imagining the original star wars trilogy as the first three years of college
A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Back in the heyday of VHS tapes, the box set of the first three Star Wars films—on extended (read: indefinite) loan from my uncle—was my first real ticket to an epic cinematic world. At an age when my mind ran exclusively on a mix of sugar and imagination, the Star Wars universe was a limitless space for my siblings and me to explore beyond the realm of earthly possibilities.
On sick days and weekends, the trilogy played on an endless loop—starships, X-wing fighters, and a host of light-saber wielding characters rose from the piles of Lego rubble in our living room. The longer we spent in this futuristic and endearingly quirky world, the more it truly became ours to build and create.
The films’ motley band of rebels taught me a long list of important skills: namely, how to avoid death by frostbite, blaster fire, or (my personal favorite) giant trash compactor. Admittedly, some of these have been of far more use to me than others— the latter giving me little more than a completely irrational fear of the small trash compactor in my childhood home.
But the characters in these films— however surreal and far removed their reality may have seemed—showed me the power of resilience and loyalty and the importance of bravery in the face of unlikely odds. And although I have come to understand that life seldom divides itself cleanly into “light” and “dark” sides, much can be said for those who follow the Jedi and tirelessly strive towards a greater moral good.
I learned a lot from watching Star Wars. Perhaps more than I really ever knew (or cared to admit). As the years passed, and my own immediate reality began to dwarf that of the far-off galaxies, the Star Wars world faded into my periphery. That is, until recently. Last week, one of my semi-frequent YouTube spirals landed on the trailer for The Rise of Skywalker. And, just like that, my own life and this beloved, imagined world were brought into strange proximity once again.
The movie, set for release this December, marks the ninth and final installment in the much beloved franchise. Seeing both new and familiar characters cross the screen in iconic fashion, I was hit with a sense of nostalgia for the three movies that started it all—the trilogy that had meant so much to me as a child. This reminiscing slowly turned inwards, and I found myself reflecting upon my own impending final epoch: senior year.
Undoubtedly, my freshman, sophomore and junior years of college have not approached anywhere near the same level of cinematic drama seen in the first three Star Wars movies—and, unless you count setting microwave mac and cheese on fire, have been thankfully devoid of any ILM-level, Death-Star-destroying pyrotechnics.
But, these obvious differences aside, my life as a college student and those of the characters in George Lucas’s fictional universe speak to many of the same fundamental truths and experiences. Still skeptical? Hear this nerd out.
My freshman year (read: A New Hope) signaled the start of a new journey. It was a wide-eyed introduction to a place that—as a native Californian—really did, at times, seem galaxies away. No, arriving on campus did not place the fate of the universe in my hands—thank god—but I stepped into college with a renewed sense of purpose and a newfound feeling of independence. There were new challenges to face, new friendships to forge in the bonds of shared passions and struggles (forgive the cinematic hyperbole). And, for a while, every college party I went to felt a little like the Mos Eisley cantina.
But at the end, I had a year of college under my belt and a firm grip on the reigns…right? Little sums up the typical sophomoric “wise-fool” attitude better than Han Solo’s iconic quip to Luke: “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky!” My second year (read: The Empire Strikes Back) brought with it the Hoth-like “bomb cyclone” and a host of new trying experiences and weighty decisions: transferring to a new school, declaring my major, and a healthy dose of the requisite collegic soul-searching.
While maybe somewhat trivial in comparison to the threat of Imperial domination or Luke’s revelations about his father (a huge plot twist for viewers who don’t speak Dutch or German—try Googling “vader”), the trials of sophomore year reminded me to follow my instincts with persistence and conviction. To adopt, as it were, a “do or do not…there is no try” kind of attitude as I approached my penultimate year of college.
My junior year (read: The Return of the Jedi) was quite literally that: a return. Having transferred to Brown after my freshman year, moving into my dorm this past fall marked the first time I would actually be returning to a school—there was a Star Wars-esque sense of triumph in setting down roots here in Providence. After a long period of what seemed like constant adjustment, coming back to campus felt like a hard-fought victory in the face of a lot of uncertainty and change.
But what about my senior year? And, what about the final movie we have yet to see? I find myself greatly anticipating both. There is excitement in the story that is yet to be told. And, for me, a longing to return to the beginning as the clock winds down. There is an eagerness to know the answers, to see how the final parts unfold in the saga I have lived—and loved—for quite some time.
Perhaps in December—and in the following spring—I will get the conclusion and the closure that I want and imagine. But, as is true in life—and quite literally in movies—I will just have to wait and see. And whatever comes my way, I’d like to think that the Star Wars universe has prepared me well for a new chapter. Whether or not I believe in the force, I know that some part of these films will always be with me.