October 5th will be the second annual Star Wars Reads Day! It’s a day that does what it says on the tin—celebrate Star Wars and reading together, which makes sense, given the gargantuan library of Star Wars books on offer to the world. But why Star Wars books, you might ask? What makes them so special?
Well, lots of things. They might get kids to read who wouldn’t otherwise. They are great tools for finding friends. They feature characters you know and love and introduce you to new ones that you will grow to know and love. In my case, they were one of those all-important doors in life, the sort that direct you into a new room where “Things of Import” inform the next step. I needed Star Wars books. They were my neon arrow toward some semblance of the person I’d become one day.
It’s sappy, so sue me. Most reflections on childhood are either saccharine or horrific, and this is happily the former.
I was always a kid who adored reading, but I will say this—my elementary school library had an alarmingly blasé selection for the preteen female set. It was an odd array of books about girls who formed clubs, girls who saw ghosts, girls who wore leg warmers and denim jackets and—horror of horrors—wanted to talk about that time of the month to their witty best buds. Everything was about growing up, about coming to terms with responsibilities, about how crushing on boys was about to become a thing. It was as though the library was trying to tell me, “It’s okay, we know you’re here and female and how completely different that is from being a boy. We acknowledge your unique experience.”
Ugh. I’m sure someone really needed those books, but that someone was very not me.
So I skipped over to Bradbury and Vonnegut and lots of classics, but they were not the sort of reading I did lightly. Theirs were books reserved for sitting in my room with the door shut for hours, only to emerge for dinner with curve to my neck more welcome on a giraffe than a human. What if I wanted something I could plough through during down time at school? On planes or over summer vacation? What would I do for fun, breezy reads?
I was a newly minted Star Wars fan in those days, and my best friend found the first Star Wars book in the town library. It was The Courtship of Princess Leia, and once she finished it, she gave it to me to read. In retrospect, it was probably the absolute weirdest one we could have started with, but that didn’t matter—I blew through the thing, excitement on par with having a whole cake set in front of me and being invited to smash my face into it. (No one else dreams about doing this? Just me?) We couldn’t stop talking about it. We gave the book to another friend, and quickly realized that we had to find more.
Discovering how many had already been published was like stumbling onto El Dorado by accident. The galaxy was ours.
Star Wars books were a point of bonding between my friends and I. Sometimes one of us would read a tome ahead of the rest and regale the others with the tale while we hung out on the playground. Sometimes we would find clothes that reminded us of the new characters we were reading about and dress accordingly for school—it was like secret Halloween. It allowed us to speak in code; plenty of people know what a Jabba the Hutt is, but what about Borsk Fey’lya? Ryloth? The Noghri? We combed through guides and encyclopedias. We owned it.
There was a giant Star Wars wall at the Crown Books in my hometown. Whenever I was there I would trek to the back and stare, oddly comforted by its presence. If the books were out of chronological order, I would rearrange them until they were; I know for a fact that I’m not the only person to do this. (To the poor stock-person: I apologize. I honestly thought I was doing you a solid.)
Reading about Star Wars wasn’t all pet banthas and dual sunshine, of course. I remember reading The Star Wars Insider in my freshman year of high school. One of the older girls in my class tried to get a peek at the magazine pages and couldn’t figure it out. “What are you reading?” she asked.
I lifted a cover (I recall it displaying a striking image of Darth Vader in black and silver, but I cannot find this cover for the life of me, so perhaps it’s all in my head)—it was an issue celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. She snorted at me, one eyebrow raised in perfect disdain. “Star Wars?”
“Yeah?” I said softly.
“Isn’t that something that little boys like?”
My temper got the better of me. I tilted my head up and stared squarely back, equally unimpressed. “Yeah.”
She never bothered me after that. In fact, no one in that class ever bothered me about anything that I liked again. Standing up for myself over bringing a Star Wars magazine to school turned me into a different kind of nerd—the kind who was eager to share with others, unashamed to ramble over what I loved. Suddenly, I was arguing with my history teacher about The Lord of the Rings, doing chemistry projects that examined science in Star Trek, researching for a junior thesis on classical mythic underpinnings in modern fantasy media. I figured out how to enjoy my special brand of weird, even when there were no friends immediately nearby to bolster me.
All those books in my elementary school library couldn’t do that. They couldn’t teach me how to get comfortable with myself, or how to dismiss the people who wanted to make me more awkward as a way of proving their superiority. They couldn’t make teenaged girlhood instantly awesome, or even more manageable. They couldn’t show me how lucky I was to be part of my own band of rebels, people cared about me for who I was, not in spite of it. They couldn’t make me feel less alone in identical halls full of hundreds.
Reading Star Wars is what did that.