I thought I’d recount my experience as a kid with the Original Trilogy novels, as they played such a big part in my Star Wars obsession, my love for books, and my decision to become a writer.
The Empire Strikes Back, by Donald F. Glut
My first experience with a Star Wars book was when I was in the fifth grade in 1980 or so. I had only seen The Empire Strikes Back, with a group of friends in the theater recently (I had a vague notion that there had been another movie before it, but I hadn’t seen it yet–this was before the instant access of the digital world, obviously, or even VHS); and so Empire was everything.
One day in school the class received a bunch of free books from one of those Scholastic Book Clubs (I used to love perusing those colorful flyers for books) and each kid in class got a free book. I don’t remember being able to choose my book; you just got one based on….I don’t know what. But I’m guessing gender.
I got: Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. Yay. Meanwhile, my classmate Chris got the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back. I was sooooo jealous! I wanted that book, and eyed it greedily. Luckily, he saw that I had Heidi and–for some reason I still don’t understand to this day–he wanted to swap. A boy in 1980 wanted to swap his Star Wars book for Heidi. It’s one of life’s mysteries, but one I’m grateful for, because I knew I was destined for that book.
I read and re-read that book so many times it was dog-eared within a year or two. There was no way I could rewatch the movie unless it a) came back to the theater, which it wouldn’t do for many, many years, b) it was shown on NBC as a Sunday Night Movie, in which case I was too young to stay up that late on a school night, or c) my family could afford a VHS recorder/player and could buy or rent the movie, which we couldn’t. HBO and Showtime weren’t a thing yet back then, and we couldn’t afford that either when it did become a thing.
So–I read. I read and I read and I read that book. It was the only way to relive the story that I loved so much, and couldn’t get enough of.
Star Wars, by George Lucas (only recently have I learned that it was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster)
Eventually, I did see Star Wars–what’s now called A New Hope. I think I saw it on VHS at a friend’s house, and it was….strange, at first. It had a different look and feel to it, the cast looked so different–younger, even though it had been only a few years, and Luke–he looked totally different. The nose. I didn’t understand it until much later, when I learned he’d been in a car accident and had needed a reconstruction.
Anyway, of course I now needed this book to add to the other. I think I simply bought it at the local bookstore. I read this one many times too, for the same reasons as above. But I did something else this time: I took out some lined paper and my pen, and I began to copy it down, word for word.
I’m not sure why I did this. And I didn’t get too far before I thought it a silly endeavor and stopped. But now I’m thinking I did this because of the latent writer in me. Like visual artists, you learn by copying the masters. And though technically this wasn’t a great piece of literature, I loved it and wanted to experience it in a different way than just reading. It was like I was writing the story. This was before I got the notion that I even wanted to be a writer, and hadn’t thought up the idea of writing my own stories. But I see that carefully copying out the story of Star Wars was the hidden writer in me trying to get out. A clue, so to speak.
Thinking about it now, it’s actually not silly at all, to copy your favorite writer or story–you can learn by doing it, pick up the rhythms of words and sentences, absorb style, voice, pace, that sort of thing. I was too young to realize this, but on some level my inner writer knew it. Luke’s hero’s journey set me on my own writing journey, inspiring me to create my own heroes and heroines.
Return of the Jedi, by James Kahn
Finally, the day came when Return of the Jedi hit theaters in 1983, and it had been a terribly loooong wait. When you’re 12 or 13 years old, three years is a century to wait for something like that. The long wait in line that snaked around the corner of the theater was worth every minute–I was blown away by what I saw. Stunned, really, with that surprise twist at the end, when Vader lifted up the Emperor and threw him down that shaft. The cheers that erupted in the theater is something I’ll never forget.
And again, because I wouldn’t be able to see the movie again once it left the theater, I had to have the book to experience it over and over. I loved the cover of this one–just Luke’s hands holding the uplifted lightsaber. I relished every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter. I wanted to hold on to that euphoric experience I had felt in the theater.
I remember sitting in a sunny corner of my room, reading the book, and thinking, this is it. This is happiness, this is what makes my particular life worth living–to experience stories, not just this one, but all truly great stories, to live them and breathe them and see them come to life on paper, and perhaps…write them.
It would still be a few more years before I actually took pen to paper and created my own stories. But my inspiration, my impetus, was the love I had for Star Wars, and the novelizations of those films that I read to near shreds.
I don’t know what I ever did with those books, but they’re long gone. I think it’s time I replaced them on my shelf, along with all the other fantastic Star Wars books I’ve been reading.
Do you have any indelible childhood experiences with Star Wars? How did it influence your life? Comment below and we’ll talk about it!
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