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The Force Is Fabulous With This One

The Force Is Fabulous With This One

Mark O'Connell Star Wars

Why Star Wars was a gay kid's perfect fantasy.

I was in-between soft furnishings and bed linen when I met the real Darth Vader. It was a 1980s Saturday afternoon and our local department store had the Sith behemoth himself putting in an appearance. Naturally I was there too keen and too early and had a childhood shattering moment of witnessing some tall out-of-work actor zipping up his Sith Lord chest plate begrudgingly with biker boots that didn't quite look right. Suffice to say, this Lord Vader didn't even use the force to levitate a set of sofa cushions.

Star Wars was a relief to my parents. I was not quite taking up the son-straightening hints of joining the soccer or rugby teams. With 007 and my lifelong bond with Bond yet to really kick in, being a Star Wars kid was my first childhood concession to the machismo flow -- if following the exploits of a prissy bottom of a gold droid, his belligerent houseboy robot "roommate," a Partridge Family brother of a lead hero with porn star locks, and Debbie Reynolds' daughter was indeed the path to the straight side it purported to be.

Culled from George Lucas's obsessions with B-movie sci-fi, autocross racing, and the 1930s serials of his youth, Star Wars is to cinema what Ford Motors was to the automobile. It cemented the DNA of popular culture. The summer blockbuster, movie merchandise, home rentals, teaser trailers, CGI special effects, cosplay conventions, and boys being allowed to play with dolls. They all came of age with the Star Wars movies.

There is a generation of Star Wars kids who cannot look at snow without remembering how only the eventual thaw would reveal the whereabouts of a lost, snowbound Han Solo figurine and that missing X-Wing gun. The gays of Russian River might have earmarked the Californian redwoods for their holiday socials, but to a lot of us, it still just looks like the Forest Moon of Endor. And many a closeted Padawan (a Jedi novice to the uninitiated) may not have experienced those straight stirrings that saw Princess Leia's metallic gold bikini kick-start many a boy -- and girl's -- adolescence like a hormonal speeder bike. But don't think the sight of a near-naked Luke Skywalker recovering from some ice planet frostbite in The Empire Strikes Back didn't go unnoticed by this fan either. And if new space villain Adam Driver has a metallic Andrew Christian underwear moment, it won't be the only force that awakens come opening weekend.

Of course, queer readings of the Star Wars saga are there for the taking. Pretty farm boy gets mentored by a much older closeted man who keeps enquiring whether or not he "feels the force inside him" as the boy's fag-hag sister gets together with a handsome rogue, his hairy bear of a wing man, and a gold fairy droid to fight their estranged father in a black rubber dress suit and gimp mask. It could well have been called Keeping Up With The Skywalkers. But to retro-fit George Lucas's iconic universe with rainbow hues is wrong. If anything, Star Wars (unlike the deliberately political Star Trek TV show) is beyond all that. It is a Tolkien and Kurosawa western with a daytime soap dynamic. It is this which makes its world so embracing for all kids of all ages, genders and outlooks. And now, under the experienced eye of producer Kathleen Kennedy, the girls are going to strike back -- with a brand new film and trilogy pinned on a female lead, wise lady aliens, a returning Princess, and the first kiss-ass, bitch-lady Stormtrooper (who I have been assured has not gone unchecked by some of the fan-girls out there).

The late 1970s, early '80s gay scene of San Francisco may have been rewriting and liberating the rules of queer culture for the adults, but for the kids it was the real home planet for George Lucas and his Star Wars creatives. Having founded production company American Zoetrope with director Francis Ford Coppola, Lucas opened their first creative warehouse on Folsom Street. Nowadays of course the vicinity has its own annual attack of the clones' street fair with many a Darth Vader and Princess Leia using all sorts of -- mutually agreed upon -- force. Lucas's Star Wars forerunner movie THX-1138 was shot in and around San Francisco (using the then unopened BART transport system). And Jabba the Hutt's motley alien palace was based on at least three cosplay bars in The Castro. Okay, that last one may not be true. But find me a human Star Wars figurine from that time that doesn't have a Castro mustache and tight buns. Star Wars allowed boys to ask for girl figurines and not get sent to confession. So naturally I had all of the Carrie Fishers -- plastic postcards from the edge of childhood...with removable gowns.

Due to a vacation luggage error, my original collection of Star Wars figurines ended up on a plane back to Crete -- to never be seen again. I seriously mourned my plastic family of Biker Scouts, bounty hunters, Ewoks, C-3PO and a Princess Leia figurine complete with pink wing collar and Cloud City kaftan. At least her enforced Greek exile saw her dress accordingly. As did I when the nuns mounted the annual summer costume party pageant parade and we had to walk in a rhythmic line to some Irish marching pipe music like Catholic Stormtroopers on St. Patrick's Day.

Mark O'Connell Star Wars

I naturally chose Luke Skywalker as my look. Despite putting me with some unknown 3-foot-nothing kid with a far too good Vader ensemble, my desert-bound Skywalker couture was less galactic super hero, more a shoeless Mahatma Gandhi with a foam lightsabre that bent in the middle. Being flanked by two excellent Robin Hoods didn't help either.

What I really wanted was to be one of the moppet-haired kids on the Star Wars toy commercials. Not only did they have access to all the toys, sets, and ships childhood toy wranglers Kenner* could provide, they had impeccable back yards and polished pine furniture to die for [* action figures each sold separately - one of the key decrees of our childhood]. I am not quite a cosplay, go to a convention and lose my Jedi mind over a trailer sort of a Star Wars fan. Though my recent wedding at Pinewood Studios had more security than a Death Star due to the new trilogy taking up residency barely meters away. That "Does anyone have anything to declare" moment should so have seen a gate-crashing Carrie Fisher shout out, "Yes, I'm back!"

When clearing out my parents' attic recently, that childhood force awakened in big style. I found all those figures, ships, and Princess Leia accessories. In great condition, they still had that 1980s plastic toy smell. I was instantly transported with light-speed back to the excitement of a department store Star Wars window, bartering for more allowance, meeting Darth Vader and sifting through the cardboard-backed piles of the same uninteresting figurines in the vain hope of finding Luke Skywalker in his Endor camouflage gear.

And when the winter blizzards came and no-one could get into work, the subsequent snow days saw my man and I indulge our childhood toy dreams and Empire Vs The Rebellion gameplay. Complete with figures, ships, string, false perspectives and our dogs we shot our own deliberately lo-fi Star Wars movie, Escape From Cold Moon.

We froze our Rebel butts off and lost a Stormtrooper in the snow as was the law of childhood. But -- much to the modern-day bemusement of the passing real kids confused as to what these plastic vessels of nostalgia indeed were -- at last I was that Star Wars kid in the Kenner toy commercials. And now I get to take my Star Wars-savvy young godsons to the movies for the first time. They may also be into their soccer and rugby, but when The Force Awakens unfurls its opening scrawl on movie screens, I will have a touchstone with them -- a galaxy that is not that far, far away after all. The Force is not just strong with this one. It's fabulous.

Mark O'Connell is a writer and the author of Catching Bullets - Memoirs of a Bond Fan. He can be found on Twitter at @Mark0Connell and O'Connell Star Wars

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