The Dark Side…and the Light
By: Danny J Smith
“I’ve accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.” – Luke Skywalker
I cannot pinpoint what age I was when I first heard this line spoken in Return of the Jedi, however it could not have been more than seven or eight. My father introduced me to Star Wars at a young age, this much I know. I also know I watched the original trilogy so many times on VHS growing up that my dad had to buy a brand new set since the old ones were worn out. Of all the things I loved as a child: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and Ninja Turtles; nothing stood out the way Star Wars did. Looking back, I think a lot of it was the story of the light and the dark side.
My father was an alcoholic, and a drug addict. For anyone who has someone like this in their lives, it’s like knowing two different people. Darth Vader was not the same person as Anakin Skywalker, yet they took up the same body. I didn’t see it at the time, and I also didn’t see it when I myself became the embodiment of everything I swore I hated, much like Anakin did. Now that I can see how it directly related to how I felt as a child, and how I felt going through it myself as an adult, it makes me love Star Wars all that much more. There is a passion in this fan base that only supplements it’s greatness.
I still remember when the special editions were announced, and that they would be in theaters no less! My parents were both so happy to be able to take their sons to the theater to see these movies, to see them the way they are meant to be seen. I loved every second of the experience, the cheering crowds, the people dressed up in Star Wars gear. Even though I had seen each one hundreds of times, it felt like the first time all over again. Around that same time, I was getting started on the internet with a computer in which the hard drive had 2GB of total memory! Regardless of the memory capacities of the past, I heard that George Lucas was working on a new trilogy of films that would depict the fall of Anakin Skywalker. So there I am at 14 years old, life falling apart around me due to issues with my dad, and I was lucky enough to be able to have new Star Wars coming. I was beyond excited, and the very concept of a new Star Wars entry sometimes made everything else going on around me easier to deal with.
The anticipation was unbearable at times. The only people I knew that were as excited as I was were my father and younger brother, and to an extent my mother. Sure, I had friends who liked Star Wars, but not in the way I did. I remember going to the theater after getting tickets for Episode I a week in advance, and actually got to see it the first time with my dad, who was in one of his “on the wagon” weeks. I truly don’t remember one person booing, nor hearing any backlash until I went to the Internet. To this day, I don’t understand the hate that movie gets. My father liked it, saying it wasn’t what he expected, but it sure was fun and so great to have more Star Wars! I’ll never forget the laugh he had when Palpatine tells young Anakin: “We will watch your career with great interest!”. It is a happy memory I can hang onto forever and Star Wars helped give that memory to me.
I had all the toys, posters, and probably saw The Phantom Menace at least five times in theaters. Today, it’s my least favorite of the six if you make me choose between them, but I will happily watch it anytime. This article won’t be about the divide the prequels created, but I will state that I disagree with anyone who calls the movies all the names I’ve seen them called throughout the years. They are an artist’s representation of his own imagination, and I remain grateful to George Lucas that he shared it with us.
Episode II came during my junior year of high school, and I don’t remember my father’s reaction to it. What I do remember is I was 17, and had started down my own dark path by this time, even though I did not know how bad it would be one day. I loved it when I saw it, and again, I don’t remember anyone in the theater complaining. I remember raucous cheering when Count Dooku declared that the contest between Yoda and himself would need to be decided by a lightsaber! Episode III came one year after I had failed out of college due to drinking and drugs. I had come home to New Jersey with an arrogant, shitty attitude as if it was the world who had wronged me and caused me to fail. My father had passed away less than a year after Episode II during my senior year of high school, so I became an angry, bitter person who put on the front like everything was okay by drinking constantly. It didn’t take away my extreme excitement for Revenge of the Sith, which is arguably my favorite of the prequel era. There were times I felt like Anakin; angry, entitled, and self-righteous. I took my anger out on people who didn’t deserve it, and it only lead to my own personal suffering.
In the years after 2005, my life only got worse, bit by bit what was left of the innocent child who loved Star Wars was being killed and replaced by something made of pure hate and disgust for the world and for himself. In the years that followed, my love of Star Wars never died, but it surely faded into the background. I re-watched the movies once or twice a year, read a few EU books, and I played the Knights of the Old Republic games. I still loved it, but just knowing that Lucas had stated the saga was now the six movies, and that he had no plans to make more, I didn’t really ever think that feeling of anticipation and excitement for the franchise could ever be recaptured.
Then, in one of my many rehab stints, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts….AN AWAKENING! I was at the library when I read a link that my brother Steve had sent me. It was an IGN article stating that Lucasfilm had been acquired by Disney, and that they planned to make an Episode VII by the end of 2015! My life was such a mess at that point that I don’t think it even hit me right away. As things were getting worse for me, there was one bright spot: I had read that one of my favorite Directors/Entertainment Visionaries actually had had a change of heart and would be directing Episode VII! I was a huge fan of Lost, and Fringe as well. The Star Trek reboots were very entertaining and in my eyes, and quite faithful to that fan base (don’t kill me Trekkies, I am at best a casual fan of that franchise, so I don’t represent you all). JJ Abrams. Episode VII. WOW. Really?
It took another six months before a variety of factors lead me to my own personal awakening during a period where not much news was coming for Episode VII aside from a potential release in late 2015. Something happened in me that brought me from the depths of personal darkness back into the light this universe has to offer. By the time that I had finally put the beginnings of a new life together, it was the beginning of 2014 and news was starting to fly. Rumors, possible plot lines, a potential title called The Ancient Fear (Thanks, IGN). Eventually, in November 2014, we learned the real name: The Force Awakens. We saw the first teaser, and man, it was a tease.
Over the next months I would scour the Internet for information, eventually leading me to Facebook groups. While joining some, the hate and vitriol I saw in some of these groups made me sick. I feel like Star Wars should be celebrated, as the pure art that it is. That is why I created The Alliance of Star Wars Fanatics in June of 2015, to counteract the hate and negativity that is so typical on the internet! We have seen it grow to almost 6,000 members in six months’ time! I was inspired by a group from another fandom, called “A song of Ice and Fire” (the books that the HBO series “Game of Thrones” is an adaptation of), and their closed Facebook group goes by same name. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to them through mere words for showing me how to run a positive and hate-free environment on the Internet.
Now here we are, with only six days left until we see Star Wars Episode VII. I think about waking up in the morning, I think about it at work, and I think about it before bed. My fire is burning bright for the fandom I love so dearly, and I am excited to be becoming a part of its online representation. I am dedicated to being a positive voice of and for the fans. I am back from the dark side to tell you all about it, and because of that I now get to introduce the woman I love to the saga at its most exciting time in history. There truly has been an awakening…
HAVE YOU FELT IT?
Danny J Smith is the creator of The Alliance of Star Wars Fanatics Facebook Group, Co-Founder of The Alliance Group and The Alliance/Exposé Network, along with all their associated properties. Danny is happy to report that he celebrated 2 years of sobriety last month. May the Force be with us…all.
Special shout out to everyone at A Song of Ice and Fire Facebook Group, and to all the ADMINS of The Alliance of Star Wars Fanatics Facebook Group for making this a reality.