“This is a lot for you to read so just remember that the bad guys wear plastic suits,” my dad said while a wall of yellow text ascended our ancient tube television. It was in this dim light that I was introduced to Star Wars at the age of five. I can remember that specific moment clearly. Sitting with my legs crossed on our basement’s dingy yellow carpet while he provided a play-by-play of why people were shooting lasers at each other, frantically hand-talking. Fast-forwarding his VHS recording through commercial breaks. It was the first time I can recall us bonding over anything, really.
My dad turned 74 a few days ago and I 32 the month prior. On paper, such an age gap probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. For us, it was about the size of 12 parsecs. I was the baby of the family, and usually around the time he was clocking out of work for the day I was heading off to bed, so I got a lot more facetime with my mom. The few times we did interact he’d usually be telling me to act a bit less hyperactive or cracking wise that I was the reason he didn’t have the money to replace our dying Chrysler K-car. Still, my dad chose me of his three kids to join him for Star Wars.
That very first viewing was the beginning of something important. I didn’t understand the events playing out in front of me and I didn’t care. I was watching him. The excitement on his face when Darth Vader appeared on the Rebel ship. His finger gun gesture when Han shot first. Comparing the Jedi and their awesome lightsabers to the knights he taught about in his Ancient Medieval History class. My dad was dorking out for me.
A few years later, when I was eight years old, I was invited to my best friend’s birthday party at the theatre to watch the special edition of The Empire Strikes Back. Seeing a Star Wars movie on the big screen with booming THX audio was a cool moment but I was more enamoured by the film cells that each of the kids were given. Mine had a still of the Battle of Hoth and I swear nobody gave more of a shit about it than my dad, who thought it was the coolest thing ever.
I saw Return of the Jedi with him not long after, accompanied by his bemoaning of the changes in the special editions and the presence of Ewoks in a universe already populated by Wookies. He had hit his quota on fuzzy aliens. My mom on the other hand questioned how appropriate it was for me to watch a movie with golden bikinis and warfare on such a galactic scale. “War is right there in the title, Carolyn,” he’d say in response. A prequel series was on its way and my father knew I needed to first be educated on the originals.
When Episode I arrived my dad threw me into the fandom deep end. Not only did we see the movie multiple times but he’d slip me his pocket change to buy the crappy tie-in toys from the KFC at the bottom of our hill. He’d also hide my dozen or so “lightsaber” sticks from my mom who saw them as a hazard. For Christmas that year he got me Star Wars Episode I Racer and printed my name on the cartridge in permanent marker so I wouldn’t lose it at a friend’s house in case he also wanted to play. About a decade after having traded in the game I met my friend Alex who said, “are you the Trent Seely” because he bought that same N64 cartridge.
I was an angsty twelve-year-old for the release of Episode II. He suggested seeing it together, per our tradition, and I told him I was “too grown up to see movies with my dad.” Instead, I saw Attack of the Clones with a couple of middle school friends I sometimes hung out with during lunch hour. I thought seeing it with other teens might strengthen those relationships but it wasn’t the same. Ditching my dad for fairweather friends was a choice that’s always bothered me and looking back today as a parent myself it still hurts my heart.
Episode III was the redemption arc in more ways than one. I dragged my dad and older brother with me to the theatre, promising it would be “darker and more intense” than the previous film which… have not aged well. I didn’t actually know if Revenge of the Sith would be any better but I knew that I had foregone something special years earlier and I wanted it back. By the time we left that first viewing my dad was gushing over the final act and how it had made up for the prior two prequels. I can still remember this conversation, again featuring his frantic hand talking, as we walked to the car in the parking lot.
The following decade was light on Star Wars movies and heavy on life changes. I graduated high school and university before moving out of my parent’s house. Eventually, I met my now wife and had children of my own. When we finally did get some new movies he was the first to ask if we could see them together and we did, for the most part — he fell asleep while watching The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of the Skywalker (twice). I’d poke him awake and he’d pretend he hadn’t missed anything. He’s a senior now so falling asleep in a two-hour film can be forgiven, Star Wars or not.
I’m not sure when another Star Wars movie will come out. Who knows how many more viewings he and I will get to share together. Regardless, having created such an important bond over a space opera with bad guys in plastic suits pushed me to reassess my engagement with my four-year-old son. So much so that I read him a Star Wars-themed children’s book (Goodnight Darth Vader) each night in the hope he might take to the franchise as I did. So far, Star Wars is taking a backseat to Jurassic Park and Spider-Man but I’ve come to realize that the important thing is just being there for him. The same way my dad decided to be there for me.