I was 12 years old in 1977 when I first saw those words fade onto a movie screen for the first time. I had no idea what kind of impact that amazing world would have in my life for the next 42 years. For four decades, Star Wars unfolded an entire galaxy of stories and characters that would at the same time seem larger than life while also being immensely relatable. The stories were poignant and powerful, the characters intriguing and insightful.

Many things have happened over those 40 years. I saw my children become enamored with the same story that sent me back to movie theatre time and again that brutally hot South Carolina summer of 1977. Twenty years later, I remember sitting impatiently while waiting for my dial-up internet to load the trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace with my then 8-year-old (now 28-year-old) on my lap. I remember watching as my son began watching these movies and coming to love them even more than me. Talking about the characters and stories as if they were real…because let’s be honest…they do seem real.

These past 40 years have also brought things I would have never thought possible. A new series of stories with a new cast of heroes. An even more expansive galaxy with books, comics, tv shows, and now…a chance to actually walk in the world that has brought me and my family so much joy. I have done a lot of neat things in my life. But words cannot describe the feeling of co-piloting the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy with my son. It has been an extraordinary ride.

And the stories? My goodness, the stories have been amazing. We’ve seen a slave-boy slip into the Dark Side and then find his way home again. We’ve seen a queen become a senator and a princess become a general. We’ve seen a scoundrel become a hero with a partner more loyal than Samwise Gamgee. We’ve seen a diminutive, green Jedi Master train a legion of Padawans and another grizzled, old Master give his life for his Padawan. We’ve seen two droids never leave each other’s side and a piece of junk make the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. We’ve seen an orphan girl find her true calling, a son do the unthink-able, a former Stormtrooper find his way, and a headstrong pilot become a leader. And we’ve seen a young farm-boy stare out over the horizon knowing he was meant for far more… and finding he was exactly right. What a journey it has been.

But, like all good journeys, there comes an end. Last night we purchased our tickets for Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker. And it dawned on me: This would be the last time I would ever purchase a true Star Wars movie ticket. Oh, there will be other movies and other stories, and I look forward to them. But this story is over. On December 19, 2019 I will, for the last time, walk into a Star Wars movie. My family will be with me. What began in a theatre in Columbia, South Carolina in 1977, will come to an end in a theatre in Central Florida on the 19th. I will see the words: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…  And I will remember. I will remember every time I sat with my kids and watched these movies. I will remember every discussion about who the most powerful Jedi really was. I will remember each time we tried to convince ourselves that maybe the prequels were not as bad as we thought. But mostly, I will remember the joy. The joy that these stories, these characters, these movies provided for me and my family. And for that, I say thank you.

Thanks to the actors who brought these amazing characters to life. Thanks to the directors and writers who made the stories so believable and fantastical at the same time. And a special thanks to George Lucas who was so passionate about a little story he called “The Star Wars” that he created the very thing that has made such an impact on so many people. Thank you for providing me with so many memories and moments. Well…I guess there is only one way to end this. So, from the bottom of my heart: May the force be with you.

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