I don’t remember when I first saw Star Wars, but I do know that I went to go see it in theaters when the Special Edition was released in 1997. Specifically, I went to go see it at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. I was eleven years old and seeing A New Hope on the big screen blew my tiny little mind to smithereens.
I had probably seen the film beforehand, since my father had a pretty good VHS library back in the day and he liked to get movies for us to watch, probably so we would quit bugging him and my mom. Of course, not all of the films were age appropriate, as I distinctly remembering watching Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town one night, but other than giving me a lifelong love of horror films, it didn’t really affect me (that I know).
Star Wars, on the other hand, lit a fire in my mind that could not be quenched. My birthday presents for the next few years were all Star Wars-themed. I got signed postcards of Harrison Ford, Mark Hammill, and Carrie Fisher. My bedsheets had C-3PO and R2-D2 on them. And, more importantly, I went to my local library and tried to find out if there were any books about Star Wars.
They did. In fact, they had the entire Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn, starting with Heir to the Empire. I devoured them and then moved on to other Star Wars books. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t very picky and yes, I did read The Courtship of Princess Leia. I don’t remember if I thought it was bad at the time, but I doubt I was that discerning. Heck, I even tried reading Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster, but I quickly stopped due to Foster’s penchant for purple prose.
My local library didn’t have the best science fiction and fantasy section, but as I roamed the shelves looking for more Star Wars books, I began to wonder about all of these other books. What were they about? Were they as good as Star Wars? Should I try reading them, too? My young mind pretty much went “Sure, why not,” and I tried reading some other books and soon I was devouring what I could.
There were some misses — I’m sorry to say that I could never get through even the first few pages of Dune — but I soon found myself in love with all kinds of science fiction and fantasy. There was The Books of Swords by Fred Saberhagen, the Xanth series by Piers Anthony (and yes, I do look back on those with a certain amount of shame), The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and more. There was also, of course, the “kid’s section,” which I ventured into sometimes, but the only science fiction/fantasy they tended to have was A Wrinkle in Time (read it and then thought the rest of the series got too preachy) and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (read it and then the thought the rest of the series got too preachy).
I never forgot about Star Wars, though, and read through the Jedi Adacemy Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson and then the Young Jedi Knights series, also by Anderson. Seriously, that was my jam for a few years: I devoured each book, most of them more than once.
Of course, by the time I entered high school, my tastes became a little bit better. I discovered Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and realized that “Hey, these are incredibly good!” I found myself looking at comic books and suddenly I had a new obsession (it was the one-two punch of Doom Patrol and The Sandman that hooked me). I even went back and read some older science fiction and fantasy, now that I had a better attention span — in particular, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, which turned out to be just the sort of sword-and-sorcery-and-hijinks that I liked.
I read less and less Star Wars books. In fact, the last Star Wars book I remember reading was The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore. I checked it out from the library and read it and I found that I didn’t like it. Perhaps it was due to the fact that SPOILER ALERT (do I need to add a spoiler alert for a book that’s sixteen years old and has already been declared non-canon? oh well why not) Chewbacca is killed off. Or perhaps it was the fact that I had become more discerning. I no longer read only Star Wars, but I had found a whole new genre (two, if you divide up science fiction and fantasy, which my library never did) and many more books that I just found more interesting than this new Star Wars book.
So I stopped. I never read another Star Wars book up until this year, when I read Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. (The reason I read that book were because 1) I knew Wendig had written great stuff before, like Blackbirds, and 2) I heard it had one of the first gay characters in Star Wars. So I read it and I thought it was great. Definitely better than most of the stuff I read as a child.) But I knew that it was Star Wars that had given me the opportunity to read all of those books I never knew about. It was Star Wars that drove me to the science fiction and fantasy section of my library, to reach my fingers up to pull a book from the shelf and think, “Hey, this looks interesting, I could read this.”
So thank you, Star Wars. And I hope The Force Awakens causes many more children to slide down the slippery slope into science fiction and fantasy.
(Also, a side note: my dad likes to remind me that his first date with my mom was going to see Star Wars in 1977. Without Star Wars, I might not even exist.)