With all the hoopla around the release of The Force Awakens, thoughts of Star Wars movies past have been podracing around my head. I was 1, 4, and 7 when the first three films took the world by storm. To people who didn’t grow up in that same era, the original Star Wars movies are just fun popcorn flicks. But to me and many of my peers, they represent so much more.
Many of my earliest memories are connected to Star Wars in some way, memories that remain vivid because of the powerful emotions associated with each one. And those emotions did not always come from the Light Side of the Force. Here are five negative emotions that Star Wars provoked in me when I was a child—and the incidents related to those feelings
Christmas of 1979 begat one of the saddest moments in my Star Wars life. When I was young, my family didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t destitute or anything, but McDonalds’s was a luxury and I wore clothes from Goodwill. So, that Christmas, my older brother and I agreed to stand together and request one gargantuan, rare, and amazing toy for the both of us: the four-story Death Star play set. We got up on Christmas morning, opened our co-present, and marveled at its many features—including a working elevator, exploding gun turret, and extendable drawbridge.
Just when we were beginning to set up our action figures in the set, Dad called us for the obligatory Christmas breakfast. As we sat down to our scrambled eggs, we heard a great crash and a scream. Our family rushed into the living room to find my Grandma Dalton lying in a heap amid the ruins of the Death Star. My brother and I rushed past her to the shattered remains of our precious play set. All that was salvageable from the wreckage was the neon orange trash compactor filled with pieces of foam “trash” and a lime green dianoga that looked nothing like the monster in the movie.
Grandma was fine, incidentally.
When I was 6, I dressed as a Jawa for Halloween. My mom painted my face black, slapped a pair of yellow swim goggles onto me, dressed me in a brown, hooded, home-sewn robe, and took my brother, baby sister, and me out trick-or-treating. Our first stop was my Grandma and Grandpa Bell’s house. I walked up to the door practicing my best Jawa voice—really trying to get into character. When we knocked on the door, Grandma opened right up, smiling. She immediately guessed my brother and sister’s costumes, but paused when she got to me. “Oh, I get it,” she said at last. “You’re a monk.” Embarrassed, I tried to explain to her that Jawas were scavengers on Tatooine who had sold C3-PO and R2-D2 to Luke Skywalker, but her eyes just glazed over.
My Halloween game was totally thrown off. I felt self-conscious and awkward, sure that no one knew what I was supposed to be. After a few more houses, I took off the swim goggles. The next time someone asked me what I was supposed to be, I just muttered, “A monk.” They probably wondered why I was in black face.
When I was a child, I spent a lot of time with my Star Wars action figures, using them to act out elaborate, weeks-long narratives. In one such saga, Jabba the Hutt captured Walrus Man (later given the Lucasfilm-approved but less descriptive name of “Ponda Baba”) and tortured him for information. During a particularly intense interrogation, Jabba had his underlings burn off poor Walrus Man’s feet. Aiming for verisimilitude in my storytelling, I removed the shade from the lamp that sat on my parents’ bedside table and pressed the action figure’s feet against the hot bulb. Despite the acrid stench of burning plastic, I persisted, only letting Walrus Man free when his feet were entirely gone and he’d spilled the secrets he’d desperately been trying to keep.
Jabba may have succeeded in getting his information, but I only managed to permanently maim one of my favorite toys. The regret hit me as soon as I started my next storyline and realized that Walrus Man was a bit less viable as an action figure with two twisted nubs at the end of his legs.
Matt was my next-door neighbor and classmate. For his 7th birthday, his mom invited me and six other boys over for a surprise slumber party. After we jumped out at Matt and ate cake and ice cream, his mom presented us with the evening’s entertainment—she’d rented a videodisc player along with two videodiscs: Mary Poppins and The Empire Strikes Back. (For those of you unfamiliar with 1982’s cutting-edge technology, a videodisc player was basically a record player that produced both audio and video through your TV.)
We put on our pajamas, snuggled down in our sleeping bags, and agreed to get Mary Poppins out of the way before moving on to the pièce de résistance. Just as Mary was blowing all the other potential nannies away with a gust of magically produced wind, Matt’s dad, Rick, came stumbling down the hallway, yelling about witches and magic.
I’d always known Rick as an even-keeled, upbeat guy who was the pastor at a local church and affectionately called me “Corey Duck.” I knew that he’d been sick, but my parents had kept the details from me, so his appearance surprised me—he was pale and gaunt with sunken eyes. Most of his hair was gone. “Mary Poppins is a witch,” he yelled, “and I won’t have it in my home.” Matt’s mom tried to calm him down, but he insisted that Mary Poppins would corrupt our young souls. And Star Wars was no better, he said, because The Force was a secular bastardization of religion. I didn’t know what many of those words meant at the time, but I knew what was happening: we were all being sent home. No more cake. No more slumber party. No more Star Wars. I tried to convince Matt’s mom to let him stay all night at my house (with the videodisc player and movies, of course), but Rick would not allow it.
A month later, Rick was dead, a victim of the cancer that had been growing in his brain.
My friend Clint was, for some reason, obsessed with one particular action figure of mine—a female hiker wearing a yellow shirt and blue shorts that was part of the Fisher Price Adventure People line of toys. He named her Reba and spent hours playing with her on his own when he came over. This irritated me because I wanted someone to contribute to my ongoing Star Wars narrative, not someone who wanted to do his own thing. So, one day before Clint came over, I hid Reba.
Predictably, Clint wanted to know where Reba was as soon as his mom dropped him off. I told him that he couldn’t play with Reba that day and that he had to be Yoda instead. “You better give me Reba,” he said, “or you won’t like what happens to Yoda.” I just laughed.
And then he took Yoda to the rough cement sidewalk and rubbed his head against it like wood on sandpaper, shaving both of Yoda’s ears off in seconds. He was right; I didn’t like what happened to Yoda. Clint and I got into a fistfight, he got sent home, and I was banned from playing with any of my toys for the next few days.
As soon as my toys were back in my custody, I retrieved Reba, went for a long walk in the woods, and buried her in an unmarked grave.