Over the past few days I had the chance to sit down and watch some of my favorite films from the Star Wars Saga. While that may come as no surprise to those who know me, in reality, I don’t get to watch them all that often. I love the trilogies unapologetically, old and new. The reason for my recent viewing was a request from my father. Home after six months in the hospital/Kessler Center for rehabilitation, his current focus is on watching as many movies as he can. He frequents the channel Turner Classic Movies to see his childhood heroes duke it out in the old west, but his true love is Sci-Fi/fantasy. I have a collection of films I know he enjoyed before, so I’ve been lending them to him one at a time.
He is still recuperating from a severe head trauma suffered in June of 2010, and he has lost some memory as a result of his incident. His major memories are in tact (he knows all of his family and friends, childhood memories, etc) but certain details are, lets say, misplaced. For instance, while watching EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, during the scene where Luke, R2D2, and C3PO sit with Obi-Wan in his hut and discuss Luke’s father, my dad turned to me and through his aphasic speech asked me “Do they ever say who his father is?” I paused in this moment and measured my reply. In an instant, the following thoughts raced through my mind: “He doesn’t know Luke’s father is Darth Vader? He remembers Star Wars but lost that? He can name every creature from Lord Of The Rings, but he lost ‘Luke… I, am your father!’ Wait… What if I don’t tell him! Will he remember along the way, or will he be just as surprised as the first time he saw the trilogy? Should I spoil it?” I eventually told him and he remembered, turned his head, and stared excited back at the screen, wide-eyed and gearing up for a thrill ride that would take him back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
The fall may have taken certain small details, but what it didn’t take from him was how these movies made him feel. He knew how much he loved the story and the journey it took him on, but forgot all of the baggage he took with him since his first viewing. All that mattered to him in that moment was Obi-Wan convincing Luke to become a Jedi Knight. He was watching the movies as if for the first time. When I watch these movies, my thoughts tend to drift to others comments about them, and I find myself defending them to no one in particular. This time, however, I let go and just enjoyed it. I watched a movie I have seen over and over again, reciting lines I can recite in my sleep, and let myself fall into the movie. I laughed out loud, rejoiced at victories, and cowered when Darth Vader entered the frame. For the first time in a long time, I truly enjoyed the experience of watching the movie.
During the film, my thoughts drifted to the first time I saw A NEW HOPE, at a screening held in a library in Lake George, New York. I was about 5 years old then, and I got to experience all the excitement for the on a screen that was larger than me. My family was the only one that attended the event, so we got the best seats in the house. I was enchanted by the movie and how it made me feel, wrapped up in its glory. I dreamed of being fighter pilot/Jedi. I wanted to lock my S Foils into attack position. I wanted to shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level. I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for Han and Chewie to appear behind me and tell me I was clear so I could “Blow this thing and go home”. All of these feelings and memories came over me as I looked over at my father, and I could see him feeling everything as I did. He was swept up again by the magic of this film, so much so that as the day went on, he watched all three movies that comprise the original trilogy.
As I write this now, it is the day after my dad and I fought the empire. It is Sunday morning and we are watching EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are battling Darth Maul while John Williams epic “Duel Of The Fates” makes for a perfect sound scape. I can remember back to owning a VHS copy of this movie, and watching the end of this movie over and over with my dad, talking about how cool it was. We’d watch it, talk about it, then rewind it and go all over again, and I can see those feelings he shared with me then returning to him now. These films represent a bond between us, one I thought I’d lost this summer when my dad had his accident.
I remember sitting in the waiting room in the hospital, helpless. My father was lying on a table in surgery while surgeons raced to save his life. when my family had first arrived, we were told that he had a 40% chance of even making it out of surgery, so needless to say, the next few hours were tense. There’s so much more I need him for, I can remember thinking, This cannot be it. After a seeming eternity, he was placed in the Surgical ICU in a coma, and the long process of waiting started. At this point, his doctors offered no prognosis, as any would be a guess. Day by day we were met with small victories, and I found myself on the phone with loved ones updating them on his condition. “There’s good news!” I’d say triumphantly, “His chances of survival have greatly increased!” Even as those words left my mouth, I knew they were filled with little bits of hope I and my family were clinging to. We were hopping from float to float, desperately trying to keep from drowning among the stark reality of his condition. In the weeks that followed, we were met with more conjecture, however things were looking increasingly positive. Their predictions were that he would wake up, but not for about 8 months, and after that the long process of healing could begin. Though encouraging, this news still presented an emotional obstacle. My sister and her then fiance were to be married in the coming October, and it seemed that my father would be in the hospital, possibly not even conscious, during the ceremony.
In times like these, all my family knows how to do is make plans. We’re much better off when we can anticipate things, so that’s what we set upon. While we were busy doing that, my father had other plans. slowly but surely, he began moving his limbs. at first involuntarily, but soon with purpose. Then his eyes would open and close when you were in the room, responding to voices. Small steps, but according to his team of physicians, Herculean feats. Finally he awoke for good, able to give nods yes and no. Nothing major, but enough to show us that he could understand us all. One day, on my way to work, I received a call from my mother. He had finally began talking, and he was asking for me. I raced to the hospital, and got to talk to my father for the first time in nearly 2 months. He knew us all, and it was clear that the man who raised me was still there. His speech was labored, and he mixed words up, but he was in there. He was on a ventilator and had a tracheostomy, but they were able to allow him to talk around it. We talked about how the Yankees were doing, and played him music he loved. Slowly, they weaned him off of the ventilator, a huge win. He had full usage of his limbs, and soon it was time to move him to Kessler for rehabilitation. There, he flourished, walking and exercising. He was back on solid foods, and made great strides every day. In late June, this man should have died in Hackensack Hospital, but he survived.
He should have been unconscious for 8 months, he awoke in less than 2. He should have been a vegetable, but he walked his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day in October. In late November, he had surgery to replace the parts of his skull that had to be removed during his first round of surgery, and by the second week of December, he was back home watching his favorite movies and entertaining guests. On June 22, 2010, I was told I was going to lose my father due to a tragic accident. On January 8th, 2011, we cheered loudly together for Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, and Obi-Wan Kenobi as they fought against Darth Vader and the rest of the Galactic Empire.
After A NEW HOPE on saturday, I went on with the rest of my day while Dad continued to watch the Trilogy. That night, as he was watching the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI, my dad called for me so we could watch the end together. Luke had helped Vader defeat Emperor Palpatine and restore balance to the force, just as he had countless times before. Tears filled his eyes as he watched father and son reunite, and he kept telling me how amazing the movies are. He’s right, they are but not because of the special effects, but because of how they make us feel. He sits in his chair, physically restricted. His movements are not what they used to be, but he’s getting there. He can’t express himself as easily as he used to, but in time, hopeful he’ll regain that fully. No matter how discouraged he feels at his current state, he can always battle Darth Maul, the Trade Federation, Storm Troopers, and Emperor Palpatine as long as there’s the will of a Jedi Knight inside of him. He has been fighting his own personal battle since June, with many victories to his credit. As I was leaving the house Saturday, I said goodbye to my father on the way out. “May The Force Be With You”, I said to him as he watched the beginning of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. “It is,” he replied. He’s right, it is. The force is strong in my family. I have that same spark and will of a Jedi Knight, like my father before me.