Jake Omstead is a writer, death metal enthusiast, and avid Larry Bird fan.
Back in the ’90s, my dad drove a Mazda 323. It was a blue hatchback with two doors, a bike rack on top, a Grateful Dead “Dancing Bear” sticker on the back window and one of the infamous Darwin fish that would grace most of his vehicles throughout my lifetime.
I have good memories of that car, of riding in the backseat in my booster seat, happy about some father-son time. Some of those memories stick out like an acute sore thumb, and one in particular has never left me. Muncie, Indiana. Mid-’90s. Sunny day. I’m behind my dad as we drive home from the video store. I was sitting in my seat, carrying a set of newly acquired VHS tapes. The importance of this event is very simple: It was prelude to the first time I watched Star Wars.
At a traffic light just outside of town, a large, dual rear-wheel truck hauling a horse trailer was traveling down the road. We’d later learn the driver was distracted by a hot-air balloon race in the distance. He ran a red light, slamming into our passenger side. Our Mazda spun in a furious circle. A total wreck; our car was toast. I can remember my mom crying when she picked us up, but I don’t know what happened to the other driver, or his truck, or even our Mazda. I remember very little of the crash. Thankfully the VHS tapes were fine — I’d held onto them for dear life, and they accompanied me home. After our trial by fire, I was ready for my journey to begin.
We had a back-room area with bad wood paneling, a makeshift desk and an ugly couch in front of the main television in the house. My Dad and I were groggy messes post-crash. I remember crying all day, and laying on the couch next to my Dad while the opening credits of A New Hope crawled up the screen. I was enamored, and even in my uncomfortable state it was the best introduction I could have asked for. We finished the first. I was deeply dissatisfied with losing Obi-Wan so soon. Those feelings didn’t last long, but I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back, exhausted from the wreck and having been terrified by the Wampa scene, from which I hid under the covers.
I wouldn’t watch Empire very often until I was a young adult. I was scared of the Wampa, scared of Luke suffering in the depths of Cloud City, and I am sure those scary moments were subconsciously placed in a section of my brain that was labeled “hey, you experienced trauma related to this event.” So, although it has since become my favorite entry in the saga, my first experiences with Empire seem to be the ones most affected by the crash. I’ll always be sad my first memories of it are lackluster.
Luckily for me, Return of the Jedi has stayed clear and present. After I woke up, we ate dinner: spaghetti and garlic bread (garlic hamburger buns actually because teachers got paid crappy back then … and still do). It was delicious. My head was still throbbing, and my stomach was queasy and still uneasy, but I was excited to rejoin my dad on the couch and finish the journey together with Jedi.
Worth pausing here to set the stage for those who didn’t grow up a Midwest kid in the mid-1990s. Let’s talk about what I found “cool” at that time. This was a time when Gargoyles and Power Rangers were on the television and in my toy box. I was first introduced to comics that year with a Sonic the Hedgehog book and a 90’s Spider-Man epic, and my favorite movie at the time was The Lion King. I was consistently surrounded with heroic figures in fictional media and powerful moments in popular culture that would define my taste in stories. All of which set me up for the moment when now-Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker gives the signal to R2-D2, launches himself from the diving board above his captors, and ignites his green (!) lightsaber. That was the scene that fully absorbed me into Star Wars for the rest of my life.
The accident didn’t matter, my headache didn’t matter and the events surrounding that day were non-existent. The only important detail was a man clad in black, striking down his foes with a lightsaber and rescuing all of his friends. This was the beginning of a dedicated fandom. What would otherwise be one of the worst days of my early life ended with one of the defining moments of my childhood, spent with my Dad experiencing Star Wars.
The rest of my life is peppered with other memories of Star Wars, events that can define why I became the loyal and obsessive fan I am today. I saw The Phantom Menace in the theaters seven times. Seven. Times. I attended the weekend premieres of both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and at the time I thoroughly loved them both of them. I managed to keep far away from prequel cynicism until I turned 18 and became an asshole. I’ve learned the error of my ways.
In 2012, I got one of Luke’s quotes from Empire tattooed on my Left arm: “I’m not afraid.” Two years later, I got an X-Wing with Luke’s promise to Yoda tattooed on my right: “I won’t fail you.” By coincidence, the later tattoo completes the former: “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” Later, I openly cried watching the trailer premier of The Force Awakens on my MacBook before my poetry class at Ball State. There have been many fights with friends over the correct viewing order, or if the prequels are any good, or whether the comics and books of the extended universe should even count at all. I continue to thrive in the universe Lucas created, and I will have an affinity for any merchandise or fan experiences with which I can involve myself.
My parents always forced books into my life and encouraged my love of science-fiction and fantasy content, so it’s fair to say I was always doomed to the life of a creative writing graduate who over-analyzes comic books and sci-fi movies. But I remain firm that the catalyst of this cycle has always been the first trilogy day. It could be the accident, or the trauma from the accident, or the romanticism of those childhood moments I shared with my dad. During the research and process of writing this, my dad and I laughed and struggled with the memory of the accident and how it affected both of us in different ways. He remembered my youth with fondness and mourned the loss of his car and particularly the nice bike rack on top. He can’t remember much of the initial viewing experience, but it’s something I can’t forget. Whatever it was or whatever it has become, Star Wars has wedged itself permanently into my life, both literally and figuratively.
As The Rise of Skywalker looms closer and our time with Luke and his friends comes to a presumable end, I will sit in the seat next to my Dad as we take another ride together.