A Long Time Ago: Peter Clines on a Familiar Story


Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

I would like — if I may — to tell you a familiar story.

It was a summer night, I was just-turned-eight-years old, and we were having dinner out on the porch (as families often did in Maine small towns) when Mom announced we were going to the movies after dinner. My brother and I were interested, of course, but also a bit suspicious. I mean, our parents had just gone out to the movies the night before. Now they wanted to go see the same movie again? With us?

It had all sorts of stuff we’d like, Mom said. A heroic farm boy. A princess. A space pirate with a big hairy monster. There was a small round robot and a big robot. Spaceships. And a black knight with a sword made of electricity.

Now, my hyperactive brain came up with images for all of these things as she talked. And I still remember them to this day. The space pirate looked a lot like Captain Morgan (he of the rum fame, although I didn’t make that association until later), just with more lamé and a ray gun. The round robot could’ve been a chrome basketball with stubby arms and legs, while “the big one” stood almost thirty feet tall—he had to crouch down to talk to everyone else.

Now, because you saw the header up above, I’m pretty sure you can guess what movie we went to see that night, and you know some of my ideas were… a bit off.

A few months later I found a Star Wars comic book on the spinning rack at my local bookstore. With an all-new story in it! A story that went beyond the movie! Han and Chewie take off after destroying the Death Star and end up dealing with an alien biker gang on some sort of speedy flying-motorcycle things! And he teams up with a big green rabbit!

Yes, a green rabbit. Seriously. Some of you know this is true.

And then there were books! Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, where Luke and Leia have an adventure without Han Solo. Then Han Solo books, one after another, without Luke and Leia. Lando Calrissian books — three in a row — without anyone else but featuring giant space manta rays.

Star Wars just kept going. There were more planets, more ships, more characters. And more stories. Always more stories. They could be exciting and funny and scary and weird and just… everything.


What I’m saying is that Star Wars was my gateway drug. It was that first free hit of the good stuff that made me want more of it all the time. Made me obsessed with it.

I guess it’s not surprising that when I first decided to settle down, stop screwing around, and take this writing thing seriously (now at the ripe old age of eleven, with so much of my life already behind me), one of the things I turned to was Star Wars. I didn’t know the term “fanfic” back then, but I think my hunt-and-pecked story of Boba Fett and his robot falcon was a pretty solid example of the form.

Yeah, Boba Fett had a robot hunting falcon. You didn’t know that? Oh, it’s in all the important literature, but, y’know, now that they’ve gotten rid of all that EU stuff…

Star Wars also led me to try so many other things in an attempt to get the pure joy, the thrill of that first taste again. Some of it didn’t work. Some of it worked better, but in different ways. But it pretty much solidified my life path. Choices had been made. There was no going back.

Anyway, speaking of going back, let’s loop around to the start. Why is this a familiar story?

Well, you might not recognize the exact details, but I bet you’ve heard this kind of story before. It’s familiar because almost everyone has a Star Wars story. Not a story about Luke or Leia or Han, but about how this sprawling universe of stories has touched their lives. How it inspired them or influenced them. Eddie Izzard joked about Scooby-Doo being the international credit card of pop culture references, but it’s fair to note that Star Wars is what he keeps referencing in his stand-up routines.

I mean, don’t you even feel a bit suspicious about people who haven’t seen Star Wars? Kinda weirded out? There’s something kind of… fake about them, isn’t there? I mean, in this day and age, the only way to have not seen Star Wars, to know nothing about it... is to have actively avoided it. To have made a deliberate effort not to be exposed to it.

There’s probably a story in that.

I feel safe saying a large chunk of why I have a writing career is because of Star Wars, and I know other storytellers for books, television, and movies who feel the same way. But there are also folks who became musicians because of Star Wars. Some who became actors. Props and costumes and makeup and special effects artists. Scientists. Engineers. Pilots.

There are whole businesses and industries based around Star Wars. The 501st has given “weekend warrior” a whole new meaning. Heck, there are people who’ve adopted “Jedi” as their official religion.

Star Wars isn’t just a universe — it’s universal. It’s something so many of us have in common, no matter what our individual backgrounds are. As a wiser man than me once said, it surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.

And in these divisive days, maybe it’s good to just pause and remember the shared joys of a some cantina music, our first lightsaber battle, or curling up in a nice, warm tauntaun on a cold night.