(All I Know I Learned From is an exploration into the ways in which I’ve been impacted by my favorite childhood cartoons, movies, and video game franchises. Each month, I’ll explore the TV shows and films that fine-crafted my sense of personality and development. The late 80s and early 90s was a definitive era in America and I hope to relive my memories and spark some of yours with All I Know I Learned From. I hope you enjoy my first post.)
I was born in the Spring of 1985. That’s 8 years after Star Wars: A New Hope originally launched in theaters. By the time I was born, Star Wars had recently solidified itself as a piece of Americana. It had only been 2 years since the trilogy had finished with Return of the Jedi when I graced Ponca City, Oklahoma and ruined my mother’s Easter with an 8-hour labor. I grew up as part of the first generation that never knew a universe in which Star Wars didn’t already exist. For the kids who grew up in the late 80s, there were three things we knew as truth: Star Wars was the most amazing trilogy ever, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had epic story arcs, and there’s this new Sega Genesis console coming out soon that looks really cool!
For kids of my generation, we always had a friend who had a friend who still had his older cousin’s Boba Fett action figure, but you never actually saw one because they were so rare. All the kids I knew had also seen the often embarassingly critiqued Battle for Endor and thought the Ewoks were cool, but not as cool as the original trilogy. I grew up speaking like Darth Vader and pretending the stick I picked up as I walked my way home from school was a Jedi lightsaber. Star Wars was a celebrated masterpiece that every child had to watch in order to consider themselves american. It was just part of the package. You needed to be able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and you needed to know that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. Those were just two simple facts that defined a solid portion of American culture.
Because Star Wars left such an impression on my childhood, it wasn’t difficult to explore the ways in which I was impacted by it. One important, and probably the most significant, way was how it helped my grieving process as I lost my grandmother. Grandma Lou (her first name was Louise) was incredibly sweet and had a strong and unapologetic laugh. She’d always have the freezer packed with ice-cream and Flintstones Push-Pops and each year she’d have me circle the toys I wanted for Christmas in her Toys R Us monthly catalog. I remember for my 6th birthday she gave me a Nerf Bow n’ Arrow and it became my favorite gift from that year. She had a knack for knowing what I loved even before I knew it. She spoiled me rotten and was gifted at being understanding and patient.
I was 6 years old when she died from an aneurysm caused from smoking. I remember quite a bit about Grandma Lou’s smile and her positive energy, but I don’t remember much about her being in the hospital or funeral. I can picture myself staring down into her casket and not really knowing what to do or how to react. I must’ve cried, but I can’t be sure because my memory of that day is so clouded. I felt lost afterward; I wasn’t sure how my life would change after she was gone.
Perhaps Star Wars has such a strong tie to my memories of my grandmother because I have such a strong memory of them both. The first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope, I was 3 years old and watching it on her TV in her living room at some kind of family get together. I’m assuming it was around Christmas because it was cold and I remember snow being on the sill of her front window and her plastic nativity scene on the front lawn. I laid down, belly first with my chin resting in my palms, and started watching the film from the first scene where the Star Destroyer is chasing down Leia’s ship for the Death Star Plans. I remember that I was dressed in the GI Joe sweat shirt and matching pants she’d bought for my Christmas present. The cinematography and laser-effects hooked me. I’d made it all the way through to the Ewok battle scene when my dad scooped me up and said it was time to go. I was devastated! I pleaded and cried, but he didn’t cave. I was lucky because a few weeks later he bought the full VHS set of all three films and we watched them – repeatedly.
But while I was laying in Grandma Lou’s living room watching Luke’s story unfold, I was unaware of how the film was shaping my perspective of life and death and how it would impact my own grief years later after Grandma Lou died. I’d already seen how Luke’s experiences helped him grieve not only for Beru and Owen, but for Obi Wan and his father as well. While Luke struggled throughout the films, he also had a calling to be a Jedi he couldn’t ignore. So Luke relied on his memories and the teachings of his masters for guidance and strength. Much like how Luke called on his mentors, I still speak to my grandmother and try to channel her words of wisdom or some piece of guidance. More often than not, I’ll find an answer in which I know she’d approve. You could say that Grandma Lou’s Force Ghost has a strong presence.
I have such few memories of my grandma now, but this is one I’ve held onto and I think it’s in no small part to how impacting Star Wars and Luke were on my understanding of life and death. Each time I sit down to watch Star Wars, I can always remember the feeling I had when I first watched A New Hope in Grandma Lou’s home and it feels like she’s beside me, watching it with me.