The following is not yet another article on the impact that Star Wars has had on the film industry, genre fiction, or even fandom. There are already plenty of much more qualified sources on those subjects readily available if that’s what you’re looking for. In fact, if you’d like to read/listen to the most comprehensive, well written, and entertaining book I’ve ever read on those subjects, I cannot recommend Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered the Universe enough. (Read my review here!) Instead, the following will be a much more personal account of the importance and impact that Star Wars has had in my life, like the lives of so many others like me, over the last three decades.
Star Wars has literally saved my life on more than one occasion.
Before I get into how, let’s begin with a little context. I was born with a fairly rare medical condition. My body doesn’t produce testosterone. While this type of issue isn’t unheard of, it’s usually caught fairly quickly- typically during infancy, but almost always before puberty. My condition wasn’t discovered until I was thirty, long after puberty had had it’s way with me. My testosterone count was so low, and my case, given my age, so rare, that the specialist I was sent to got so excited that he had to go and get his colleague in the next room to show me off like I was a unicorn. They couldn’t do anything to help me with the issues that I went to see them about, but they wanted to do papers on me. They really wanted to do papers on me. They looked like a couple of coyotes that smelled a pork chop. I left as quickly as I could.
Why did it take so long for a doctor to realize there was a problem? A fun side effect of not producing testosterone is that without testosterone you don’t build much muscle. Without muscle, it’s very difficult to burn fat. I’ve been overweight since I was a baby. My parents took me to doctors and even dietitians. It was generally believed that I was just a fat kid that needed to exercise more and eat less. I can remember being put on diets as early as the age of seven. Nothing worked. I kept getting bigger, no matter what I did or how hard I tried. The bigger I got, the more assumptions were made. That is until my current doctor, literally within five minutes of meeting me and after a quick physical examination, asked me if I’d ever been tested for low testosterone. He was shocked when I told him no, and that no one had ever mentioned it before. Thirty years and a number of doctors, dietitians, and specialists, and all it took was a simple blood test. Now, when I say that I have always been overweight I mean I weighed over one hundred pounds by the time I was twelve. I was clocking in close to three hundred by the time I graduated high school. This was me at Easter of this year:
As you can probably imagine, life was hell growing up. I was picked on and bullied just about every day. I hated myself and I felt like no matter what I did nothing helped or would ever change. My first suicide attempt was when I was eleven. I tried to hang myself. That began a long and constant war with depression and suicide, one I fought mostly in silence because I didn’t want to scare my parents like I did that first time, and I didn’t want people to think that I was nuts. Things were bad enough as it was. Even though I’ve since sought professional help, it’s a war that I’m still fighting to this day.
I’m sure by this point you’re saying, “Wow, that’s really sad and depressing, but what the hell does this have to do with Star Wars?”
Well, Star Wars is one huge reason why I’m still here.
Return of the Jedi was the first movie that I saw in a theater. I had just turned two years old. I watched my dad’s VHS copies (and later laser disc. REPRESENT!) as I played with my Star Wars figures just about every day, driving my mom insane, until I was thirteen. I was nine years old when Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was released. I read it cover to cover (along with my dad’s copies of the original novelizations and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye) and then I begged for the next two when they were released. This began a collection of books, comics, and media that continues to this day. If it was Star Wars, I had to have it. It wasn’t just because I was a huge nerd and a super fan (and I was/am). Those movies, books, audio dramas, and video games saved me. They gave me a safe place where I could retreat when I started to feel the darkness surrounding me. Whenever I felt like I couldn’t cope. Whenever I felt like my life wasn’t worth living. Whenever I felt like the dark side was winning, I’d put in a movie, or I’d pick up a book, or I’d turn on a video game. That beautiful John Williams theme would kick in (even if it was just in my head) and then I wasn’t me anymore. At that point, I was in that galaxy far, far away with characters that I loved. By the time I was done things certainly weren’t perfect, but they were better. They were manageable. The darkness wasn’t so all-encompassing anymore.
I’m not alone.
Stop any cosplayer at a convention. Ask any 501st Legion member. More often than not they’ll tell you a similar story: they were the outcasts, the nerds, they didn’t feel like they fit in until they found other Star Wars nerds. Star Wars was their refuge. Star Wars was their happy place. Star Wars gave them…a new hope.
Star Wars is universal. It’s transcended political borders, languages, and generations and spoken to millions of fans around the world over the course of the last four decades. It’s given us all a galaxy far, far away filled with wonder, and adventure, and a hope that good will always triumph over evil. It tells us that even the worst of us can be redeemed with love; that even the humblest of beginnings and a life that you can’t wait to escape could lead to an opportunity to do something amazing that will change the lives of countless others for the better. It tells us that no matter how dark or desperate things are, there’s always a hope for things to change, to get better.
There’s always hope.
Things have changed a lot for me in the last few years. I got married to a beautiful woman who has a now-5 year old son. Family was something that I always desperately wanted but never thought would happen. Now I’m a husband and a father with a kid that I can share Star Wars with in the same way that mine shared it with me.
Speaking of which….
Words cannot describe how excited I was when I read the announcement that there would be new movies and a new canon that’s starting fresh. I’ve ravenously consumed every new book, comic, and TV show. (Reviews are here.) I watch Collider Jedi Council every week. I spend all day checking news websites for new scraps of information. I managed to get tickets not only for opening night, but for the night after as well before everything crashed. I’m sure I’ll end up seeing it a half a dozen times (at least) in theaters. The promise of new movies in this franchise that I love has really helped during the more stressful times in the last few years. It’s something positive to look forward to sharing with my new family. Once again, it’s Star Wars helping me through the dark times, only this time it’s along with an understanding wife and an adorably goofy son.
I’ve been incredibly blessed in my life, even with everything I’ve gone through. I’ve had a great family and friends. I have a loving wife and son. And I’ve got a galaxy far, far away that’s always there when I need to make the jump to hyperspace and escape for a little while. For me, it’s not just been a fun movie franchise. For me, Star Wars is important. For me, Star Wars has been a life saver.
J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novels The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.