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STAR WARS Memories, From RETURN OF THE JEDI To THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
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It’s hard to believe a time existed before Star Wars. But after 42 years, 11 theatrical films and billions of dollars in merchandising, George Lucas’ samurai film-influenced “space opera” has become a ubiquitous and integral part of the pop culture fabric. Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe—one conceived to some extent in its image—Star Wars inspires and excites even people who, ten or twenty years ago, wouldn’t be caught dead in a sci-fi or fantasy film. Star Wars contains action, drama, imagination, philosophy, and even spirituality, interconnected and driven by characters whose location—a galaxy far, far way—belies a relatability that has repeatedly proven immediate and universal.

Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) consider their next move in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.

Lucasfilm

The Rise of Skywalker culminates, and for the foreseeable future, completes the story began in 1977 when Luke (Mark Hamill) met two quirky droids and embarked on a journey that would explore both the ancient lore of the universe and his own complicated and intimate family legacy. Where Star Wars goes from here is still a secret, even if Lucasfilm probably knows what may be just over that horizon where twin suns hang low in the sky. But with the Skywalker film cycle coming to a close, effectively concluding a narrative that you and we have followed for their entire lives, it felt like the appropriate time for reflection—a walk down memory lane for Star Wars fans to remember what first intrigued or attracted us to this world of spaceships, laser swords and supernatural forces that surround us and penetrate us, and bind our galaxy, and theirs, together.

Below, we invited members of the Nerdist staff to contribute a brief essay about their earliest Star Wars memory, or in lieu of that, a recollection of the moment or experience that inspired their love of this long-running franchise.

I remember it very vividly: The Millennium Falcon, TIE Fighters, the Death Star, and all those beloved characters. It wasn’t Star Wars, it was Muppet Babies. My first exposure to A New Hope wasn’t the movie itself, but the parody on a kids cartoon. Kermit Froghopper, Princess Piggy, Fozzbacca, and Gon Zolo seemed so cool to me! It was only later when I asked my mom about it did I know Star Wars even existed. I still think Scooter D-2 and Skeeter-3PO are superior droids. Though Animal Vader left much to be desired. – Kyle Anderson

C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) attempt to navigate the histile desert terrain on Tatooine in Star Wars (1977).

Lucasfilm

As a neurotic kid more inclined toward “softer” entertainment (namely, reruns of ’70s sitcoms), Star Wars was an intimidating undertaking to me. But it was all the same an exciting one. And helping me find my in-road into preteen viewings of the Original Trilogy was the first character in an action-adventure blockbuster franchise that I ever really related to: C-3PO. He was nervous! He was reasonable! He was kind of a pain in the ass! And he definitely veered queer. And he was an integral part of the most spectacular adventure ever committed to the big screen. And through him, I got to experience the very same. – Mica Arbeiter

I was not quite three years old when Star Wars hit, so for me it’s hard for me to remember a time when there wasn’t a Star Wars. But interestingly, one of my very first memories in life revolves around that galaxy far away. While my older brothers were taken to go see Close Encounters, my grandma took me to see The Jungle Book. A preview for Star Wars began, and when Vader showed up I was totally mortified. I became that kid in the theater, the one who screams in terror and has to be taken out till they calm down. But the image of Lord Vader remained in my psyche. Because after a few months, I was living and breathing Star Wars like every other kid in the world. 42 years later, I am very much still that kid. – Eric Diaz

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) face off in the bowels of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Lucasfilm

This is a “memory” that, candidly, I know better from family and friends telling me about than from actively remembering the experience, but I saw Star Wars in theaters with my grandparents when I was three. During the original release. (I am old.) But they took me to a theater and sat me down to watch and I promptly started asking questions: “what’s somebody gonna do, Grandma? What’s somebody gonna do?” Eventually, my grandfather got fed up and asked my grandmother to take me out of the theater, but I’d already become obsessed with “Dars Bader,” and a love affair with this series was born. – Todd Gilchrist

The Star Wars prequels were the first movies to come out during my lifetime but I saw A New Hope when I was a kid. I fell in love with the franchise because of Leia. In my pre-Mulan world, Leia was different from any other TV or film princess I had ever seen at that point—a bold and smart heroine who takes action alongside the boys. I would place myself in her shoes and escape the troubles of my childhood as I pretended to exist among the stars. Her story kept me invested in this saga and her ideals helped me form my opinions of what it means to be a woman and hero. – Tai Gooden

Princess Leia languishes in a prison cell deep inside the Death Star in Star Wars (1977).

Lucasfilm

My earliest Star Wars memory is of seeing the special edition of The Empire Strikes Back in theaters in 1997. I was only nine at the time, and the galaxy far far away created a sandbox for my imagination that I’d never experienced before. A sandbox strewn with stars, ships, cities in the clouds, and the possibility of somebody ordinary becoming a hero to the whole universe. After the movie, I couldn’t help but turn everything I touched into a lightsaber, hoping that I could become a hero too. – Matthew Hart

Growing up during the prequels, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when Star Wars came into my life. It was always just sort of there. My next-door neighbors, a pair of brothers the same ages as my sisters, were massive fans of the franchise and more than likely, they introduced us to the galaxy far, far away. Over the years, Star Wars has steadily remained in my life, through cable and its ever-expanding universe. But looking back on Star Wars and my earliest and best memories of the franchise, I think about countless movie nights, light saber fights, and while not thriving with a PlayStation controller, instead serving as our preeminent tactician. – Meaghan Kirby

C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) plot their next move on the forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi (1983).

Lucasfilm

My mum worked in the continuity team of Return of the Jedi‘s costume department which meant I’d always had Star Wars in my life. But my first truly visceral Star Wars memory was going to see the rereleased trilogy in Leicester Square right in the center of London with her, which marked the first time I’d ever seen them on the big screen. From then I was hooked. It would be years later that I’d realize those versions are a blight on cinematic history and now I still refuse to watch anything other than my VHS original versions lol. – Rosie Knight

My earliest memory of Star Wars is seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater at the ripe old age of 5. I only remember it so vividly because a very 1983 problem occurred during our screening. Just as Paploo steals the speederbike from the scout trooper in the forest, the filmstrip snapped! The movie stopped and the audience began to boo. Eventually the movie was fixed and we finished it, but I think about it every time I see that scene. That experience is just the first of many Star Wars memories that will always stay with me. – Kelly Knox

Former allies Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi battle in Revenge of the Sith.

Lucasfilm

Star Wars was always a part of my life, in some capacity. We had the toys, the books, the VHS tapes. But Revenge of the Sith was the first time I remember really latching onto the world and the characters. It hit me right when I needed it, as a moody teenager who felt seen in Anakin’s turn to the dark side. I have so many fond memories of falling in love with that film, seeing it over and over in the theater, and finally “getting” Star Wars. It set the stage for what would become a major obsession and huge part of my career and life when the sequel trilogy eventually came along, and will always hold a special place in my heart. – Lindsey Romain

I didn’t grow up with Star Wars the way most people do, because my family wasn’t the “sit down and watch big movies” type. But it was impossible to ignore the fact the movies and world existed. In third grade, a friend invited me to do a Star Wars costume with her for Halloween. She was the type of girl who had long girly hair so therefore she HAD to be Princess Leia, while my younger sister was saddled with a big R2-D2 cardboard costume… and I ended up being Darth Vader, black face paint and all. Cosplay is a huge hobby for me now and looking back, it’s kind of fitting that my first big Star Wars memory that impacted me was also something that was creatively fun! – Andrea Towers

Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) fight for control of the galaxy - and Anakin Skywalker's tormented soul - in Return of the Jedi (1983).

Lucasfilm

It probably wouldn’t be weird if I fell in love with Star Wars because of lightsabers, or even if I cited a specific lightsaber battle. But my story is much stranger and dorkier than that. I truly became a diehard fan of the galaxy far, far away when I learned about the seven different forms of lightsaber fighting. During the prequel era, StarWars.com ran amazing features about the expanded universe, which I had no idea existed. Those posts, especially the one about lightsaber fighting styles, deepened the way I engaged with the franchise and how I felt about the characters. And that’s never ended. (Nor has my preference for Form III, a.k.a. Soresu.) – Michael Walsh

What’s your earliest Star Wars memory? Or what was it about the characters, stories of franchise in general that made you fall in love forever? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher share a fun moment on the set of Star Wars (1977).

Lucasfilm

Header Image: Lucasfilm