STAR WARS and the end of childhood

We’re two weeks away from the premiere of the new STAR WARS movie. Exciting, isn’t it? Especially for forty-something dudes like me and Kevin Smith, whose lifelong love of movies was completely and powerfully sparked by seeing the original film in 1977.

My dad took me to see it that summer. I was six and he still dressed like Serpico. We both adored the movie and driving home, up the Hamilton escarpment, he said, “Too bad this car isn’t a land speeder, eh?” and gunned the engine, to my immense delight.

Later that summer, I awoke on my birthday to find a little suitcase on my dresser. Did I say ‘little suitcase?’ This was the STAR WARS Mini Action Figure Collector’s Case, which my parents had helpfully pre-filled with a number of just-released figures, purchased in Buffalo! My parents were very proud of their international smuggling operation. Many years later, in a teenage fight with my mother, she whined, “You were never hard done by! You were the first kid to have those action figures!” and I had to give her that one. STAR WARS was the luminous focal point of many a 1970s boyhood.

star wars action figures

“Growing up” meant abandoning these, which I obviously regret.

I could write a whole other essay on how, three years later, my personality (for better or worse) was forever shaped by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the superior sequel that induced my adult love of Buddhism, stop-motion animation, Carl Jung and scoundrels. I remember my great-uncle standing in a drug store, confused as to why this frantic nine-year-old was begging him to buy him a tiny doll of a bounty hunter. “If that’s what you want,” he said, “but what the hell is a Bossk?”

Attack-Base

That’s right, Kids Today: we didn’t have iPads, we had moulded plastic!

I was an addict, that was obvious, but I was only trying to keep up with my friend Greg down the block. He didn’t just have action figures, he had entire playsets. His parents had kitted out their basement with a giant wood platform that now housed the ice planet of Hoth, with all its snow speeders, gun turrets, probe droids and Wampas. A dorky ginger boy like me, Greg also dreamed of one day owning the giant AT-AT Walker that made every lower-and-middle-class parent say, “$150 for a toy?? I’m sorry, but NO.” Still, Greg and I bravely soldiered on, inventing scenarios for our little plastic Rebels and Imperials, until we eventually drifted apart, as childhood friends often do. I can’t even remember why. I recall another friend who didn’t care for Greg, a more-worldly friend who knew the things I needed to learn. Did I choose between them? My only memories of Greg are of our toys and lunches and tree-climbing before life carried on and the anxieties of high school became all-consuming.

Then, all too suddenly, it was 1998. I had moved to Toronto, grappling with adult life, looking for love and stressing over my career, but now suddenly and happily, the thrill of our collective childhood was returning…!!!


Well, we all know how that turned out. What we thought would be the greatest movie ever became the Worst. Movie. Ever. and creator George Lucas admitted this week that the global condemnation from angry nerds made him leave the internet and never look back.

As a full-grown yet emotionally stunted man-child, I’m often forced to defend me and my nerd people. I’m not a child, thank you very much. I run a business, I’m in a longterm relationship, I pay my taxes and I take fine care of my dog, kitchen and teeth. Six STAR WARS films, dozens of pulp paperbacks and 50 years of DOCTOR WHO haven’t interfered with any of that, only enhanced it.

K9

You may not care that I met K-9 in Cardiff BUT I DO!

You see, people have it backward: they think a love of childish things makes one childish, that enthusing over comic books or video games or TV shows or toys diminishes our ability to deal with the real world, when it’s actually those escapes that enable us to cope with the real world. I fear for the accountant who doesn’t play video games to unwind, even as the manic, wide-eyed glee of nerds unnerves those who don’t share their passions. But that’s what it is: passion. Sometimes unwise, easily manipulated, but giving our lives extra juice and delight. I like passion, even if it means sitting through race day with my NASCAR-loving hubby. Everyone’s a nerd about something so show me your fan art! Bring on your insane homoerotic subtext theories! Open your cosplay closets!

No, it’s not enthusiasm that earns nerds a bad name, it’s anger. It’s when that passion sours. When dreams of superpowers curdle into impotent rage, geeks can be nasty, especially the male ones. George Lucas might have thought the criticism was rough in 1999 but after the release of his first Indiana Jones movie in 19 years (one that, well, wasn’t great), he got depicted on SOUTH PARK as a rapist. “He raped my childhood!” the nerds cried, lacking all perspective. Next summer, we’ll have a new GHOSTBUSTERS film starring the hilarious Melissa McCarthy and several of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s funniest people, yet nerd-bros are frothing at the mouth with misogyny and more despair at how even a potentially bad movie sequel or remake can ruin a childhood.

I haven’t thought of my boyhood friend Greg in a long time but this week, I read his obituary. It hinted at some long illness. He was 45 and the “likes” on his Facebook page include the NDP, Tim Hortons, atheism and dogs of every type. It’s very likely we would’ve stayed friends these past decades but we didn’t. We found different jobs, different friends, different cities. Toys and movies and nerdy things brought us together but growing up drove us apart. It was worth it — aging has its quieter pleasures — but all the losses along the way still ache.

So yes, a new STAR WARS film! I hope it’s fantastic. I’m taking my dad and my teenage niece to see it on Boxing Day and I hope it delights us all. I want to see Han, Luke and Leia again, heroic as ever, and I want to meet Rey, Finn and Poe, new friends who will hopefully inspire the next generation of kids.

obiwanloved.gifI watched REVENGE OF THE SITH with my then-tiny niece a few years ago and while I thought it was still a disappointingly mediocre movie, she sat wide-eyed with horror at Obi-Wan’s final battle with his former student, grappling with the fact that Anakin could love Padme yet still end up transformed into Darth Vader. She asked me why good people become bad people and I told her that’s a question we’re all still trying to work out. Not bad for a kids’ sci-fi flick, Mr. Lucas.

It’ll be lovely if this new movie can make me feel like that boy whose dad’s car became a land speeder for one magic moment, but if it turns out to be merely two pleasing hours of diversion from all my grown-up worries, that’ll be fine too. I don’t want to see my fellow man-children angrily clogging the internet with death threats against director J.J. Abrams in two weeks’ time (though I’m sure some will) because they refuse to see how this film will neither restore nor ruin their childhood. It’s already gone. There’s nothing wrong with trying to hang on to it, just as long as we remember the parts that really matter.

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About Scott Dagostino

An arts & culture journalist who's the bastard love child of Van Morrison and Jessica Mitford
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