Leia on the Playground: Scenes and Memories of Star Wars

1.

“Have you seen Star Wars?”

The question is hazy in my mind now, but back then it came unbidden to my lips as a new friendship blossomed with a boy in my second grade class. He was a scrawny, rough and tumble kid with scraped knees and a really cool bike. I don’t remember why we had begun to talk more and play together at recess, but I remember the solemn commitment with which he nodded.

“Let’s play Star Wars,” I said firmly, at some point, and by the time recess was done that day we had reenacted every line we could remember, the movie relived – starring him as Han Solo and me as Leia (or Luke if the scene needed it). There was no Han/Leia kissing, of course, but I did yell “INTO THE GARBAGE CHUTE, FLYBOY!” and toss him down a tube slide on the playground. We climbed on things, hid in the thin treeline at the edge of the school property, aimed invisible blasters at invisible Storm Troopers, and ran for our lives down corridors in our minds that never ended.

FullSizeRender

illustration by my younger brother – circa 1995

This was a good game, we decided. Occasionally we switched it up and played “Indiana Jones” instead, but more often than not we would argue about which of us got to actually be Indy. So we stuck with Star Wars.

Leia was amazing to me then. Ferocious, sharp-tongued, beautiful, perfect hair… She definitely did not possess the dreaded, confusing mixture of material femininity that made me so wary of the other girls my age and indeed of the young woman I could potentially become. I liked climbing and running at that age, I loved being outside in nature and getting dirty and believing myself to be some kind of hero when I was only a thin, foal-legged kid with an awkward haircut. What I did not want was to “grow up” and become empty and superficial, to care more about makeup than music, or romance than adventure, or real life than make believe. What I did want was to be like Leia: intelligent, shrewd, unafraid of being captured, heroic for a cause, full of endlessly witty quips, and who found a romance that was part of her adventure, not separate from and instead of it.

Even though my hair was long and brown, I could never sit still long enough to learn to braid it or to have it braided. The cinnamon buns eluded me completely.

 


 

2.

It’s 1997, and Dad has just excitedly said words at me and my younger brother that don’t make sense.

“What?” I ask, thinking we are about to be the butt of a joke.

“They’re going to show Star Wars in the movie theatres again,” he says. “On the big screen. And we get to go see it!”

“But didn’t they come out like a million years ago?” I do not understand how this is possible. Time is a complex concept to me at this age.

Dad’s pained expression is brief. “No, they came out when I was in college.”

My younger brother looks at me for translation. “A million years,” I whispered.

Dad points at the movie times listed in the newspaper. “See? I’m going to take you guys to see it this week. We’ll go when it’s not too crowded. During the day. I never thought I’d get to see it on the big screen again! The feeling when the Star Destroyer passes overhead at the beginning… It’s amazing.”

Quick mental calculations reveal to me that what Dad is trying to tell us that he’s going to pull us out of school to go see Star Wars in a movie theatre. My brother and I exchange looks. We proceed with caution; we are careful, quiet, patient – lest we incur unexpected wrath and be told we are no longer eligible to go to this midday excursion to the cinema. Maybe this is when I start to realize how awesome movies really are, and start to fully grasp how important movies can be – later, so important that I would go to midnight showings, dress up in costume, and celebrate them at every opportunity. Movies would become so important that sleep would be immaterial and the unbelievable high of being swept up in a story was worth every moment of exhaustion the next day.

Movies are magic.

There was one summer around this time that was so hot – and we did not have air conditioning at our house for a long time when we were kids – that every day my brother and I would turn all the fans in the living room to face the couch, put in the VHS of “The Empire Strikes Back” and settle in with popsicles and cold washcloths perched on our heads. It worked. We were positive that it worked. We stayed cool and we became really fond of that movie in particular. Hoth was our personal air conditioner.

Magic.


 

3.

“The Phantom Menace.”

It’s cryptic, as far as titles go. I obviously know what phantom and menace mean on their own as separate words, but put together like this I’m not sure what the title really means. It’s 1999, I’m in sixth grade, the millennium is going to be the coolest thing ever, and there’s a new Star Wars movie out.

We see it in theatres – my brother and I solemnly accepting that this is the New Star Wars. We are well-informed and fully understand that the little boy is supposed to be Baby Darth Vader, but my brain doesn’t like the fact that there is a significant age difference between Padme and Anakin. Nor do I like the fact that she calls him “Annie.” It’s not that it’s a girl’s name, it’s just weird-sounding. Stop saying it, Natalie Portman. You’re too poised and majestic to use such an unfitting nickname for him.

Natalie Portman. Queen Amidala. I’m obsessed with the idea of a young queen that rules an entire planet and doesn’t take backtalk from anyone. I love the costuming. I love the awesomeness that happens when she’s wielding a blaster and fighting with her own two hands for the freedom of her people.

I get several of her action figures.

I dress as her for Halloween that year. My cousin goes as Jar Jar. My brother goes as Wolverine despite our attempts to have him be Anakin. Or at least R2.

I find a book at Barnes & Noble that is basically the ‘secret diary’ of Amidala – a kind of novelization of the film but only from her perspective. I read this book at least ten times. Why don’t they make the next film be all about her? I wonder. It would be awesome.

I wish – as a quiet, strange eleven-year-old girl – that I had half the faith, confidence, and style that Padme Amidala had in that first film. Fourteen years old, and she rules an entire planet? Amazing.

And then the second movie came out. And everything went to hell.

Did I mention that the third movie is the first movie I ever saw in theatres which I wanted to walk out of?

But man. There was hope for me in that first film. Phantom Menace. I should have realized that the menace was the imminent bad writing.

Also, as far as I’m concerned, Padme should have got with Obi-Wan. Not Anakin.


 

4.

In college, when drinking games to movies was all the rage, I wrote some intense rules for a Star Wars drinking game. I have attempted to reconstruct them from memory here.

Take a drink….

  • every time R2-D2 wins at something
  • every time Luke whines
  • every time a lightsaber ignites or extinguishes
  • every time Darth Vader force chokes someone
  • every time someone says “I have a bad feeling about this.”
  • every time someone says “The Force”
  • every time Chewbacca makes a noise

We played this game with A New Hope at an apartment belonging to some good friends, and although the first half of the movie was mostly casual sipping and nostalgic commentary, by the time we hit the Death Star sequence, everyone was yelling and cursing and scrambling for the bottle opener to crack open new beverages as they ran out faster than they could complain about it. Basically, once Chewie shows up, everyone is kind of screwed.

I got so sick that night.

In unrelated news, I don’t drink anymore.


 

5.

November 2013. An online audition posting is uncovered by someone and begins to make the rounds: they are seeking a young man and a young woman, between the ages of 18 and 30, to play two leading roles in Star Wars: Episode VII, and they will be making the rounds across the United States and England to find them.

For a day or two, everyone is in a dazed panic. There’s a date listed for the Chicago audition. There’s a link to upload an audition video and a resume. They want to cast young unknown actors, just like the original? Dare we even hope…?

Our minds fill with visions of what it would be like to be the unknown actor hand-picked for the newest installment of the Star Wars franchise. How quickly life would change! How bizarre and surreal it would be, and things would never be the same. Even if the movie sucked, like we all (now) know the prequels did, we would be launched into fame and stardom, permanently known as That Actor That Came Out of Nowhere And Was In Star Wars VII. Our lives would be interrupted: we would have to move to London to film, and when we came back, things would be completely different. We would inevitably be asked to do more films – that would change things. We’d have to pack up and leave our old life behind in Chicago, we’d have to accept our place in the limelight with gratitude and graciousness. What on earth would family life be like after that? Or relationships? Or ANYTHING at all?

The side the website provides for the audition is appropriately vague – a girl named Rachel and a boy named Thomas have survived something together and are roughing it on the streets as they make their way out of the chaos of…something. Vague dialogue, nothing even remotely Star Wars-y about it. The instructions specifically ask for no props, no costumes, especially not Star Wars costumes. They have to know that they would get a lot of superfans auditioning, with no idea how to submit a professional tape. I do my hair, wear something simple, and diligently memorize the script. I record my audition on an iPhone and sent it in online. Surely there must be something else I could do be more interesting/valuable/accommodating to them…?

I carefully submit a request at work to have off on November 14th, to attend the in-person audition in Chicago as well. I make sure I had headshots and resumes on hand. I, along with my then-boyfriend, best friends, and now-husband, plot to get to the venue early that morning, to stake out a good spot in line. I buy an inordinate amount of hand warmers, and shrewdly select what layers I will wear to stay warm in the frigid Chicago air while we inevitably wait for hours, braving the elements and our neighbors’ scorn for our dedication to a tiny sliver of hope.

The night before the audition, we drive past the venue around 11:00 pm to see if anyone was camping out all night. We have sleeping bags in the car, ready at any minute to spring forth and claim our square of concrete. There is no one there, but there are signs plastered on the building. We get out of the car and check – the signs said that anyone there before 6:00 AM will be considered loiterers and the police will be involved. There are no guards posted, no cops nearby, but we don’t want to risk it. We go home, go to bed with our clothes on, and set our alarms for 4:30. I even set my alarm to play the Star Wars theme.

WE’RE ON OUR WAY TO THE VENUE, I text everyone in our group at 5:00AM. No one responds, but when we arrive, there is Drew already in line. We hop in with him, as there aren’t many people behind us. Ahead of us are perhaps a hundred, maybe two, but the line isn’t moving.

The signs posted remind us that the audition begins at 3:00PM, so we settle in for the long wait. Kurt and Claire join us around 9:00AM, bundled and sleepy-eyed. We make friends with the people in line just ahead of us, and the girl just behind us. We joke that together we own the slab of concrete sidewalk we are standing on. We adopt faux New Zealand accents, discuss trade embargoes with the neighboring concrete slabs, and declare ourselves the People’s Republic of Shittybeania, after the $2 beanie I had hastily purchased at Walgreens the day before in anticipation of the cold weather. We laugh, we share a Little Caesar’s pizza, we take turns going to Starbucks for hot cocoa and lattes. We throw side-eye to the other people in line near us, scornfully staring at Perfect Blonde Dude with his pressed suit and garment bag – what, does he think he’ll get a costume change? We shake our heads as people too young – or too old – come around the corner to get in line and their faces fall as they see how far back the rows of bodies stretch. The line becomes an anaconda, slinking back down the block from the venue, across the street, around the other corner. I wonder if it was like this when Star Wars first came out in 1977. They lined up then… was it this crazy?

Employees of the venue – or the casting company – arrive at some point and help direct traffic. Humanity has shifted here; many of us cannot feel the cold anymore, most do not remember why we started standing in line in the first place.

We try very hard to talk about everything except Star Wars.

Finally the line starts moving. Cheers erupt through the crowd, and we gather our few meager belongings to scurry forward. We make slow progress, but it means the doors have opened and the process has begun.

Around 4:00PM, my group rounds the corner and we can see the doors. There are cameramen and newscasters at the front door of the venue, interviewing people as they pass by, taking long shots of the crowd talking and waving and being excited about Star Wars. We watch as some poor fools pull up in a taxi, hair perfectly coiffed and headshot/resumes in hand, only to step out of the cab and have their faces melt off in shock at how long the line is.

Duh, we all scoff silently. This isn’t just any audition. It’s a cattle call for Star Wars.

When we enter the building, things suddenly click into reality. We hurriedly check our hair, clothes, faces for anything that can be adjusted to look slightly better than normal. We weave our way down the queue until we get to the table, where there are seated three people and huge stacks of headshots and resumes. Occasionally, we see that someone gets pulled out of line and they are measured, then asked to fill out paperwork to return for a callback the next day.

Our group finally reaches the table. The casting humans are friendly, polite, brief. We smile, nod, hand off our resumes, and then with another smile and nod, we are granted permission to go away.

The next thing we know, we’re all stumbling back out of the venue in a daze.

“That’s all?” Kurt says. “I mean, I get it. I get it.” But he’s saying what we’re all feeling. Hours and hours… Shittybeania… the cold pizza. And that’s all it was.

Later, Kurt and Drew agree – “This was a publicity stunt. They weren’t really looking for anyone.”

Maybe so, but damn if it didn’t work like a dream. We were rabid for the chance to be a part of Star Wars. People in that line would have killed to get a callback. All for nothing for us, maybe, but for the movie? A huge boost on the long path towards promoting Episode VII. And you know what? It worked.

IMG_9395

The People’s Republic of Shittybeania


 

6.

It’s May 2015, and the Fella (Drew) and I are at Walt Disney World. We walk into Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Weekend dressed casually as Leia and Han – a phenomenon called DisneyBounding. Drew’s wearing a white henley shirt, a black vest, dark blue pants. I’ve got a long white summer dress with a gold belt, and my hair in little side-buns like Leia’s. Granted, I don’t have enough hair to really do the cinnamon roll look, so mine are more like little Mickey Mouse ears than anything.

It’s Star Wars Weekend, which means the park today is filled with cosplayers, DisneyBounders, and fans of all ages here to experience special Star Wars stuff: special drinks, menus in the restaurants, meet and greets with characters, and extra celebrity autograph sessions with people like Ashley Eckstein, Warwick Davis, and that kid who played young Boba Fett in the movie. The main stage outside the faux-Chinese theatre has Han in carbonite, and Boba Fett prowling back and forth in front of it keeping an eye on the crowd.

We are excited. Now that Disney owns Star Wars, anything can happen. This is only the beginning of what Disney can do with something, and we know that as time goes on the parks will expand and create new magic for fans that will undoubtedly blow our minds.

From the minute we walk into the park, people smile when they see us holding hands, and comment that they like our outfits. After we stop to get a frozen lemonade from a kiosk, the cast member waves us on our way: “Have a great day, Han and Leia!” We can’t stop smiling.

We ride Star Tours twice. We get Tatooine both times, and Hoth once, and Coruscant once. Will I ever see Naboo or literally any other planet?! I’d like to see the algorithm for this please.

The parade of celebrities rolls by, waving from beautiful gleaming convertible cars. Warwick Davis waves and smiles at us. James Arnold Taylor, who voices Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars TV show, recognizes our DisneyBound, gestures at my hair and gives us a double thumbs up. As we’re walking down a street looking for the Muppets 3D theatre, Chewbacca surprises a family from behind and poses for a selfie with them. Then, as he passes us, he holds out a paw for a high-five. I am barely tall enough to reach it, but somehow it works.

Sunshine, Star Wars, and Disney magic with my Fella. It is an awesome, awesome day.

11224022_10101241908138131_9062959107764990338_n

Star Wars DisneyBound


 

7.

December 19th, 2015.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has been in movie theatres for approximately two days. We have tickets for the 12:30PM showing on Saturday following the opening. But we realize that the showing will be chock full of people – to avoid crowds, Bill, Drew and I get tickets to another showing… at 2:45AM that morning.

Like somber, steel-hearted champions we rise before dawn and drive to the movie theatre, where only fifteen other people are seeing the same showing we are. It happens to be in IMAX and 3D – normally I don’t go in for that kinda thing, but it was so worth it. We are all in sweatpants, but I have my hair in Leia buns again. Solidarity and all that.

We laugh. We cry. We eat popcorn really early in the morning. The movie – this movie – is unbelievably good.

At the end of the movie, we are electrified with joy and questions and excitement for the next film. We decide not to refund our other tickets and at 12:30 we go see the movie again. It is fresh, phenomenal, and fulfilling. It is brilliant. It is everything we hoped for and more.

Episode VII may as well be called “A New Hope II” because of the fire it has ignited in the souls of its fans. I know there will be backlash – there always is. I know there will be furious fanboys – there always are. But this movie may be my favorite Star Wars movie of them all. I am brimming and glowing with satisfaction and hope for the next one.

In the trailer, Han says, “Chewie… we’re home.”

We’re all home. It’s that simple and that amazing.

The Force is with us.

IMG_0121

my brother and I – circa 1997

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s