nesting * geeking * critiquing

What About the Bad Guys?

Once upon a time, I worked a job that was soul-crushingly awful. And “soul-crushingly awful” describes only the good days. The bad days were akin to sliding face-first down a giant razor blade straight into a vat of boiling acid. It’s not a huge exaggeration to say that there were days when I left feeling like the Gestapo dude whose face melts off at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those days sucked, and they surfaced far too frequently.

Admittedly, there were a few perks: the pay was pretty decent for my first gig out of college, and a handful of my coworkers were fantastic. One of those associates was named Amy.

Ultimately, the positives failed to outweigh the negatives, and I abandoned the company just shy of my 2-year anniversary. As it turns out, my departure helped pave the way for an infinitely better work environment—the greatest offender came face to face with a pink slip based in large part on my exit interview feedback. I was lauded as a heroine, the provocateur who sparked a revolution towards emancipation. But I digress.

Amy left said company several months prior to my departure to devote time to her photography business (she’s phenomenally good!). Thanks to the magic of technology, we kept in touch via email and, eventually, social networking. Her family relocated to the Seattle area, so we made plans to visit this time around. Some 7 years after parting ways, I finally saw Amy again!

Amy and her husband Justin have fantastic kids: Luke, Ella & Matthias.
We’re not much of kid people, but these three almost converted us. In addition to their fun little personalities, they all dig Star Wars. Luke is a fan of facts…and Luke Skywalker. Ella crushes on Qui-Gon Jinn and Yoda (hey, the heart wants what it wants haha). And Matthias, well, he loves it all—a youngling after my own heart.

‘Thias buddied up to us pretty quickly, a rarity in our childless world. He asked to ride in our car, so I gave him my iPhone to look at pictures of my SW room.
He noticed all sorts of little details that would’ve been lost on most people. One of the more obvious things he commented on was my shelf that features Darth Vader and Stormtroopers.

In his adorable first-grader voice, Matthias asked, “Why do you like the bad guys so much?”

Imagine the sound of crickets for a moment, because that’s what was happening in my head. I had nothing. I’d never given much thought to the idea that I even do like the bad guys. So the answer I gave, the answer that needed the least explanation and self-evaluation was, “I think they look cool.” And they do.

There was a little sigh from the back seat, followed by Matthias’s emphatic response, “I think they look cool, too…but I don’t want them to wiiiin!”

And that’s what reminded me that Star Wars is so much more than the collector-y thrill that it has largely become for me and many other adults. At its core, Star Wars is a character study on the dichotomy of good and evil, of flux and fealty. Fantastical creatures and places and escapades are the proverbial icing on the cake. {Side note: I ADORE cake & icing!}

I loved the SW toys when I was a kid not because they looked cool but because they were a tangible piece of the Star Wars universe. With action figures in hand, I could live out scenes from my favorite adventures. The characters literally became part of my world.

It didn’t matter that I was an only child; most of my SW toys weren’t games that required multiple players to make them fun. It didn’t matter that I was a girl; my SW toys ranged from Ewok stuffed animals (they call them “plush” in the industry today) to action figures that I could “girl-ify” if I so chose—I crafted clothing for Princess Leia using flower petals and scotch tape. My SW toys went hand in hand with my imagination, which paid no mind to the societal constraints that loom in adult consciousness.
Perhaps that’s why I’m still so drawn to toys: they take me back to a time when the world and its worries were no concern of mine.

At some point in my life, I guess I sold out a little bit. I lost sight of the whimsy and gravitated towards what was deemed cool.

For those who’ve forgotten (or weren’t alive yet), there wasn’t much about Star Wars that was still deemed cool by the early ’90s. As I recall, the franchise was all but extinct in the public’s consciousness. It wasn’t until word began spreading of production for the 20th-anniversary “Special Edition” theatrical re-release that the tendrils of SW began to poke back into the collective pop-culture mindset.

The ‘steroid series’ of Hasbro figures launched in 1995, to the mutual delight and chagrin of toy enthusiasts. The classic heroes looked ridiculous, which played into my affinity for the darker characters. The “bad guys” still managed to look cool.

Also responsible was my age and resultant awareness. After a war in the Persian Gulf and bombings at the World Trade Center and Oklahoma federal building, the world around me seemed less gentle. Even fashion and music had trended edgier, more alternative (thanks, Kurt Cobain!).
I began to accept the inevitability of growing up, acknowledging the more melancholy aspects of life as well as the tumult within myself. And yet, I held to the hope of a happy ending.

One needn’t squint too hard to see how that is reflected by Lord Vader, even all those years before we learned of Anakin’s petulant twerp tendencies.

So, that’s why I like the Star Wars bad guys. It’s not just because they look cool, but because they embody the notion that life isn’t always neat and tidy. Were it not for bad guys, there would be no reason for “good” people to rise up and defend honor or virtue. Plus, they are a steadfast reminder that any of us, even the most vile, has a chance for redemption.

On the last night of our Washington stay, we had dinner at Amy’s house. I was treated to a lightsaber battle, a thorough examination of action figures, a cross-examination about SW trivia (most questions starting with, “Do you know…” or “Guess what?!”) and episodes of The Clone Wars and The Yoda Chronicles.

The Force is strong with these friends of mine!

Luke & Matthias

Luke & Matthias, Halloween 2012

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3 responses

  1. Oh my goodness. I loved this post (of course)! Adults forget so much of why Star Wars is awesome, and that’s why hanging out with kids who also love Star Wars is amazing. They bring you back to the core of it, the foundation of why Star Wars resonates with so many people.

    9.19.2013 at 5:33 pm

  2. Love this. I think your reasonings are why I’ve gotten more clingy to some of the awesomeness of my youth — life’s hardness and edginess can be crushing. It’s always nice to be reminded of the simpler days of our youth and heroes that inspire us to keep going. 🙂

    9.22.2013 at 8:40 pm

  3. Great post. Nice to see that we can still be reminded of the moral lessons of our youth, even if popular culture is working hard to cover them up with the “steroid series” and other shallow pursuits. Also, when non-kid people (like me and my husband) have an experience when kids like us, just as we are, it is enough to almost make us like kids too, and enjoy it.

    9.30.2013 at 2:09 pm

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