The Animation Pimp travels to a galaxy far, far away and gives us his thoughts.
Its time I come clean. For years, Ive denied my affliction, never wanting to be associated with those unsightly stereotypes. Im a Star Wars fan. I wouldnt say geek, cause a geek, as one fella said to me, would be someone who was obsessed with Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and, I dunno, maybe Marvel comics.
Im writing this just a few days before Revenge of the Sith opens. My son, Jarvis and I have tickets for a morning screening. Were skipping work and school. Hey, its got animation, so its research, right?
I remember being excited about Star Wars long before I saw the film. All the kids at school were raving about it, but I had to make do with the scant information listed on the back of trading cards. It was months before I finally saw Star Wars at the Auto-Sky Drive-in in Ottawas West End. As soon as the final credits rolled that night, I was hooked. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I wanted to leave my home and go off on wild adventures, save the Princess and kill the evil Darth Vader.
When I was a kid we didnt play cowboys and Indians, we played Star Wars. I was usually in the role of Luke. I had a plastic white lightsaber. My chum, Chris, had a cool plastic Han Solo blaster with laserfire sounds. I wanted the blaster bad, but I just wasnt willing to play Han Solo. I wasnt sure about him. Besides, he was too old. Luke was closer to my age.
When I wasnt playing Star Wars outside, I was lost in my room with Star Wars action figures, vehicles, and books. I absorbed everything and anything Star Wars.
In 1980, at long last, the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was released. The film, maybe the best of the series, left us with so many questions. Han Solo was frozen, maybe dead. After slicing Lukes hand off, Darth Vader told him that he was his father. And apparently, Luke wasnt the last hope for the Jedi. These were stunning revelations. Everything we thought we knew was turned on its head.
Return of the Jedi answered all these questions and more. Han Solo lived. Princess Leia was actually Lukes twin sister. Darth Vader really was Lukes father. And, after Luke sliced his fathers hand off (sins of the father shall be visited on the sons), Vader rose and saved Lukes life by killing the Emperor. Through the son came the father, and the father came the son.
Then it all passed
Until February 2003.
Jarvis was about 5. It was a cold winter. We were both really sick. There was nothing to do. I grabbed the Star Wars tapes.
After we watched the five films it became clear that it wasnt so much that Jarvis was mesmerized with Star Wars (he certainly was impressed) as it was that I had re-discovered just how important the Skywalker saga was in my life. Although Jarvis never asked me to, I was almost obsessively hunting down Star Wars figures and assorted toys from the past. I guess I wanted him to feel the happiness that the world of these movies once made me feel. He didnt need to feel any of that, though. He was, and is, quite happy with his life. He loves and is loved. Sure, the films brought us a bit closer. We now had a little bond between us, but in truth this Star Wars rebirth was about me trying to come to terms with my own childhood fears.
Ill be the first to admit that these films suffer from stilted acting and lousy dialogue. In truth, the series is just a notch above the old Flash Gordon serials that George Lucas apparently adored as a kid. Ive never cared for all the secondary characters, planets, creatures. And even though I might not have been conscious of it as a kid, Star Wars has, for me, always been a morality tale about a father and son.
Traditionally, the father holds a privileged position in western society. We view the father as an icon of power. Like Darth Vader, the father represents strength. He does not reveal weakness. However, when Luke removes Vaders mask we see that underneath the black armor and his booming voice of masculine power is a weak and broken old man. The armor was all that was keeping him alive.
My stepfather wore a uniform. He was a cop. He maintained order and punished anyone who tried to transgress it. To assert his authority and protect his position he went on a constant attack. Sometimes it was physical, other times it was verbal and emotional. In my world, the police were the dark side and my stepfather, Darth Vader. It was as though he was in a constant race to keep me down so that he could protect his empire of masculinity. However, this process of bolstering his identity by destroying my own eventually backfired. As I grew older and more belligerent, I began to seek cracks in his armor. I discovered that he was not the man he pretended to be. He was not abiding by the moralities he imposed on me.
Like Darth Vader/Anakin, my father wasnt a man of strength, but weakness. He was little more than a mothers boy whose father had died when he a young teen living in England. He fled to Canada to escape his overbearing mother. Soon after, he became a policeman. He allowed the job and all its polarized views to create and define him. In a sense, the police department seduced him by promising power, privilege, and identity. He wouldnt be some common shoe salesman (as he was for a few years); he would now be a protector and guardian of all that was good.
After he joined the force, he found himself an instant family in my mother and me. Right from the beginning I identified with Luke because it was clear that he had to face the dark father (Darth Vader is Dutch for dark father). I longed to see him slice Vaders head off.
Return of the Jedi opened in 1983. I was 16. While Luke was overcoming the dark side and saving his father, my hatred for my stepfather was growing stronger. Yet, I also had a new hope. If this man wasnt my father, my real one was out there somewhere. He was surely a great man and he would love, guide and protect me from all bad things. He would save me.
I was wrong.
My son helped me.
The reason I wanted to show him the Star Wars films was to perhaps show him that fathers and sons are more complicated than the myths and stereotypes tell us. A father is not a god. He is just a man, still a son. Maybe I wanted him to know that his own father had made mistakes, that I didnt even know how to be a father, that life, as Luke Skywalker learns, is a constant process of self-discovery. In this way, Star Wars helped me interrupt the power flow between fathers and sons. As a friend said to me while we were discussing this piece, By accepting weakness and a more fluid identity, the father is no longer the father but a new form, a new identity with new struggles and adjustments.
Its strange. As I write this I realize that just a few months before Jarvis and I watched the films, we visited my stepfather in California. We had just reconnected after an estrangement of over 10 years. He was remarried and seemed happy. But the reunion did not go well. Too much damage had been done. I didnt trust him and constantly felt that he was out to humiliate and undermine me.
Despite all Ive written, today I remain haunted by my cold, strange, violent and dark parents. I write and write and write and nothing seems to make it all that much better. Unlike Luke, I havent confronted my Darth Vader. I remain scared. That weakness makes me frustrated and angry. Its a cycle that I find hard to escape. I dont have contact with them today. I banished them for the sake of my sanity. Still, deep down, I feel that until I confront them, the pain will always be. Maybe I need to, metaphorically speaking, slice my fathers hand off so that he might experience the same pain and humiliation he once inflicted on me.
Perhaps thats too easy a solution. This isnt about either/or. All that I am now was not born solely from my stepfather and mother, but from friends, a wife and a son.
Meantime, Jarvis and I eagerly await the opening of Revenge of the Sith. Weve been watching ads and trailers. We play with blasters and light sabers and action figures. We know whats going to happen in Revenge of the Sith. We know that the dark side will swallow Anakin. It doesnt matter. Star Wars was, like most things when I was a kid, a lonely experience. It was a journey I went on by myself. But right now, Jarvis and I are living this together, not as father and son, but as friends. Just as it should be.
I asked Jarvis what he liked best about Star Wars.
The battles, he replied.
Aint that the truth.
(Thanks to BD and DE for their Jedi-like advice)
Chris Robinson is little more than a man. In his spare time he cares for the elderly. www.animationpimp.com.