Adrift in time

Sitting at dinner with friends last night, celebrating Terry’s 50th birthday, he revealed something that showed I could still be surprised by a man I had known for almost four decades.

“You introduced me to Star Wars,” he said.

I couldn’t begin to process this. I had known about Star Wars since before the movie had even been released: in the mid-70s, I had been a member of the Science Fiction Book Club of America, which, in the days before Amazon and the Kindle, was a way to put cheap physical (I kind of hate that I have to specify that nowadays) copies of current scifi and fantasy works into the hands of readers from sea to shining sea, purple mountains’ majesty and fruited plains alike. Basically every month they would send a pamphlet outlining the two main selections and some secondary ones, and if I did nothing, they would send me a copy of each main selection (and bill me, or, much more accurately, bill my parents, since I was 11 or 12 at the time).

At some point in early 1977, one of the main selections of the SFBCA was “Star Wars”, by “George Lucas”, a writer with which I had no prior familiarity. Being one of the main selections put this Mr. Lucas on the same level as Asimov, Heinlein, or Clarke. I now know that this was a novelization of the movie, and the book was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, a writer whose acquaintance I would not make until I discovered the Star Wars sequel “Splinter of The Mind’s Eye”, on a wire rack in the books section of our local one-stop-shopping-center. But in 1977, reading that pamphlet from the SFBCA, and seeing the cover picture of a blond-haired man holding a laser sword while a woman dressed in white with an improbable hairstyle pointed a gun off-page, with the giant black helmeted… robot? looming over them: I just knew I had to read this story. So I asked mom if I could get this month’s main selection, and she said yes, and some time after, read about Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and Han Solo.

Star Wars: From The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, by George Lucas The Book Club edition of the Star Wars novelization.

I read that book before the movie came out. Long before Star Wars became pop culture, I was immersed in backstory. More to the point, this all happened at least a year before I met Terry. Star Wars came out the summer between my 6th grade elementary school days (at North Oak Grove Elementary), and my 7th grade junior high school days (at Oak Grove Junior High). At Oak Grove Junior High, my Star Wars collector’s habits grew. I bought more books, including the trade paperback The Star Wars Sketchbook, which I would use as guides to drawing my own versions of Star Wars vehicles, painstakingly tracing the lines of an X-Wing or TIE Fighter. Outside of classes, I would get permission to use the overhead projectors to shine an image from the book, enlarged, onto a larger sheet of paper, and recreate the images, poster-sized.

After school I would walk across the street to the corner store, and buy packets of the Star Wars trading cards, trying to collect a full set of each color series. I was unsuccessful, I think, and even then, I never cared enough about them to protect them and set them aside. I just liked looking at the pictures. I got the action figures. I bought the comic books. My parents got me the bed cover. Posters for my bedroom wall. And every magazine that had even the tiniest bit of Star Wars news: interviews with George Lucas or the actors or special effects technicians. Everything. In a world without a global internetwork of connected devices, using only my local retail outlets of book stores, grocery stores, magazine stands, and toy stores, I tried to get it all.

In 1978, local politics closed down Oak Grove Junior High, and after summer’s end, the students were split off by geography to other junior highs. I ended up at Milwaukie Junior High, essentially joining a program already in progress. Although some of my friends and classmates from the previous year were also new, most of the students attending 8th grade at MJH were already familiar with each other. I remember feeling like a new kid once again, out of place. But Star Wars proved to be a common language, a way to connect to this new group of people.

Which is funny, because that’s not how I remember meeting Terry for the first time.

I also had an interest in photography, shared with my dad, and my dad had given me for Christmas 1977 my own camera, a single-lens-reflex 35mm Fuji. The camera was how I met Terry.

Terry was one of the entrenched crowd; he had been going to school with most of these other students since kindergarten. I had only been in Milwaukie, OR since 3rd grade, so I had less history with almost everyone around me. And at some point in that first week at a new school, with that camera hanging from my neck, I was standing in the hallway between classes only to be interrupted by Terry asking if he could borrow the camera for a minute.

Look, this was 37 years ago, so I don’t remember the exact details. My vague remembrance is that he wanted to take a picture of a girl. I had noticed girls by then but was far too fearful to actually talk to them much. But Terry, even at that young age, recognized the valuable role technology would have in bringing people together. He borrowed my camera, got a picture or two of some girl he’d been flirting with, and gave me the camera back, saying that when I got the film developed that he’d like to see the pictures.

It sounds funny now, but in my 13 year old mind at the time, that meant we were a team. Sharing the pictures led to our spending more time together. And then, at some point, that meant talking about Star Wars. This is where I should have Terry write out his own memories, because this is the part I do not remember at all. In my head, Terry and I have always been fans of Star Wars. But at his birthday dinner last night, Terry said that I handed him my copy of The Star Wars Sketchbook, and changed his life. He looked through the pictures, and I told him about the movie that the pictures were created for, and then he must have gone to see it, because it was playing continuously in Portland theaters and would be until 1980, when the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, would be released.

The Star Wars Sketchbook, by Joe Johnston, published in September 1977 by Del Ray.

That we would each have such different memories of where our friendship began is remarkable, made even more so by our not comparing notes until almost 4 decades later. But people love their round-number birthdays. It’s not surprising that we would get sentimental and nostalgic on such occasions.

Happy birthday, Terry. And many more to come.