Out writer and pop culture critic Mark O’Connell is a connoisseur of all things geek culture. A Brit who grew up during peak Star Wars mania in the 1980s, O’Connell is offering his reflections on how George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and other legendary creatives defined geekery for generations to come in his latest book, Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us, out in the U.S. on September 1.
The book is O’Connell’s “memoir-through-cinema”—and an homage to Star Wars fanatics everywhere, whatever generation they may be.
Below, read an excerpt from Mark O’Connell’s Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us, reprinted with permission from The History Press.
Dear 1984 me,
You probably won’t get this letter until you return home from school. I hope it doesn’t reach you on a Monday as I know that is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe day. And if it is a Tuesday I know you will probably not open it either as that is new Look-In issue day. I do hope you win the magazine’s video competition and become the proud owner of one of those three VHS copies of Return of the Jedi that you so desperately want and entered multiple times for. But there is no need to check the letterbox every day for three and a half months—especially as you won’t get a video player to play it on until the December of this year. Yep. That’s right. You get a video player! Don’t worry. I imagine you will get a VHS copy of Return of the Jedi one day. Obviously if it is a Friday then you will be at karate surrounded by all those much older boys with even more great hair, broken voices, stubble, and slightly hairy chests that make you think of Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but you will not be sure why for a little while longer.
A lot will happen between when you read this and when I write it. Most of it good. Some of it brilliant. You will fall in love with someone who takes nearly every step into the real America with you and who shares those American friends, cities, streets, and experiences that become as key to your life as Star Wars and Superman did when you were 8.
Do you remember last year when you saw Return of the Jedi twice at the cinema? And do you remember how everyone told you that it was the last Star Wars movie ever starring Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia? Well, that is not entirely true.
As you get older, you will find that life throws some curveballs. And some of them you might even catch. In December 2015, a new Star Wars film will debut in the cinemas. It will be called The Force Awakens and star Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. Oh, and the Millennium Falcon comes back. And the main character is a girl. You will not watch the trailer at the cinema before a Disney holiday movie—although oddly, The Force Awakens will actually be a Disney holiday movie. You will watch the trailer on a phone on a train with your husband. Each part of that whole last sentence will make a hell of a lot more sense one day. As will the return of three heroes you never thought you would see again. Trust me—it will be both strange and great with a touch of tragedy.
You will see The Force Awakens with two of your oldest friends you haven’t met or made yet, your husband who you also haven’t met yet, and two god-kids who haven’t been made yet. It will be the beginning of a grand new boys’ tradition of watching new Star Wars movies where the younglings General Jack and Captain Finn will get new figures each time and give the future adult you a perfect excuse to go into toy shops and buy Star Wars figures. To be honest, all the toy shops will be full of dads and men your age who haven’t really grown up, nor have any serious desire to do so as they puff up their chests and ask weekend staff if they are ’likely to be getting any more Poe Damerons in before Christmas?’ You cannot, must not put a bet on this information like this. Just look at Biff in Back to The Future Part II. Oh, that’s right, Back to the Future gets a sequel. Two of them. And as I suddenly remember the original film is not out until next year in your time, maybe forget I said any of that last bit. Just don’t put a bet on any of this. No one will believe you anyway, despite the odds being amazing. Actually—and just between us Marks—if you were to put a bet on all of this, please ensure I can find the betting slip. Leave it in the old ice cream tub of Star Wars figures. That will never be lost.
You in 30 years’ time.
P.S.: You will never get the Bespin Princess Leia figure replaced so stop looking. And rest assured, you will not be lonely. That recent dream you had about becoming Elliott from E.T.’s best friend… yeah, don’t forget that. Oh, and Luke Skywalker dies.
Preorder Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us on Amazon.