
By this point, the entire prequel trilogy had been released, and most of my cousins had at least been introduced to the franchise. One summer, every time we got together as a group, we watched at least one of the Saga films (again, out of order). It became a bonding experience, on top of the personal relationship that I had already developed with the films.
I very clearly remember watching Revenge of the Sith for the first time at a cousin’s house and staying up all night talking about the movie and having invisible lightsaber fights. It was a pivotal stretch of time at a defining point in my life.
But that, of course, was the end of the story at the time. I experienced what those who lived through the original trilogy felt in 1983, disappointment that it had all come to an end. And in 2005, we definitely did not think there would ever be a new Star Wars film.
They had told Luke’s story. They had told Anakin’s story. The prequels had connected the two series together. That was that. I was not ready to leave it. I even tried to get into comics and books from the extended universe, but nothing came close to filling the void that the end of the movies left.
So, as you’d expect from a pre-teen/teenager with a desperately short attention span, as the franchise faded, so did my love. As other things like sports and video games came to the forefront, Star Wars drifted to the back of my mind.
And of course, with this distance came some clarity (or maybe just cynicism). I began to see the prequels — the movies that just years prior felt “life changing” — as lesser. As an immature middle and high schooler, I was critical of the acting, dialogue, and characters, as if I even knew what that meant. I had turned my back on something I loved so much.
I’m sure a lot of this was also due to peer pressure, on top of my own naivete. Seeing those around me bashing these movies and calling them “dumb and childish” made me feel foolish for once loving them. I also felt that I might be considered a “geek” for liking something like Star Wars. It was “cool” to hate on Star Wars. So, as one does at that age, I followed the crowds and didn’t question the decision of leaving such an important part of my childhood in the past.
Then came the fateful day towards the end of 2012 when Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced that they would be bringing the beloved franchise back to life. I had heard the news, but due to my distance with the films, I was only peripherally engaged.
I had little interaction with the casting cycle (or any announcements for that matter), which for me, was very unusual given how closely I follow the industry. Besides the inclusion of the original cast, I knew very little about what this reboot would entail. I was so out of the loop in fact, that I didn’t even buy my ticket for The Force Awakens until 5 minutes before I went into the movie.
I guess it’s also important for me to say here that 2015 was a very important year in regards to forming my genuine passion for movies and film making.
So, despite the last minute plans, I did end up at the theater on the night of Thursday, December 17, 2015, about as unaware as 5 year old Raj sitting down to watch The Phantom Menace as to how important this moment was going to be. Then, it happened.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”
Cue the crawl and the iconic theme, and I was 5 years old again. I was immediately overcome with emotion. I hadn’t felt this way in years. I was taken back in time to the first time I experienced Star Wars, and as if the past 10 years hadn’t happened, I was taken back to the place that showed me the importance of wonder and imagination, a galaxy that taught me to dream big. A place that I had regrettably left behind.
I feel like even if the movie had not landed, that moment would have been unforgettable. But with The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams and Disney recaptured the magic of Star Wars. They understood and expanded the galaxy. They not only reunited us with characters we loved, but gave us just as beautifully formed new characters to latch on to. They told a story of identity that made an epic space tale feel close and relatable. They gave us something to believe in, they gave us something special.
To feel that again was amazing. It was something that I so desperately missed.
But, almost immediately after walking out of the theater, I heard the takes. “It’s just a remake of A New Hope.” “These characters don’t make sense.” “It’ll never be as good as the originals.”
I didn’t understand. I loved everything I saw. I was confused by the backlash. I, once again, felt lost. I began questioning myself. Did I actually like it? Why did I like it? Should I tell people, or should I lie?
I sat on my thoughts for a few days, unfortunately questioning myself as I did with the prequels. This franchise has persisted, it has lasted for 40 years. Why is that? Then, it dawned on me. It has taken multiple generations of viewers on journeys that have left an undeniable mark on our culture, and has given so many people across the world a persona, a theme, a character, or an idea that they understand.
Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 gave me that, and Episodes 7 and 8 (plus some spinoffs) made me understand that.
Do I love the prequels today as much as I did when I was 5 years old? Of course not, I can certainly admit to their flaws. But does that mean they were not an essential piece of my childhood, and should that mean that I should leave them in the past? Absolutely not, they shaped me and are a part of who I am today.
And similar to the prequels hitting a young child at the right age, capturing his imagination and putting the magic of movie making on full display, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi gave a young man who had recently transferred college, had few friends, and, quite frankly, felt lost, something to connect to. The characters were flawed, and in many ways, experiencing feelings similar to mine, but they were also strong willed, determined, and aspirational. They fought through these struggles, and helped me feel as if I could as well.
By this point, I’ve accepted that being a Star Wars fan will never be easy. That was hinted at with the reception to The Force Awakens and solidified with the exhausting discourse behind the controversial The Last Jedi (which I personally love).
What this up and down relationship with Star Wars has taught me, however, is to be confident and proud of what I feel, and to celebrate the things that I love, as opposed to tearing down things that I don’t.
At a young age, Star Wars introduced me to the potential of our imagination. It inspired me to want to create things of my own. It showed me how movies (or art in general) can inspire awe and change our lives.
Today, it teaches me how to carry these positive sensibilities into other aspects of my life. It reminds me why these films have lasted for over 40 years through generations of viewers. It continues to take fans like myself on exciting new adventures to places we never thought we would go.
I think it can be difficult to remember how impactful this franchise has been on people of all ages for 42 year at times like now, where it seems like even the smallest bit of Star Wars information can cause the internet to erupt.
But I am reminded how important these films are when I’m surrounded by thousands of passionate fans at Star Wars Celebration, or when I see a young girl looking at Rey with a sparkle in her eye.
And now, with The Rise of Skywalker, the end of an era, just days away, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on what is probably the most important single series of movies in my life.
I am thankful for each and every memory that Star Wars has given me. Sure, my relationship with these movie has changed through the years, but I can confidently say that each one holds a very special place in my heart, and thanks to the lessons I’ve learned.
And no matter what happens with The Rise of Skywalker, Star Wars will always be a bright spot in my life, and I will always champion positivity around these movies. I owe so much to each and every chapter in this story, and know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
Thank you for reading, and may the force be with you.