***Originally Posted at The Future of the Force, Where I Am Features Editor***
How Star Wars taught me to belong
I was raised on Star Wars. I’m not sure my parents meant to do it, not the way I’ll mean to do it when I show my future children the movies. My mom and dad weren’t even more than casual fans. My sister was the rabid fan but someone had to have shown her first, right? She’s nine years older so her interests have always been the peak of cool to me. I couldn’t have been more than one and a half in my first Star Wars photo. They’re her droid toys I’m playing with. By the time I was old enough to make sense, I was singing made up songs about Luke Skywalker. Once I learned to be embarrassed, I was hiding my crush on Luke from the world.
As a kid, I was desperately anxious, yet unceasingly weird. I was constantly torn between demanding the room’s attention and shrinking from it. I was loved by my teachers but couldn’t make the same headway with my peers. I didn’t have trouble making friends. I had trouble turning niceties and friendliness into something more meaningful. And when I did, I felt my status as a friend was constantly in jeopardy. I worried they would forget about me in the blink of an eye – or worse, see me for the lame person I really was. Unfortunately, this says more about my own mental health than my social skills.
Star Wars taught me how to belong. My struggle with friendships made me feel like I was always on the outside. I was never part of the group or of a community. I was just someone the group was nice to from time to time. I wanted so badly to be a part of something. Star Wars gave me that. It gave me common ground when I thought I had none. I grew up in a time, place, and demographic where most people around me knew what Star Wars was. Star Wars was becoming more and more mainstream while my other interests were quite niched. It’s rather hard to fit random animal or historical facts into conversation with my peers. But there was usually someone ready to talk with me (or, more frequently, at me) about Star Wars. It became like a social lubricant for me.
I soon found that if I wore a Star Wars shirt or accessory, more people reached out to me. I struggled with social anxiety, so if I could make the reaching out part easier, I was eager to do so. I began wearing my interests on my body with an intensity my gift-giving loved ones could barely keep up with. It was a revelation that brought me confidence in both my self-image and in my self-knowledge. I observed the way people approached their conversations with me and I filed it away as skills to use myself.
I became a member of the fandom, sharing my opinions on the internet through site posts and social media. By college, I had three new movies in my Star Wars rotation with the promise of more to come. I was passionate about applying my liberal arts-educated social justice lens to the movies through writing and tweeting.
I used my Star Wars skills in other fandoms too as I branched into Star Trek and Marvel. But where it helped me the most was in real life. I used Star Wars as a jumping-off point for conversations, and even sometimes as a screening tool for potential friendships. I made sure to ask people about the things they like, just like others had done for me, and validated them by listening attentively.
Friendships I’d thought were circumstantial grew deeper through my new skills and the persistence of others. Soon I found myself getting dizzy with two friends at an Omnimax showing of The Force Awakens months after its release. The next year I was driving through a snowstorm to meet the same two friends at Rogue One‘s opening night. They sat on either side of me as I wept long after the movie ended. The year after that I was flying back to visit my friends for a double feature of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. We cried together, this time.
I went to my very first Star Wars Celebration last April in Chicago. I took the train, my costume packed carefully into my small bag. I truly never felt more like a member of the community than when I was cosplaying Princess Leia. At Celebration, I met people in person I’d only known online. I met a writer I worked closely with and many people I admired online. I fell into random conversations with strangers that ranged in topic from my cosplay to toxic masculinity and the importance of vulnerability. I trudged through the snow to the convention center every day and returned back to my empty AirBnB at night.
Despite my many Star Wars-loving friendships, I saw The Rise of Skywalker for the first time alone on Christmas day. It was my first holiday spent away from home and I was desperately lonely. I watched and I cried and cried and cried. Some of the tears were for the content of the film, some sprung from its inspiration, and others were tears of goodbye. Because this movie is a goodbye. It’s a goodbye to the friends of the Original Trilogy. It’s a goodbye to the friends of the Sequel Trilogy. (The Prequel Trilogy is noticeably, and infuriatingly ignored.) Not the friends we’ve made along the way, those will last. But the characters of the movies themselves. Those friends we’ve spent so much time with. There will be no new memories (outside of fanfiction), just endless opportunities to revisit the old.
I left the theater on Christmas with swollen eyes and a pain in my heart. I felt bereft after spending over two hours in a world I love, with people I’ve grown to love and having had to say goodbye to it. To the franchise that taught me how to belong, that gave me the skills to be a part of something for once: this is goodbye. And thank you.
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Katarina Schultz is the Features Editor for Future of the Force. She is a passionate Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who and Marvel fan. All of her writing can be found at katarinaschultz.com. Follow her on Twitter @asuperhumanlife where she uses the force frequently!