During the eight days of Chanukah, in between candle lighting and latkes, my husband Larry and I will celebrate a Shapiro tradition: We will go to see the newest Star Wars film.We have been fans since Adam caught the Star Wars bug from a future storm trooper.
How It Began
In September 1979, I began substitute teaching two to three days a week at our local high school. We left Adam in the care of a wonderful baby sitter, Sandy Harris, who lived just down the street.
Adam was seventeen months old and just beginning to talk. His vocabulary consisted of a few words—mamma, dadda, apple dus.
Less than a month later, however, Adam shocked us by announcing at the dinner table, “I know Star Wars.”
“You know Star Wars?” Larry asked, astonished.
“Yes,” said Adam. “Luke Skywalker. Han Solo. Princess Leia. Chewbacca…”
And Adam continued to prattle on, clearly stating the names of numerous characters from the Star Wars movies.
It didn’t take us long to figure out where Adam had picked up his expanded vocabulary. Sandy’s twelve-year-old son Timmy had been enthralled with George Lucas’ blockbuster since the first Star Wars was released in 1977. Kenner Toys had the license to make the related toys, and Timmy had collected them all. He set the little action figures and their spaceships on shelves in his room, recreating scenes from the first movie and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. When he came home from school, Timmy would entertain his mother’s charge by allowing him to play with his collection. Adam was hooked.
Tales, Toys Capture Imagination
That Chanukah, Larry and I purchased several action figures and a Millennium Falcon for Adam. He got more for his second birthday and the following Chanukah. Although he had yet to see the movie, his interest and ability to recreate scenes using his collection and other toys as props—blocks, Legos, even a blanket on top of other toys—improved.
In April 1981, Larry and I planned a surprise for Adam for his third birthday. While I stayed home with his one-month-old sister, Larry took Adam to see a re-release of the original Star Wars film. This was Adam’s first movie, and he had no idea why he and his father were sharing a box of popcorn in a huge room filled with chairs. The minute the music started and the opening credits rolled, however, Adam knew exactly what was happening. Our three-year-old was transfixed for the entire length of the film.
“Yours Eyes Can Deceive You. Don’t Trust Them”
Over the next few years, Adam watched and re-watched the first two movies and, in 1983, The Return of the Jedi. As the franchise expanded, Adam’s collection expanded—sometimes with his help.
When he was around four years old, Adam asked us if he could get a new Luke Skywalker as the light saber was missing. We refused, saying he could use a toothpick or a prop from one of the other characters. A few days later, Adam brought us a headless Luke.
“It fell off,” he explained. “Can I get a new one?”
So we replaced Luke, only to have Adam bring us a headless Storm Trooper, one of the white armored minions of the evil Empire, a few days later. When the head of bounty hunter Boba Fett also went missing, we realized that Adam was biting the heads off to get us to purchase a complete toy. His gig was up.
Adam’s passion for Star Wars continued until he was nine years old, when his interest in science fiction expanded to Star Trek and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The action figures and a couple of space ships were relegated to a box in the closet. By the time the series was revived in 1999, Adam was in college. On his visits home, he would occasionally open up the box, reminisce, and put them back on the shelf.
Once you start down the dark path….
In January 2015, Larry and I came back from a trip to Florida to sub-zero temperatures, twelve inches of snow on the front yard, and a broken mailbox, the victim of the town snowplow. A day after a call into town hall, a Clifton Park truck was parked at the end of the driveway. I opened the door, to be greeted by no other than Timmy Harris, whom I had not seen in at least twenty years.
“I’m here to fix your mailbox, Mrs. Shapiro,” Timmy said. “But first I have to ask you a question. My mother has told me for years that because of me, Adam’s first words were the names of Star Wars action figures. Is that true?”
I assured him it was and recounted the story of that night over thirty-five years ago when Adam’s vocabulary increased exponentially.
“Are you still a Star Wars fan?” I asked Timmy.
“Absolutely!” Timmy responded. “ I have a two bedroom house, with one room devoted to forty years of Star Wars collectibles. My favorite pieces are still the Kenner toys from the late 70’s.”
Not only is Timmy still a fan, but also he is part of the 501st Legion, “Vader’s Fist,” an international costuming group that “troops” as the bad guy characters from Star Wars. Along with other members, Timmy dresses up as both as a Storm Trooper, and as Boba Fett.
The 501st’s main function is as a charity organization. In 2015 alone $587,000 was donated on its behalf to various children’s charities including Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ronald McDonald houses, and local pediatric hospitals. The “bad guys doing good” are also found at science fiction and comic book conventions and new Star Wars film openings.
“Star Wars costuming is gratifying on a few levels.” Timmy later shared with me “I get to contribute to something worthwhile. And as a 49 year old man who dresses up as a plastic spaceman, I get to be a 9-year-old again. That’s worth all of the time, sweat and armor pinches that we go though.”
When Larry and I moved to Florida in June 2015, Adam requested we send him very little from the house—two Adirondack photographs and a Monet print, his yearbooks, and the Star Wars action figures. And like his parents, he too will be watching Star Wars: Rogue One over his holiday break.
Happy Hanukah, and may the force be with you!