Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thanking Mom for "Star Wars"

I've posted a bit about my mom recently, as her birthday was back on 12/27. Today's a bit of a difficult day for my family, as it was exactly one year ago today that my mom very unexpectedly passed away, less than five weeks after her 70th birthday. She's obviously been on my mind a lot lately.

My intent in writing about her here on my blog is not to go fishing for sympathy, or to create a sense that I'm sitting around every day feeling depressed. Rather, I'm using my blog here as an outlet to remember my mom. If I don't talk about her and think about her, in a meaningful way, then eventually she's just going to become another face in my memory, and I really don't want that to happen. While Mom taught me a lot, from cooking to family history to old songs she used to sing, on my blog I'm trying to focus on things that related to me being a self-described "geek" - using my imagination, my love of reading, my love of comics, fantasy, science-fiction, and gaming. These are all topics which you, my audience, can relate to, of course.

I've talked before about how my mom helped support my interest in gaming, and also gave a tribute to her involvement in all of my geeky hobbies. Today I'm going to talk about one particular area that Mom really got into with me, and that's Star Wars.

Going back to May of 1977, I was six years old (my 7th birthday would come in another four months), and my family went to the movies to see "Star Wars." You have to remember that back then, without the Internet and the omni-present media coverage, it really wasn't the event that it would be today. For our family, it was just another trip to the movies, but that in and of itself was an event in our household, as it was a rare occurrence. In this particular case, it was even rarer in that we weren't going to see a Disney double-feature at the local drive-in. I have a feeling that my sister, three years old than me, and I didn't even really know what we were going to see, and we probably at this point hadn't heard about Star Wars.

I recall leaving the theater and how my mind had been blown. At this age, I'd been exposed to fantasy and science-fiction in the form of Star Trek and Batman reruns after school, and some assorted Saturday morning cartoons and also some fairy tale books. But Star Wars was, and is, nothing like that. It was its own thing - a new genre that mixed science-fiction elements of spaceships and laser guns with fairy tale princesses, magic-wielding knights, old wizards, dark lords, robots, pirates... It sounds like a mess, but it nearly broke my mind with just how cool it was. It took itself somewhat seriously, which was refreshing after having seen the campy nature of the Adam West Batman TV series, but it had a sense of fun and adventure about it (something I really feel the more modern Star Wars materials has deviated from).

Almost immediately, my headlong dive into full-fledged Star Wars fandom began, and it hit hard. Mom made me a Luke Skywalker costume (just the white tunic) and I made a lightsaber by wrapping a yardstick with tin foil. My sister got a homemade Princess Leia hooded robe, and we used to act out the entire series, which consisted of my sister playing Leia and me playing everyone else, including both good guys and bad guys. For some reason, that's how we always acted things out back then. I vividly recall acing out a scene with her in our family room shortly before dinner one night, when we grabbed huge sheets of white paper from my giant sketchbook (another gift from my mom), and scattered them around the floor to stand-in for the bodies of fallen stormtroopers during the battle aboard the Tantive IV.

As our "script," we used the giant-sized Marvel Comics Adaptation of Star Wars that my mom had purchased for me as a gift, shortly before she got both my sister and me a set of the first six issues of the regular-size Marvel adaptation of the Star Wars movie. I read these over and over again, and eventually my mom ended up getting me issues #7 - #15 as well. I remember taking all 15 issues with me to the hospital waiting room when my sister had her spinal surgery when I was about 13, and sharing them with a fellow kid in the waiting room who was also nervously waiting on a family member to get out of surgery and looking for something to do to keep him distracted.

Those first 15 Star Wars comics are what eventually got me hooked on comics for life. But even more than that, the stories beyond the movie from issue #7 on let me know that I could "play" Star Wars with my friends and my action figures without just re-enacting the movie. And that's how I played with my Star Wars action figures from that point on.

Mom, seeing clearly that I was really getting into this whole Star Wars thing, ordered the first eight Star Wars figures for me from a Sears catalog, and I remember how excited I was when I got them as a gift. A few of my friends had some figures and had started to bring them to school, and I just thought they were the coolest thing. That started a roughly 10-year habit of getting all of the figures on trips after school with my mom, to places like Gemco, Mervyn's, Long's Drugs, and Toy World. And somehow, without me ever saying anything, Mom just got it. She understood that there were new figures always coming out, and we'd go on a hunt to find them wherever we could. Mom also sneakily ordered the first mail-away figure (Boba Fett) using proofs-of-purchase cut out from the packaging, and had put it on my bed for me to open one day when I came home from school. That's how much she paid attention and learned what I was into.

At one point, I lost some of the accessories for my figures. In particular, Chewbacca's bowcaster gun had gone missing and I had looked everywhere for it. I had taken to using a paperclip as a makeshift gun. Mom noticed, and ended up calling, and then writing to, Kenner, to see if she could get some replacement pieces. Without charging her, one day Kenner mailed us a rather large box filled with pretty much every weapon (including Chewbacca's gun) along with some really nifty things like the gas masks that Han, Leia, and Chewbacca wore when they explored the "cave" inside the asteroid in "Empire Strikes Back," and a grappling hook and rope for Luke to swing across the chasm of the Death Star. This, again, was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea Mom had done that for me until it showed up in the mail.

Trips after school might consist of going to the library, or visiting a drug store where inevitably she would buy me either a comic book or a Star Wars figure. We always looked for sales on the figures, and oftentimes you could find them at the bargain price of three for $1 at certain shops. This was when Mom started to do things like buy me "extra" Storm Troopers, because she'd noticed that they were the army of the evil Empire, so it made sense to have more than one. She did the same with things like Tusken Raiders and Jawas. I'd never even thought to ask her for extras of those. It just made sense to her.

Mom was also the one who convinced my dad to take me to see the original Star Wars in the theater when it was re-released in December of 1977. That was the first time I'd ever seen a movie twice in the theater (having seen it with the family the previous May). I recall wearing my next door neighbor's Captain Kirk uniform shirt with gold trim on the sleeves and feeling all cool and grown up, and the ripe age of seven years old.

As I got older, Mom's encouragement of my Star Wars habit went beyond the figures, comics, cereals, records, clothes, and bedding. She began to cut out every article she found about it in the newspaper, to keep me up-to-date on what was happening. If there was a magazine in the store with Star Wars on the cover, she would pick it up for me. Back in the late 70's and early 80's, it was like having my own personal Internet just for Star Wars trivia and information. As they got ready to film and then release The Empire Strikes Back, the articles piled up. Mom knew I'd want to know where they were shooting, who was in it, what it was rumored to be about, and more. People started interviewing the actors and production crew, and of course George Lucas, and Mom cut out and saved every one of those for me to read.

When the prequel Trilogy came out in the late 90's and early 2000's, Mom was back at the stores hunting down every figure she could find. She kept little handwritten lists in her purse and would mark them off so that she didn't forget one or buy the same one more than once.

Mom did a lot to encourage my love of Star Wars, and Star Wars, in turn, was really one of the main catalysts for helping me to develop my imagination and tell my own stories of galaxies far, far away. And the cool thing was that my mom did all of this for me, not with me. That might sound strange, but what I mean to say is that, as I look back, it was just out of pure love for me that my mom did these things. Star Wars was not her thing, it was my thing. It was something she was happy to support and encourage, and in a way participate in through our various trips to the store, but it was something that she just kind of let me have. She didn't read my comics or the articles she cut out. She just did it for me to express her love for her son.

I'll always love her for that.

I'd really like to hear about your similar experience, either with Star Wars, or other things that your parents or a loved one encouraged in you when you were young. Share 'em below in the comments.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Hot Chocolate
Listening: "Boplicity" by Miles Davis

2 comments:

  1. First, let me congratulate you on having a great mom and appreciating her as a son. That's awesome. Second, thanks for sharing some very precious and personal memories.

    Third, I almost hate to bring it up here as an unnecessary bifurcation, but I recall my dad taking me to the Star Trek films. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Star Wars, but I love Star Trek and I think a big part of it is the awesome time I had with my dad at the theater.

    In fact, I was very different from my friends in middle school and high school because I often loved what my dad did. Once Upon a Time in the West, Andy Warhol's Dracula, Fearless Vampire Killers, Bob Dylan, Benny Hill, BBC, a lot of what I loved as a kid and love now came directly from my parents.

    Thanks for a great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, man. I really appreciate it. I do find these types of things a bit difficult to write, but I do like sharing them and hope that people find them interesting, inspiring, or at least get something out of them. But ultimately if it's a way to show my affection and appreciation for my mom (and really for both my parents), then they have served their purpose.

      No worries on bringing up Star Trek - I am a huge Star Trek fan and once spent an entire Summer with my two buddies watching the first two seasons of Next Generation on VHS that our friend had recorded off the TV so that we could get ready for the premiere of Season 3.

      I have all seven seasons of Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager all on DVD in boxed sets, recently watched all of TOS in order on Netflix, and am currently going through the Star Trek Animated Series, also on Netflix.

      You may have also seen mention on my blog here how I'm friends with one of the former Star Trek actors. :)

      So, yeah... huge fan.

      I think it's totally possible to like both Star Trek and Star Wars. I don't get why some people get so uptight about it.

      Cheers, my friend.

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