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A Long Time Ago: Beth Cato on Being Born Into Star Wars

 

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

I had no choice about my indoctrination into Star Wars. As a baby, my first word was “Mom.” My next two words were “Da Wars.”

I was born in the year of “Empire Strikes Back.” My almost-three-year-old brother was already a Jedi-in-training. His record album of Episode IV’s soundtrack was kept on constant play. I knew Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader as well as I knew my own family. One of my earliest memories is staying up well past my bedtime to attend a midnight showing of Return of the Jedi. I drank juice out of our Return of the Jedi glassware from Burger King and washed my hair with shampoo from an X-Wing pilot-shaped bottle.

But I never, ever touched my brother’s Star Wars toys. Instead, I maneuvered around them as if they were snakes. The only time I could interact with my brother directly was in lightsaber play, an activity that required a partner for decapitation purposes. His battered saber always won against my wrapping paper tube. I died many deaths, but I didn’t mind. I always had a thing for swords, laser-blade or otherwise.

For all his older sibling harassment of me, my brother never tried to deny me Star Wars. I didn’t play with his toys because they were his, not because I was a girl. Besides, the toys I wanted didn’t exist. I wanted to be a heroine with a lightsaber.

As we grew older – and at long last, had a VCR in our household – the movies created a strong bond between the two of us. We filled our summer breaks with binge-fests of Episodes IV, V, and VI. The Back to the Future and original Ninja Turtle movies added some variety, but really, our summers were about Star Wars. My mom can attest that during our first summer with the VHS tape set, we watched the movies exactly 65 times.

I may have been born into Star Wars, but at that point, I became a full-fledged convert.

I remember being about ten-years-old and returning to the house after a dash to the mailbox on a particularly hot afternoon. I entered the living room just as the Millennium Falcon looped around a cloud to make the return trip to Cloud City. A cold chill ran down my spine, and it had nothing to do with the sweat on my skin.

At that moment, I knew with utter clarity that “The Empire Strikes Back” was my favorite movie. That it would always be my favorite movie. It had all of the elements I was hoping to capture in my own stories at school, which I had begun to churn out at a prolific rate. I wanted my stories to make people feel, even without the benefit of a John Williams soundtrack.

I soon found proof that words alone could evoke the majesty of the Millennium Falcon. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was published when I was eleven, and in my family, this was a major event. We didn’t have much money, but fortunately the local library acquired the hardcover during release week and made it available in their brand-new new-release rental program. We paid a whole buck and were the first to check it out. In that week, the book was read by my brother, then me, then our mom.

Zahn’s words made Star Wars come alive in a way the old movie novelizations had not. I wanted to write like that. I needed to write like that.

In the next months and years, the fantasy genre laid claim to my imagination as I found true love in role playing games and medieval historical novels and Dragonlance and most anything with a dash of sword and sorcery. My love of Star Wars never wavered. My brother hadn’t wanted to share his action figures when we were kids, but in our teens, we shared books on a regular basis. His bedroom shelves held all the sci-fi books while mine had the fantasy. In my mind, the two genres mingled with wild abandon.

They still do.

Here I am, in my late thirties, an author with two steampunk series with Harper Voyager, and dozens of published stories that wander from space opera to historical fantasy. No matter what I write, I know my foundation is Star Wars. Those movies literally provided me with my first words as an infant. From them I absorbed lessons of character development, pacing, tension, and action scenes. Through them, I bonded with my family.

And you know what? Episode V is still my all-time favorite movie, but Episode VII gives me cold chills at a few points, too. When Rey is on the screen, I see the lightsaber-wielding heroine I always envisioned when I was a kid. My mom says she would have bought Rey toys for me, too.

Better late than never, I say. I think I know what I’m requesting for Christmas this year.