School basically sucked.
Maybe it was the almost cinematic brutality of Catholic school, the perceived oppressive and sinister nature of the Catholic religion, or a pretty intense undiagnosed anxiety disorder, mixed with the awkwardness of growing up which I had absolutely no skills to handle.
There was a nun who dug sharp pointed fingernails into my scalp if I got math problems wrong. She could throw an elbow at a kid’s head nasty enough to impress a Thai boxer as she walked through the rows of fourth graders. This was discipline. This was managing a class with fear. There was the shouting and the shaming. And I remember sitting behind my best friend as he pissed his pants because you could only use the bathroom during lavatory time.
Add all that to the mean-spiritedness that children foist upon each other as they’re first developing their identities and learning how to navigate the world socially, and you get trauma.
In any case, the one thing I had to get me through this time in my life was Star Wars.
Yes, it’s true, even if that seems silly or trite.
Star Wars gave me a way to evade my life. As a student of Buddhism today, I realize that retreat from reality is rarely a healthy goal. Still, the benefits of escaping the madness at that time cannot be understated.
VHS players were starting to show up in most American homes, which meant you could tape your favorite movies on cable channels like Home Box Office.
Of course I taped Star Wars.
And escape I did, at every possible moment. In math class, I’d daydream and create galactic adventures in my head. I learned I could totally disconnect from my environment and travel to that Galaxy far, far away whenever I wanted.
That’s not always a great skill to have. I never did learn much math. But I was learning some important things via George Lucas’ space epic. Things one would think I should have been learning in a private school, a place where I was instead learning how not to anger my handlers.
Star Wars taught me about honor. It taught me about discipline, and introduced me to the idea of the peaceful warrior. I learned about kindness, empathy and not taking advantage of someone just because I might be stronger or more powerful than them. I learned that fear leads to anger and anger leads to the dark side.
I learned about justice, right and wrong, good versus evil, and how it’s important to seek out those wiser than myself to help me navigate the world. I learned about redemption and how a villain still may have a spark of goodness in them. I learned that sometimes you have to take chances and put everything on the line. And how, if everyone works together toward a common goal, anything is possible.
I learned that the battles we wage are sometimes within ourselves, that you should never leave a true friend behind, and that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
There are those that point out that the themes and archetypes in the Star Wars films were not new or particularly visionary. But that doesn’t really matter. The original trilogy was a brilliant delivery system. It brought these ideas to me and so many others.
This is one of the reasons that I think the new movie, to be released on December 18th, 2015, is so important. And in my opinion, at this time in our culture, this time of extreme corporate greed, corrupt politicians, and a shocking disregard for the welfare of our fellow human beings, this may be the only place that some young ones learn about honor, compassion, and justice.
And I hope that J.J. Abrams’ film can live up to that. I know it’s a lot to ask.
But in any case, it’s really fun right now to join in the hype of the new picture, to clamor over trailers, and watch the interviews with the cast. It sort of feels like coming home.
Welcome back to the big screen, Star Wars.
I’ve missed you.