May the Force be with me, always.
By Aubrey Vinh | A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my family abandoned me in an alien environment with only a life-sized statue of Yoda for company.
It was my fault. I had gravitated toward the big-eared Jedi master as though pulled by a force beyond my control. He sat behind velvet ropes that were nothing like the bright screen that typically separated us. I had to savor my unimaginable proximity to this legend of wrinkled plastic. And while my back was turned, my parents and two brothers left for the dark side of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Star Wars exhibit.
It was a harsh discovery. As I turned around, eager to be the best big sister in the universe by sharing this amazing spectacle with Aaron and Ryan, all I saw was a wall of unfamiliar faces basking in the dirty green glow of the little creature behind me. I was alone.
Even with six years of life experience under my light-saber-holstered belt, I felt quite overwhelmed. Soon the noise of my sniffles was clashing with the galaxy-saving swells of the Star Wars score. Through tears, I watched Luke Skywalker simultaneously leave home, destroy the Death Star, and befriend Han Solo in overhead displays. In a panicked series of darting glances I saw crowds thronging display cases containing iconic outfits, blasters, and, of course, light sabers. Princess Leia’s pristine white gown glowed under spotlights that revealed its total impracticality for a career of laser fire, occasional imprisonment, and intergalactic travel.
I did not see my loved ones for an endless five minutes. But I saw, really saw, the exhibit. It was imprinted in my mind forever, a traumatic event that would later turn into a treasured childhood memory.
Eventually reunited, my family and I headed out of the museum and into a renewal and redoubling of Star Wars appreciation. My brothers, donning dark brown hooded robes carefully sewn by our mom, whooshed their light sabers through the air, entranced by the blades’ signature hisses. I brushed the hair of my limited-edition Padme Amidala Barbie, the brave and beautiful queen of an entire planet. We pooled our action figures in the center of our living room, flew around the house with starships in our chubby, outstretched hands, and cried when hit in combat. We fell asleep piled atop our parents during an attempted movie marathon.
As the only girl in our family, I had initially resisted the fervor that eventually had me uttering, “Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts,” or, “Use the Force, Luke,” without hesitation. But, outvoted two-to-one in a democratic movie-selection process, I grew to love Jurassic Park, grainy Star Trek reruns, and Star Wars by necessity.
Truth be told, it wasn’t that difficult to immerse myself in George Lucas’ world. With my brothers by my side, I rooted for unlikely heroes—be they one-eyed, fur-covered, or fresh off a desert-planet farm. I admired the gun-toting, fiery, and fashionable women of the series, who, we all agreed, were just as brave as the men. The spectacle of lowly Luke battling fictitious monsters with technologically unfeasible weapons on worlds that defied a modern understanding of physics threw my budding imagination into lightspeed. I loved it all.
And I’m still grateful that Star Wars was pushed on me long before Mary-Kate, Ashley, and crew entered my world. But inevitably, I ceded my collection of action figures to my brothers to make space for glittery nail polish, padlocked diaries filled with the names of cute boys, and the fake pink cellphone I kept because my mom had unfairly decreed that I was too young for a real one.
I let middle-school concerns displace Episodes I through VI to a remote, dusty corner of my brain, and I left them there, untouched. I only played Jedi with Aaron and Ryan when they begged me—and I complained the whole time. I skipped family movie nights for school dances, sleepovers, and trips to the mall. When I did stay home, I whined my family into submission—whereupon the choreographed numbers of High School Musical would throw Technicolor rays of light that illuminated their horrified faces in the darkness of our living room.
I wanted to be angsty. I wanted to be cool. I was ashamed to admit that maybe I might miss Yoda.
You can only resist the Force for so long, though. During my first week at Penn, I bonded with a future love interest over our mutual insistence that Episode I is incredibly underrated—Jar Jar Binks and all. In the thick of freshman-year finals, I sleepily peered across my dorm’s courtyard and witnessed a morale-boosting miracle: a fellow Quaker was practicing intricate light-saber maneuvers, unmistakably outlined in his brightly lit window. Back home during break, my brothers and I used an intergalactic movie marathon to close the distance that my semesters of college had created.
And now, in my very first apartment, with a roommate who wholeheartedly shares my “nerdy” interest, an enormous full-cast Star Wars poster covers the wall of my favorite room, the kitchen. I smile up at it while I bake chocolate-chip marshmallow cookies, search for shot glasses, or complete the otherwise mundane task of boiling pasta.
That poster is the only outward signal of my inner adoration. I’ve never been to Comic-Con. I don’t collect or covet unopened packages of obscure alien action figures. I don’t dress up as a Storm Trooper for Halloween.
But I love the way that Star Wars’ opening scenes recall so much more than a struggle to save the galaxy. I hear my brothers’ gentle teasing when I get upset watching impossibly cuddly Ewoks die protecting their planet. I see the box of beat-up toys still stuck in our basement because we can’t bear to offer them up at the next garage sale. I feel at home.