Monday, December 21, 2015

A Rey of Light

SPOILERS: Caution! Here be (mild) Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers! But’s its only kind of about the movie.

I’ve talked about it before—I love science fiction. For many years, if you had asked me what first touched my interest, I would have answered Star Wars. I would have told you about how I walked into the television room at age 9, and saw my mom watching a movie, eating popcorn; how I asked her what it was, because I didn’t understand what I was seeing on the screen. I would have told you how she was surprised that she had never shown me Star Wars IV, and how she had me sit and finish watching the movie with her, and how I loved even the last 20 minutes. I would have told you how I came back the next night to watch Empire Strikes Back, and the next night to watch Return of the Jedi, and how it was all over after that—I watched and rewatched the movies, bought books, imagined myself as an x-wing pilot or a Jedi or a general with the Rebels. 

That’s all true, except I’ve realized over the years that I was well and truly primed to love science fiction by reading and loving Madeline L’Engle books. I just never identified them as such, but, oh, did they ever capture my imagination. I was ready to be captivated by Star Wars, and so I was. 

My fierce (and at times, rather desperate) love of these movies often made things a bit difficult for me. I was already an odd duck in school. I was smart, but I was also athletic; I loved weird things that only boys, if they knew about them at all, should love; I was awkward looking; I was too comfortable with adults, and too uncomfortable with my peers. I was That Kid, and I was harassed, verbally and physically, accordingly. Girls ridiculed my love of science fiction; boys got especially hostile that a girl was trying to invade “their” stuff. I ended up loving science fiction and Star Wars even more because I saw in it worlds where me being a smart girl who liked different things just didn’t matter.

It still left me with the definite notion though that I was a girl who was playing in a boy’s world. I was pretending to be an x-wing pilot, but there were no female pilots in the movie; I was pretending to be a Jedi, but there were no female Jedi. I was trying to be confident and badass, and at least I had Princess Leia, but hell, I knew I wasn’t beautiful like that, and I certainly didn’t have that kind of charisma at that age.

Obviously, I’ve grown as a person and as a lover of science fiction in all its genres. I can see now the racism and sexism problems in some science fiction, Star Wars included, that I didn’t see or understand when I was younger. But loving something, understanding its flaws, and despite those flaws is more sincere than the childish devotion I had, and so I do. I love it because it opened up worlds and possibilities to me, and I love it because sometimes it’s wrong, and I learned how to see and reject what was wrong.

So, when Vor asked if I wanted to play hooky and go see The Force Awakens, there was no question. We had both been getting more and more excited about the movie. I’ve had doubts about J.J. Abrams; I was really unhappy with his treatment of the basic building blocks of the Star Trek Universe, but I knew he had a deeper love of and reverence for Star Wars than he ever had for Star Trek. I was determined to avoid any spoilers; I only watched the trailers, I stayed away from social media, I avoided my usual internet sci-fi haunts, and so on. I went into this almost blind. I had a decent guess about the plot—that it would be a search for Luke Skywalker—but other than that, I was in the dark.

It became quickly apparent that Rey, the young woman, was going to be the new Force user, and presumably, the new Jedi. They called Leia “General.” There was a female pilot in an x-wing.

I was completely engrossed in the movie, in a way that I haven’t been in years. When it ended, I was surprised to discover a lump in my throat, and while I was excited, I also felt quiet. We got into the car to head home, and Vor enthused all the way. As we got close to home, he looked at me, questioning why I was so quiet. 

“I don’t think you can understand what it means to me—what it means to many women my age and older who love science fiction and Star Wars… Vor, that was my childhood dream and my childhood play, on the screen. I pretended to be a Jedi and an x-wing pilot, but there were no women in the movie doing that. And now there is! They’re right there! Just like I dreamt as a little kid!” I was almost crying, which might sound ridiculous to you, but imagine it in the light of all the shit I put up with as a kid, constantly defending my imagination, and now… it’s there, for everyone to see and love and do.

Vor smiled and reached over to hold my hand. “I know, because I know how happy I am for Lis, and for you. I think it means everything.”

And so it does.

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