I was seven and my sister was eleven when Star Wars, Episode VI, Return of the Jedi aired on network television (NBC). Our whole family had been looking forward to it and we were all going to sit down and watch it together. We had previously watched Episode IV and Episode V, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back respectively, when they had aired on network television in previous years.
The thing about Start Wars is, I enjoyed. And enjoying anything was dangerous in my childhood. It was an open invitation to abuse from my sister. I still remember her long flannel nightgown with the ruffled hem and her copper-blond hair with the frizzy tight curls of an ‘80s perm. My own hair was platinum blonde until middle school and continued to grow in progressively darker as time went on.
I don’t remember any specifics of this – just knowing that my sister always found an excuse to quash my joy. She could never stand to allow anyone to be happier than her. In fact, she could never stand to allow anyone else to be happy at all, regardless of how happy she was. Not much has changed in the past 28 years.
When I was young, sleep was my defense mechanism. I could sleep through anything. I slept through an extraordinary amount of domestic violence that my father enacted against my mother. Beatings, humiliations, at least two attempts at murder. My siblings witnessed all of these – I only saw the aftermath of the majority. I slept soundly and deeply and nothing could rouse me until my mind and my body told me it was safe.
What I remember most from Star Wars, Episode VI is the Ewok Village. I wanted an Ewok more than anything. As an adult I can’t really remember what purpose they served the film and, with a hefty dose of cynicism, I suspect their sole purpose might have been a marketing ploy – one more way to sell kids on the idea of having their own piece of the wider galaxy and one more way to get parents to part with $20.00 for a toy that cost $0.20 to make.
As an adult, I’ve tried watching Star Wars at least four times. None of my friends can believe that I didn’t fall in love with the movies growing up – just like they did! What no one seems to realize is that being the focal point of so much abuse from my sister made falling in love with anything a risky venture.
Every time I’ve tried to watch any of the Star Wars movies as an adult, I’ve fallen asleep within 15 minutes of hitting the “Play” button. It does not matter how awake and full of energy and verve I was when I sat down. The music and the opening credits and introduction of Luke Skywalker and I’m fast asleep.
D is equally as horrified by this gap in my film knowledge as every other friend I have. This is, for him, a fatal flaw. It’s not a deal breaker. But it is a fatal flaw. With the new Star Wars movie coming out next month, he’s determine to rectify what he sees as failure of in my upbringing and introduce me to Star Wars all over again and help me fall in love with Star Wars like he did and like so many of my other friends did.
And I’m trying. I managed to stay awake through the entirety of A New Hope. I don’t really remember much of it from that viewing two weeks ago. It was after watching Episode IV, however, that D settled on a theory for my failure to connect with and deeply love these films: it’s the music. So much of what makes Star Wars what it is is the soundtrack. If I could just let myself experience the music, if I would just open myself up to it, I could find some glimmer of the love he has for it.
So, we tried. Or rather, I tried. We sat down the other night to watch Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back. "Remember," he said to me, "pay attention to the music. The music is what makes the movie."
To stay awake past the three minute mark, I paid half attention to the movie and half attention to a game on my phone. When I ran out of lives on this “match three” game, I handed my phone to D and tried to give all my focus to the screen.
To keep myself awake, I tried to connect the dots of what was going on on the screen. What were the gaps, would they be filled in, how much did I remember, how much did I forget, would any of these questions be answered? D grew frustrated with my incessant questions as I spoke over the dialogue of the movie at some critical junctures and asked me to at least hold my questions until each scene I was questioning had ended. I tried. I barely kept my eyes open.
I couldn’t tell you now, 20 hours later, how it all ended. I just don’t remember anything after the tauntaun and Yoda. Though typing this now helps me to recall Luke’s foolish rescue venture, the trap, and his fateful final scene with Darth Vader, losing his hand, jumping to his possible death and being saved by Leia and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. (And I only know the name of this ship because my best friend named her car in college after it and I was humiliated publicly for not getting the reference).
I couldn’t lift my legs sufficiently after the movie to make my way to bed with any kind of ease. Upon making reaching the summit of our staircase, I headed to the bathroom, peeled my contact lenses from my weary eyes, and brushed my teeth. A few minutes later, I crawled into bed and fell fast asleep and deeply asleep, my body curled around D’s pillow for comfort.
When D came to bed about an hour and an half later, I did not notice. I woke up several times in the course of the night, restless and uncomfortable. I was surprised to find him beside me and to find that he had reclaimed his pillow in the process of making his way to bed.
What I remember most from what D calls “anxiety dreams” and I called “nighttime resurrections of my nightmarish childhood” is flashes of images. That frizzy permed hair. The ruffled hem of that flannel nightgown. Pain in my body and the feeling of having my soul pillaged.
Of course I can’t connect with Star Wars. Falling in love with anything is a dangerous affair. Of course I don’t connect with the music. I don’t really connect with any music. She stole that from me, too.
But I’m learning how to fall in love again. And this time I know that it’s safe. So maybe there is hope for Star Wars. But D shouldn’t hold his breath.