Origins and Influences: Star Wars

I finally had a chance to watch my DVD of The Last Jedi this weekend. I saw it at the theater, but it’s been a while, so it was still relatively fresh, aside from already knowing the various twists and outcomes.

It reminded me that I have yet another chapter to share of my origins and influences: Star Wars. Although I’d always been a big reader and had always indulged in the kind of play that involved making up stories, Star Wars seems to have been the trigger that made me really want to be a writer, someone who told stories.

And to think, it almost didn’t happen. As my parents never tire of telling me, I didn’t want to see the movie. I was in elementary school when the original film came out (yes, I’m old), and I was so not into that sort of thing. It was Labor Day, and my dad had the day off but I had school, so my parents had celebrated by renting a steam cleaner and cleaning the carpets. They were still damp in the evening, so they thought it would be a good idea to go out to a movie, which would give the carpets time to dry. My dad had heard people at work talking about Star Wars and decided that’s what we should see. I was rather adamantly opposed because I’d read articles about it in Newsweek and didn’t like what I’d seen. The Slipper and the Rose, a telling of Cinderella, was on the other screen at that theater, and that’s what I wanted to see. I even proposed me going to see that while everyone else went to see Star Wars, but my parents said we would all go to the same movie, and I was outvoted.

Even though Star Wars had been out for a few months at that time, every show still sold out and there was still a long line at the theater. This was back before the days of multiplexes and the same movie showing in multiple theaters. There was one screen in town showing Star Wars. We barely made it into the theater. And then about 30 seconds into the movie I was totally enraptured.

Looking back, I find it a bit ironic that I wanted to see a fairy tale movie instead because this movie was basically a fantasy story that happened to have science fiction trappings. I think that was a lot of the appeal for me. It took all the stuff I liked about fairy tales and added a lot more action. Yeah, there were robots and spaceships, but the story was basically about a farmboy (who wasn’t all that different from all those third sons of woodcutters in fairy tales) rescuing a princess with the help of a wizard and carrying out a quest by trusting in the secret magical knowledge given to him by the wizard. While this was also the entry level to me getting into science fiction, I think it still had a lot to do with me becoming a fantasy novelist. I remember thinking as I rode home from the movie, looking up at the stars and imagining them being TIE fighters I was shooting down using the controls on the window crank knob, that I wanted to tell stories like this.

I also wanted to be Princess Leia. I absolutely loved the way she was introduced. We saw the ethereal figure in a white robe, looking beautiful and vulnerable as she sent R2-D2 on his mission. And then when the stormtroopers arrived, she whipped out a blaster and started shooting at them. After she was taken captive, when Darth Vader loomed over her, looking menacing, she sassed him. This was so much better than any fairytale princess. I think most of the characters I created in my earliest stabs at writing were more or less versions of Princess Leia.

The only problem was that she was pretty much the only girl in the movie. There might have been three female characters, at most, who even had lines. That meant things got complicated when the neighborhood kids got together to play Star Wars as we ran around the neighborhood. There was a big fight over who got to be Leia. For everyone else, we had to make up characters to play. That was some of my earliest writing activity, not just acting out existing characters, but creating new ones.

That’s also one of the areas where this new age of Star Wars is a distinct improvement. There’s more than one woman with lines. After this latest movie, there’s Rey and Rose for the younger generation. There’s Maz if you want to be an alien. If you want to be in charge, there’s Leia and Admiral Holdo. And then there are the various female pilots and support staff who could easily be fleshed out if you’re looking for roles to play. Though, in spite of what a lot of the manbaby Internet whiners claim, there are still a lot more choices for the boys. Still, it’s a much bigger universe than we had to work with in my childhood.

After I discovered Star Wars, I started reading science fiction, starting with the works of Alan Dean Foster, since they seemed most like the Star Wars novelization I devoured, and since he wrote the (now non-canon )“sequel.” I didn’t realize until later that he also ghost wrote the novelization. I also started reading fantasy around that time, with The Hobbit being one of the first real fantasy novels I read. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Star Wars was essentially a fantasy story and that there may be more connection between that and stuff like The Lord of the Rings than there is between Star Wars and things like Star Trek. Now it makes perfect sense for me as a fantasy writer to cite Star Wars as an influence.

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