How 'Star Wars' has defined my relationship with my dad
“I am your father!” The line is iconic, one of those perfect moments of cinematic wonder: The plot thickens, and Luke Skywalker realizes in horror that the Big Bad he’s been hunting down is none other than his own flesh and blood. The scene is iconic, parodied (lovingly) to death, but in the moment of watching, even if it’s for the thousandth time, you feel the immediacy and weight of the moment. Afterward, to quote another icon of our time, nothing was the same.
It’s also one of the only lines of English dialogue I’ve ever heard my own father quote. A longtime fan of historical war dramas like The Bridge Over the River Kwai and Saving Private Ryan, my dad generally prefers his entertainment as dryly educational or “true to life” as possible. Our family shares my Netflix account, and I’ll log into my profile to see History Channel, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel specials and recommendations, all from him. (My mom prefers procedurals, and my sister wisely made her own viewing profile.) This is a man who only got through half a page of the first Harry Potter book because it “wasn’t realistic enough.”
But there are exceptions to his skepticism, and many of them come in the form of sci-fi and fantasy epic films. Despite not always following the plot of the Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games films (subjecting him to gentle roasting from me and my sister), he still enjoys their characters’ journeys, though he doesn’t always understand the internal mythologies that form these stories’ frameworks. Except, notably, for Star Wars.
I grew up with first generation immigrant parents who were determined to keep their cultural heritage alive in their children. Every Saturday for years, we went to Chinese school (held, embarrassingly so to young me, in the “normal” middle school), and we were encouraged to speak Chinese as much as possible at home. My parents attempted to extend this homeland focus to media, but my sister and I had none of that, instead choosing to read stories in English, watch shows in English (everything from SpongeBob to, um, Jerry Springer), listen to music with English lyrics, chatter away in English, our first language slipping away from us in favor of something that made living and playing simply easier.
My parents didn’t “get” most of the things we were into, and it took them a while to learn how to be American parents for American children. We were kept to fairly strict routines: Breakfast, school, home, practices of various activities, dinner, a walk or two around the neighborhood, sleep. To deviate from those things, like to go to a birthday party or a sleepover, was cause for pleading on the kids’ sides. “But Mooooooom, how can we make friends if we don’t gooooooo?” Always unspoken: How can we be accepted by our non-immigrant peers if you keep making us only do these weird immigrant things?
It was the result of one of these loaded requests that my sister, my dad, and I stayed up one night to watch the original Star Wars trilogy. We’d seen it before, but I’d argued that it was formative to our life experiences (read: mine and my sister’s burgeoning interest in American pop culture) that we go all-out: Other families do movie marathons all the time and let the kids stay up late to watch stuff! My mom opted out, and then there were three.
So it began: We gathered sleeping bags, laid out in the living room, and went to Tatooine, Hoth, Dagobah, Cloud City, Endor. My dad thought Han Solo was really cool and that Leia’s hair was impractical; he also pronounced Luke as “look.” (He still might.) We must’ve all gleefully cheered when the Death Star was blown apart at the end of A New Hope, though not so loudly as to wake up slumbering mother. He must’ve tucked us into our sleeping bags at the end of Return of the Jedi, or maybe he fell asleep before we did. The memory fades around the edges, leaving just a single, out-of-body still: Three bodies cuddled around a screen, exclaiming in wonder as the spatial beyond beamed into our television through technology masquerading as magic.
Since then, we’ve only had a handful of similar “family bonding” moments: When we accidentally watched Borat together, which my dad found delightful and my mom found revolting and my sister and I found hilarious because of their reactions; when my mom sat down for The Life Aquatic during my and my sister’s Wes Anderson movie marathon and quietly remarked afterward, “That was really good”; when we went to see The Return of the King on Christmas day in a small theater in New Hampshire and, because tickets were free, we craned our necks up to the screen from the first row, enraptured together.
Sometimes I wonder how many things my parents have done just to appease their strange children, and then I think about the flip side: All the memories we didn’t make together, because the culture gap between was too wide for them to bridge and not yet visible to us on the other side. Would that have made my scrambled adolescence any more clear? Would that have given my parents any more reassurance as to my ability to navigate culture and identity in the world beyond our family unit? Would I simply have more things to talk about with them when I go home, which is less often every year that passes, every year the lines on their faces sink deeper and their ailments and maladies become less symptom and more condition?
I’m watching the new Star Wars movie with my friends tonight, late. My parents had asked me about seeing it together when I come home in a few days, but I explained that I just had to watch it as soon as it came out, otherwise I’d be left out of conversations that transcended my friend group and into my line of work. I could hear the disappointment in my dad’s voice: A resigned “Oh.” We later compromised on seeing Mockingjay Part 2 together, as well as perhaps a rewatch (for me) of Star Wars.
Still, I feel like I should’ve waited. Though it’ll be thrilling to see the film, the future of this sublime, iconic story, right as it drops, there would’ve been something undeniably special about watching it with my dad by my side. Maybe he’d ask me how they cast John Boyega and Daisy Ridley before the film began, remark about how the old cast looks now, whisper “Holy” (he almost never curses, at least not in English) under his breath during pivotal, breath-taking scenes. Then after, we’d walk out of the theater, speculate as to where the series stands now, and head home together, in this and all things.
It’s not too late to change my mind.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.