Monday, December 21, 2015

The Force, My Father, and Me (No Movie Spoilers)

The last surviving original Star Wars action figure from my childhood collection...

Let’s just cut to the chase by saying my childhood relationship with my father wasn’t easy.

Let’s add that neither was it good, especially the first five or six years of my life.

Let’s say all that needs to be said by confessing flat out that I was actually terrified of the man, well into my teen years.

That’s the canvas upon which I will try to paint a picture for you. A captured memory, of a relationship that started out so wrong but ended up in an entirely different place.

I won’t pollute the present with the worst of the past, but I will add that in addition to fearing my father (and I had reason to at the time) he had wished very much that I, the third girl, had been a boy. He said this frequently, usually starting with “If I had a son, I’d…” Fill in the blank.

Never mind that I was willing to do whatever it was that he wanted to do with a son. Go fishing, even if it meant dealing with the worms that disgusted (and still do) me so.

He would never take me.

Then one day when I was six, he did take me somewhere. Along with my two older sisters, he took me to see Star Wars.

That was all we called it then. Just Star Wars, because it was the only one.

They call it “A New Hope” or “Episode IV” now. I still just call it Star Wars.

And it changed my life.

Not only was I, at six, completely swept up in the mythology and magic of the Force, (and my first crush on Luke Skywalker…) but suddenly, I had a language to speak that my father would actually hear.

Star Wars was the first, and for many years, the only common ground my father and I had.

I wanted to be a Jedi.

(Still do.)

My father actually liked that about me. And so I’d quote movie lines to him, try to use the humor in the films at the right times to actually bring a sort of smile to his face; and when I was twelve he waited in line for hours to get opening night tickets for Return of the Jedi.

Jedi was especially important to me because of the age I was then, and also because of the recent death of my Grandfather. The movie gave me a distraction, a channel for my grief, and I’d write in my Yoda’s Jedi Journal about wanting to be good enough and brave enough and strong enough—like a Jedi.

I always only wanted to be good enough.

My father and I didn’t really forge an adult relationship (despite an attempt, in my teens, to really try…) until I had my daughter when I was twenty-four. His only grandchild; a perfect little girl with dark hair and dark eyes like my mother.

The hair and eyes I wished I’d had when I’d looked all those years at Princess Leia and saw goldish hair and blue eyes staring back from the mirror.

(My daughter is 20 now, and she could do a really impressive Leia Cosplay if she wanted to… but I digress.)

Through the years, Star Wars was there for me and Dad. For many years, it was the only bond we had.

Now he’s gone.

So many times while I watched him as he lay there dying weeks that have turned into almost two months ago now, I thought, believe it or not, how sorry I was he was going to miss the new Star Wars movie and I wished he could have seen it.

Last Thursday night, at a pre-screening, I saw it.

I heard Dad’s whistle in the opening music—he always loved to whistle the theme song and did so with skill.

In the humorous moments, I heard his laughter.

In the dramatic moments, I wondered what he’d think of the way it all went.

At the ending, I could almost feel him there with me.

Some have commented they don’t understand how someone (or anyone) can get so worked up over “just a movie”. Why the sharing of spoilers is such an offense, why ruining it for anyone is unthinkable to me.

All I can say is that if you can imagine a six year old girl with no way to reach her father, finally finding one point of connection through the magic of the storytelling in Star Wars, then maybe you’d realize for some of us, it will never be “just a movie.”

I sure wish I could ask my Dad what he thinks of The Force Awakens.

My bet is he’d smile that lopsided grin at me and say, “That was great, Sugar. Let’s see it again.”

The Force will be with you, Dad. Always.