I was among the first generation of kids to see the original “Star Wars” movie in 1977. I was 10 then, and when the third installment rolled around six years later, I was waiting in line for hours with friends at the local theater on opening day. I’ll be seeing “The Force Awakens” with my own son this week, and have been reflecting on some of the lessons I’ve learned from the series and what it has meant to me.
Leia was by far one of the coolest on-screen heroines I’d encountered at the time. I admired her no-nonsense attitude and the way she commandeered her own rescue. Still, she fell into the traditional category of a “princess in a dress” and, as an inveterate tomboy, I was vehemently against dresses. Sure, she went for a very lesbian-ish vest in “The Empire Strikes Back” and camouflage in “Return of the Jedi,” but by then it was too late. I wanted to be Luke and wield a lightsaber. That probably goes a long way to explaining my later years as a competitive fencer.
I also suspect that the series’ encouragement to think about “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” (coupled, perhaps, with the 1980 release of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” on PBS) was inspiration that led me to a degree in astronomy.
The movies also gave me a new respect for how insightful my mother was. She worked at a psychiatric hospital and had read her share about psychology and Jungian archetypes. After our family saw “A New Hope” together, she predicted that Vader was Luke’s father. At 10, I probably wouldn’t have agreed with her even if I had thought she was right, but I couldn’t believe it in any case. Fast-forward three years, and of course she nailed it.
The series has continued to occupy a large part of my psyche. As a parent, I’ve found several of its lessons useful:
Biology isn’t destiny. Aunt Beru asserts that Luke “has too much of his father in him” to stay on the farm; it was his upbringing by her and her husband Owen, rather than his genetic ties to Darth Vader, that determined his moral compass.
Children will find their own paths. Uncle Owen wanted Luke to stay on Tatooine. Luke left. He was compelled by tragic events, to be sure — but I feel he would have gone eventually anyway.
Never underestimate the power of a teddy bear. No, I didn’t really like the Ewoks. They seemed too clearly created for merchandising purposes. Still, there was something compelling about their scrappy fight against an evil and physically bigger enemy. As a parent, I’ve been amazed at the enduring power of my own son’s little stuffed guys and the comfort they bring him.
Finally, here are a dozen quotes from the series that can shine a little light on the galaxy-sized adventure that is parenting:
“Watch yourself. This place can be a little rough.” Parenting isn’t always delightful family dinners and warm goodnight stories. It’s also skinned knees, lost toys, long nights, toddler tantrums, teen angst and other challenges.
“I’m not afraid.” “You will be.” That moment when you first bring your child home and wonder where the user manual is.
“Judge me by my size, do you?” A warning to every parent of a 2-year-old.
“Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.” And raising a child isn’t like anything else one has ever experienced.
“In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.” Which is why we all buy car seats and bike helmets for our kids.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” When you hear maniacal giggling from your little ones in the other room, followed by a crash.
“Never tell me the odds.” Soccer practice and a piano lesson on the same day, when your washing machine quits and you have an emergency at work? No problem.
“Don’t get cocky.” Notwithstanding number seven, remember you’re only as good as your handling of the current crisis.
“It’s a trap!” Something to keep in mind when your child asks, “You always said you didn’t like that antique vase your aunt gave you, right?”
“Sorry about the mess.” Something you’ll say frequently to friends until your child is ... well, perhaps grown and out of the house.
“Stay on target.” It’s helpful to remember the basic goal — raising reasonably well-adjusted human beings to adulthood with a minimum of harm to themselves or others — when dealing with daily challenges.
“Do or do not. There is no try.” Parenting in a nutshell.
I have high expectations for “The Force Awakens,” not least because it stars a black man and a white woman in the leading roles — rarities for Hollywood blockbusters — not to mention the gracefully aging Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill reprising their characters. This begs the question of whether we’ll ever see any LGBTQ people (or LGBTQ non-human sentient beings) in that far-away galaxy. As Yoda said, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” But if “Star Wars” has taught us anything, it’s to have hope.