We’re now not long away from the premiere of the highly anticipated new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. In honor of Star Wars’ return, I wanted to take a special moment to spotlight what Star Wars accomplished not only for my mental health but for the good of my growth and well-being as a person.
When I was nine years old, I was not a big fan of films. Looking back, it seems ridiculous – what, then, was in my life before films? But I didn’t ever watch films, really, unless my mother dragged me to the theater to see something she was interested in; most of my focus when it came to entertainment was television. Books came first, through Percy Jackson (a whole other story) – but then I discovered Star Wars.
In one of my classes, we were having a debate about which film in the original trilogy was the best. Not having seen any of them, I couldn’t speak to how I felt about the films. But I distinctly remember a small girl, probably about a year younger than I was at the time, getting furious and shaking her fist in the face of a boy who said Princess Leia was the worst character. “She’s just the lamest,” he complained. “She doesn’t have any special powers. I mean, she can use the Force, but it’s lame compared to Luke. Luke is awesome.”
The girl was angry to the point she was almost moved to tears, and my teacher had to step in and break up the argument before things got too serious. But the exchange stayed with me for much of that day and night. I kept thinking about what it was about Princess Leia that had moved that girl so much. Unable to stop considering this, I sat down and watched the first Star Wars film, A New Hope.
In this film, I watched a young girl watch her entire home and everything she’s ever known destroyed and taken from her. I watched her take charge, leading the rebels to victory, and go on an adventure and hold her own – which for me was legendary. Leia was the first time I remember seeing a female character defend herself, stand up for herself and not just be there to be a love interest. And as I was surrounded by strong women in my daily life, it was extremely important to me.
But then when I got to Empire Strikes Back, I found myself deeply able to relate to the character of Lando Calrissian. Obviously, he’s the one Black character in the whole thing – and I’m also Black, so there was that. But there was something about the way he stays secluded from society, on his own planet, leaving the big galactic situations to people like Luke and Leia. He didn’t want to get involved, but Han forced his hand. And also at that point – in a major franchise that was meant to be for everyone, seeing a Black man be so important, so cool-looking, and have such a big part of the story was mind-boggling.
And there are deep connections of watching Return of the Jedi with my family, sitting around the television with buckets of popcorn and completely nerd out over the end of the trilogy with them, realizing I had something to be communal with others about. There was just something about Star Wars, something majestic and all-encompassing, that took hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I’m still not sure, to this day, what it is – is it the themes about family, being more powerful than anything else? Is it the hero’s journey, the battle between the Dark side and Light? Or is it simply the cool way the lightsabers glow off the actors’ faces?
I was so enamored with Star Wars at this point that I had to know more. I watched all the prequels, as they were released in theaters. When I got my first XBOX, the first video game I ever played was a Star Wars game (Knights of the Old Republic, to be exact). I’ll never forget the intense amount of hours I spent in that world, which was enough to get me even deeper hooked in the Expanded Universe novels. There, I learned that there was so much more to the world that George Lucas had created, entire worlds that the films had barely scratched the surface of.
When I wrote my first novel, it featured archetypes of Star Wars characters, set in the same universe. I figured – if all these other writers could play in that world, why couldn’t I? It was called Stars in the Snow, and it was about a character named Torra Win who is a distant cousin of Princess Leia. It’s the first work I ever completed. I never showed it to anyone, but it has so much sentimentality to it for me.
But most importantly, Star Wars reminds me of the good aspects of my childhood. It reminds me of home, of family and warmth and kindness and laughter. It reminds me of forgetting about all your problems in the world, kicking back, chowing down on some popcorn and getting lost in a galaxy far, far away. And it reminds me of hope, that good can triumph over evil and that the revolution can win. And that is why for the rest of my life, Star Wars will always have a place in my heart.