Yesterday Dr Marry and I saw The Rise of Skywalker, the final Star Wars film (although I feel like Star Wars* is like The Rolling Stones or Cher–I’m not absolutely certain they understand what the word “final” really means since they seem to announce their *final* world tour again and again).
But I digress…
As previously mentioned in this blog, I often have a physical reaction to things ending. But this felt super heavy on my chest because I saw Star Wars (you know, back when it was just called Star Wars because we didn’t know there were going to be 600 of them) when I was four; in fact, I am almost sure it was the first movie I ever saw. My dad and I drove in from Wyndmere to Wahpeton (one really small town and one pretty small town in ND) to see it. Despite the fact that we both fell asleep in the sand scene with the Jawas, I actually remember quite a bit about it.
I have a slight scar on my ankle from when a friend called me in the summer before 5th grade to see if I could go to Return of the Jedi with her that night. In my haste to go ask my dad, I ran into the sharp edge of a heat vent and sliced my ankle open. It bled through the whole movie, but I didn’t care. I LOVED that movie. When Leia melts Han, when the Ewoks show up, when we (spoiler alert!) find out that Darth Vader is Luke’s dad…
Dr Marry and I have seen the last five of the final six together in our 18+ years as a couple. We watched Natalie Portman’s shirt get conveniently cut right below her breasts in that battle scene of the second/fifth movie. We endured her painful silent weeping and hair brushing in the third/sixth movie. Seriously, has any character ever had a more stupid, and excruciating to watch, arc than Padmé? Politician turned freedom fighter turned weepy hair brusher. Ugh!
But in this *final* trilogy, we watched Rey, a young woman, take on the entire empire/franchise without overt sexuality, with grit and vulnerability and with little to no mansplaining to be found, even from Master Luke!
Actually, what we were watching, I would argue, was the result of Kathleen Kennedy’s influence as the President of LucasFilm. Funny what happens when a woman makes the decisions, isn’t it? Actually, we should all just start saying, “Funny what happens when a [insert anyone but an old, straight, white man] makes the decisions, isn’t it?”
But I digress…again…
These cultural touchstone films have literally been being actively created throughout nearly my entire life, and now they are done…theoretically (see note above).
There’s only one other series that I have lived through with this kind of impact, and that would be the Harry Potter franchise.
Quinn was in kindergarten when Dr Marry read him the first book while I was off doing a play. To have someone who can do a pretty excellent Scottish accent read Hagrid’s, “You’re a real wizard, Harry.” is pretty thrilling. Plus, he could explain all the English references that Quinn and I absolutely didn’t get. The first four books were already out by that point, so we quickly devoured them. And from that moment on, we were part of the “Go to Barnes and Noble at midnight for the next Harry Potter book release” gang. And it’s hard to know who loved it more, Quinn or I.
I watched Quinn grow up alongside Harry. I grew to love the Weasleys and their messy and loving Burrow, to cheer for Hermione over and over again, to imagine the thrill of watching Quidditch live and all the rest. We were dutiful opening day movie goers and had many a conversation about the superiority of the books to the movies while admitting to loving them both.
To this day, I still get teary eyed when talking or even thinking about the scene in the forest where all the important people come back to Harry as spirits to surround and guide him as he goes to fight Voldemort to the death (Chapter 34, “The Forest Again” from The Deathly Hallows).
I feel lucky, actually, to have lived through the era of these two phenomenons. There’s so much bad happening in the world right now, so much to be overwhelmed and angered by. But in the midst of all the bad, there are these two artistic juggernauts; these two movements that literally connect billions of people in shared experiences. A significant portion of the planet has learned the backstories, discovered hidden truths and laughed and cried over wins and losses together in real time with these characters for decades.
Star Wars and Harry Potter can’t stop the ice caps melting, can’t save the rain forests, can’t cut emissions, can’t solve our global immigration crisis or any of the other seemingly insurmountable challenges we have to not just face but work quickly to solve. But they, like all art, are what makes us human. They are part of the fabric that connects nearly all of us, across geography, culture, gender, age, economics and more.
For the moments we are engaged in these epic stories, they bring us hope, sadness, joy and relief. They are a welcome respite from the reality of our day to day lives, and they are a marker of the quick and relentless passing of time.
I sat in the theater yesterday, tears running down my face, spent by the understanding that I was witness to the end of an epic era. But more importantly, I understood that I was noting my own mortality. I am not the four-year old, not the 11-year old, not the young mother of a six-year old, not the girlfriend of a 33-year old anymore. All of those selves have vanished, never to be seen again. They live now, like my first encounter with these stories, in my memory. They can be recalled but they can never again be brand new.
And that is why it’s sometimes hard to breathe, and that is why I often struggle at the end of things and that is certainly why I cry.
*Funny (and slightly nerdy) question: would you italicize franchise names like Star Wars and Harry Potter? I did some research and found out the answer is that it’s entirely arbitrary to the writer, so I opted out of doing it. What would you have done?