Never Really Gone: The View from the End of the Skywalker Saga

 

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No matter how much we fought, I always hated watching you leave.

This is it. The end of the Skywalker Saga is upon us. On Thursday night (or sometime before if you’re lucky or after if you’ve got the patience or willpower of a saint), we’ll be watching the story that’s shaped so many of our lives leave us. And just like Leia and Han in The Force Awakens, when the time for that final farewell comes, I know I won’t be thinking about any parts of the story that disappointed me or didn’t turn out like I’d hoped. Instead, I’ll be thinking about the good stuff—because there was so much good stuff.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was barely out of kindergarten when I was pretending to escape the Death Star on the playground with my cousins. Return of the Jedi was my comfort movie on many sick days in elementary school, and The Empire Strikes Back was pretty much my signal that puberty started when I watched it basically every day the summer I turned 13. (No teenage girl hormones can resist Harrison Ford in his prime.) I asked for Star Wars Trivial Pursuit for Christmas (but no one would play with me because I knew all the answers). I saw both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith multiple times in theaters. I subscribed to Star Wars magazines.

And it was one of those magazines that ultimately brought me to the fangirl life I now proudly live—in a way that’s very strongly connected to the trilogy that’s about to end this week.

Right after The Phantom Menace was released, someone asked a question in a “Letters to the Editor” section of a Star Wars magazine about George Lucas’s original plan for nine movies in the Skywalker Saga. They were wondering the same thing preteen me was wondering: When would Episodes VII—IX happen? And the answer stated that Lucas’s focus on the prequels seemed to be a sign that maybe those last three episodes would never happen. The original actors were too old and most likely didn’t want to come back. The story was now going back in time and not forward. The focus of the studio was elsewhere.

I was devastated.

Back then, I didn’t care about Anakin Skywalker. I cared about Luke Skywalker—and I especially cared about Han and Leia. Did they get married? Did they have kids? What did other people think about what might have happened to them?

I had to know. So I went upstairs to our “computer room,” connected to AOL, and searched for any news I could find about Han Solo and Princess Leia.

What I found changed not just my perspective on Star Wars but my entire life.

I found the official Star Wars website, which at the time, had bios for the characters complete with information from the Expanded Universe novels, which I then devoured like other teens devoured Nicholas Sparks novels. But perhaps even more importantly, I found zines—online magazines filled with fan art, fan fiction, and fan analysis. I started reading, and I never looked back.

Almost 20 years later, I’m still here—on my couch instead of in a computer room, but still reading, writing, and sharing ideas about stories on the internet. Some of the best things about my life—the writing I’ve done, the experiences I’ve had, the friends I’ve made—might never have happened if I wasn’t so desperate to find out what happened after Return of the Jedi.

Then, in 2015, we officially found out what happened. And even though parts of it broke my heart and parts of it didn’t match up with the ideas that I’d had in my head after years of reading fan fiction and now-irrelevant EU novels, I loved every moment. Because I got to spend two hours in this galaxy far, far away again—all those years after I cried and rushed to the computer because I believed I was never going to know the rest of their story.

And then in 2017, the story continued. I went into the theater for The Last Jedi with low expectations, to be completely honest. I’d read reviews claiming that Rey and Kylo Ren shared a connection, that Finn and Rey and Finn and Poe spent most of the movie apart, and that this movie was going to humanize Kylo Ren while adding shades of gray to Luke Skywalker. I wanted none of those things to be true. So imagine my surprise when I walked out of the theater convinced that I’d just seen the best Star Wars movie—and that I was now going to be rooting for Ben Solo’s redemption (and relationship with Rey).

That’s why my prevailing emotion as The Rise of Skywalker—the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga—approaches is joy. I don’t have specific expectations (besides Anakin Skywalker as a Force Ghost because it NEEDS to happen!); I’m not tying myself to any particular theories; I’m not going to try to predict who lives, who dies, who kisses who, or what the galaxy will look like at the end. I’m ready to be taken on an unexpected journey, to care about characters I never thought I could relate to, to cry over moments I never imagined would move me, and to find hope in stories I never saw coming.

That’s what Star Wars is at its core: a story of hope. And it’s why we care about these movies as deeply as we do. When people talk about it as a quintessential piece of American mythology, they’re not just talking about how long the story has endured or how well Luke’s journey mirrors Joseph Campbell’s mythological hero’s journey archetype. They’re talking about it in terms of the most basic definition of a myth: a story a culture tells to explain its values, its fears, and its hopes. Myths are how we make meaning. They’re the stories we tell ourselves when we need a reminder of who we are and what we believe will always be true. And what’s so special about Star Wars is that it’s managed to do that on a national—and international—level but also on a deeply personal level.

Those of us who deeply love this universe have always used it to help us make meaning out of our lives. As a tiny little brunette girl whose family liked to call her “bossy,” seeing Princess Leia helped me understand that I could grow up and be like her—strong, confident, a bold leader. And as a young woman trying to find her place in the world and trying to define herself on her own terms while grappling with the parts of herself that aren’t always nice or happy, seeing Rey has helped me believe that acceptance—both self-acceptance and acceptance among a loving group of people—can be possible.

That’s what myths do; they help us believe when it’s hard to keep the faith. It’s why these stories inspire such impassioned reactions (for better or worse); they’re so deeply wrapped up in our own sense of self. Redemption, familial separation and reconciliation, friendship, self-definition, perseverance, compassion, and—most of all—hope: These themes resonate with us in a powerful way. We want to believe that forgiveness, atonement, redemption—whatever you want to call it—is possible for us if we’ve failed or fallen from grace. We want to believe that good will triumph over evil no matter the odds and no matter how long it seems to take. And we want to believe that our hopes won’t be in vain.

We’re all Luke Skywalker—looking out to the horizon, hoping for our lives to open up and our destiny to reveal itself. We’re all Princess Leia—fighting and persevering even when we’ve seemingly lost everything. We’re all Finn—trying to do the right thing even when we’re terrified. We’re all Anakin Skywalker—succumbing to temptation. We’re all Kylo Ren—covering our pain with anger. We’re all Rey—looking for the answers about who we are and learning to embrace the power inside of us.

And we’re all those kids at the end of The Last Jedi—telling this story to spread hope in a world that desperately needs it.

Star Wars is our story as much as it’s the story of the Skywalkers. And whether you saw the first movie in theaters back in 1977 or are a little kid growing up with Rey, Finn, and Poe, this story belongs to you. That’s why the Skywalker Saga may be ending onscreen, but we know, as Luke once told us, it’ll never really be gone.

The Force will be with you. Always.

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