My brother, L.J., and his family came up from Atlanta for Christmas this year. Their holiday visits tend to be chaotic, and this one promised to be particularly so since my dad was still navigating some health issues. (He’s doing much, much better, and thanks to all the kind souls who asked.)
Always a realist, my brother scaled back his expectations and said, “I just want to do one thing while I’m up here: see the Star Wars movie.”
He had one other condition: he wanted to go with me and Mom, the two people he’d seen the original movie with in 1977. Star Wars made a huge impression on me and my brother, and nowhere was that impression more evident than in L.J.’s Christmas list, which included requests for the Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, an X-wing fighter, and enough action figures to man the whole enterprise. (I was glad he asked for those things, because it freed up space on my list.) Over the next several years, he and I spent hours and hours re-enacting battles we’d seen and fighting new ones.
When The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, Mom made sure L.J. and I were among the first in line for tickets at the Springfield Mall, which I believe required her to take us out of school a few hours early. Mom wasn’t the type to let me and my siblings miss school even if we handed her a burst appendix, so this was an event of epic proportions. We treated Return of the Jedi with similar reverence, and The Force continued to strengthen in us.
L.J. and I, along with millions of other Star Wars fans, spent the next 16 years waiting patiently for the prequels. Though my brother lived in Atlanta by then, we managed to see one of those movies together, both of us likely operating under the mistaken belief that the company would somehow improve the experience.
High expectations for those movies, we had. Test our faith in the franchise, they did.
Yet because The Force remained strong in us, we kept our hopes alive for the latest installment and snagged tickets for a daytime showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 23. To ensure the Jedi tradition would be passed down to the next generation, we brought my niece and four nephews with us. (We weren’t able to pull Mom away from her post at home, alas.) For old times’ sake, I sat next to my brother.
As the introductory text began its trademark scroll up the screen and off into space, accompanied by an unmistakably John Williams score, L.J. leaned over and whispered, “I’ve got chills.”
To my astonishment, I did too. And that’s when I realized I had more than mere hopes riding on this movie, I had pinned actual needs to it. I needed to feel like a little kid again, to have this space opera engross me so thoroughly that, for at least two hours, I could forget some of the realities of life in middle age. Not that middle age is bad, mind you, because it isn’t at all. But if I had to express a complaint on behalf of forty-somethings, it’s that people both way older and way younger than us seem to expect us to be utterly dependable and responsible, whereas we’re not supposed to need anybody. Never mind that being responsible and dependable to these people, whom we love dearly, is the very least we can do and a privilege. Sometimes even the most responsible among us gets a little petulant and longs for the days when bad stuff was mainly imaginary and could be vaporized with the swing of a light saber.
I was feeling that longing just as The Force Awakens came out. I needed to go hurtling back to a time long, long ago and a galaxy far, far away, a place where good guys are too busy battling the Dark Side to worry about things like gum grafts.
I won’t give away any details about the movie in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s enough to say that it gave me what I needed and then some. It was a two-hour nostalgia trip at light speed that left me and my brother elated as we walked out of the theater. The Force Awakens rekindled our love for the franchise, solidified our bond to the past, and gave us plenty of hope for the future.
My brother summed it up perfectly when he compared it to the best kind of old friendships: “We picked up right where we left off.”