I was thinking about Star Wars as just one cultural touchstone in my life and decided to make a timeline of those first films that drew me into the universe.
Episode IV — A New Hope May 25, 1977
When I was 19: I graduated from Music & Art high school the year before, figuring out Pell Grants to attend Fordham University.
Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back May 21, 1980
When I was 22: I worked a straight job during the day, living with a collective in the East Village, renovating buildings, supporting street people in various kinds of need.
Episode VI — Return of the Jedi May 25, 1983
When I was 25: The year we lost my father.
As a science fiction fantasy lover, I loved the epic story, the rakishly beautiful humans, the idea that we could follow a long-term story. I could find my place in the Star Wars universe, thrilled at Carrie’s power, and made even happier when I saw Lando.
I saw ‘The Phantom Menace’ in a theater in New York’s West Village when it debuted in 1999. Overall I thought the acting was wooden; Jar Jar Binks made me cringe because he felt like such a racially-tinged parody, and the audience reaction mirrored mine: disappointment. The subsequent episodes in that trilogy didn’t raise my estimation of the series. By 2005, when ‘Revenge of the Sith’ came out, I dutifully went to see it, and I was disappointed once again.
My love of the original experience of Star Wars had been in stasis, with the enjoyment far in the past.
So I’m happy to report that seeing ‘The Force Awakens’ in Tokyo in 2015 reignited my love of the series. I was able to suspend disbelief, I was interested in the characters, I began looking forward to seeing the story unfold. The same for ‘The Last Jedi’ (2017 in Japan). And now, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ which I saw for the first time just yesterday, 1/3/20 in Tokyo).
I love the fact that there are all kinds of humans and beings in the last three movies, on both sides of the conflict.
Look, I’m not a trained cultural critic or political scientist. As I slide up to 62, there are quite a few American cultural changes that have me baffled and needing to learn more. That work is my responsibility, and I will be about it.
But one thing I have learned from Star Wars’ launch, devolution and evolution that is also true in my own life: diversity is not just a buzzword. It is enormously empowering to see yourself, along with other selves, interacting, disagreeing and finding ways forward, on the big screen. When lives on are stake, it’s possible to agree to disagree, to come together, and when you call for help, good beings will heed the call.
When I get into arguments with political opponents, I ask them to check in with their friends and relatives who look like me, who are my age. If they’re mainstream Americans, the response is usually — — silence. I don’t want people to only get befriended for argument fodder, so I can’t suggest ways to remedy this problem. But I do think it is a problem. It’s not just major corporations who are figuring out that diversity gives an edge to projects, and people. It’s clear to anyone looking for better ways to navigate the world in a positive fashion, here at home, or in a galaxy far, far away.