Star Wars & Me, Episode 1: The Nerd Awakens

My first Star Wars movie, my parents tell me, was Return of the Jedi, in 1984 on a pirate VHS copy, before the mass release of the film. According to my folks, who had obtained the tape through dubious means, I jumped up and down excitedly, spewing out explosion noises through the entire battle on Endor and finished the film draped in a sheen of sweat.

I don’t remember this.

My first memories of Star Wars occurred after the fateful viewing, and they are of playing with the figures and knowing who the characters were, creating scenarios where Han was hunted by Bossk. At no point do I remember realizing, hey, Star Wars is a thing.

And that might be the best way for me to explain the effect of Star Wars on my psyche. Star Wars is a Jungian monomyth, or so people say. In my case it’s literally true; it’s seared into my unconscious.

I was really sick when I was a kid. Celiac disease was way underdiagnosed in the 80s, so when I was about four I lost all my energy, puked all the time and looked like a famine victim. My first memories involve: a) throwing up after eating pancakes, b) being too tired to move around, because of said throwing up, and c) watching Transformers and playing with Star Wars toys when I was too sick to move.

Most of my memories of the house we lived in circa 1984 are of the bathrooms.

I didn’t become a big geek because of celiac, but it certainly helped. My body didn’t work well, but my imagination worked just fine.

The gluten-free diet worked, mostly, as I got older, but I would never be a jock, or even someone comfortable in his own body.

I watched those bad pirated tapes for years, until we could tape the films off TV, and eventually, (gasp) buy our own VHS boxed set. But films pshaw; I remember the toys. THE TOYS. We now take for granted the cross-promotion in cartoons, movies, comics and TV that was only made possible by Ronald Reagan and the FCC in the 80s.

The hardware store had a row of Star Wars toys, as did Walgreens and just about every other store at the time. Every time my dad had to buy anything, at any store, I could usually talk him into a toy.

The paradise didn’t last. In those days, the thought of an ever-present toyline without media tie-ins was crazy. I still remember the moment when my baby brother bit the head off one of my last surviving toys. THE PAIN. THE TOYS.

I still collect toys, and I’m conflicted about them. On the one hand, they’re money drains that I don’t pummel to death like I did when I was a kid, and they draw on vast quantities of petroleum and take advantage of the poor. But when I see a rack of Star Wars toys, I am five again, and my imagination is suddenly the best place to be, way better than this lousy physical world.