"I love you."
These words are written on my bedroom pillowcases. I can't remember the last time I told a woman I love her, which is probably why I'm an unmarried forty-year-old man. At the age of three Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw, thirty-seven years ago, sitting on my father's lap in theater one at the College Mall cinema in Bloomington, Indiana. This was when Han Solo "shot first," spoke sly and sarcastic comments to hide his real self, and in the end he showed his true colors of loyalty and a belief in something larger by rescuing Luke Skywalker and giving him the opportunity to save galaxy. This wasn't the original release of A New Hope, it was the second showing building towards what I would see in theater two at the College Mall, The Empire Strikes Back. In that story Solo showed his honesty, humility, why you never tell him the odds, and his moments of vulnerability as he said "I know" to a declaration of love before he was sent to a frozen abyss. At the age of five, Han Solo taught me to be a guy, like a university professor. How brilliant he was.
Between movies and bowling, there wasn't that much to do when I was a kid. When I was fourteen, I went to theater three at the College Mall cinema with my mother, and no, I did not sit on her lap, and we watched Lloyd Dobler, the noble underdog of Say Anything. Dobler was charming, romantic, good with kids and drove a cool car just like Solo, and just like Solo, Dobler was a rebel. He was in love with a princess, Diane, whose father did not approve of him. Dobler, for lack of a better term, comes across as a scruffy lookin' nerf herder, but he doesn't give up when the chips are down, and Dobler ultimately wins Diane's heart before she leaves for a school far, far away and supports her emotionally after her father's conviction and incarceration for his role with the dark side. The film ends, sorry if I'm spoiling this, with Dobler escorting the aviophobic Diane on her flight to college. Similar in so many ways, at the age of fourteen, I thought Lloyd Dobler and Han Solo should go bowling together.
These two men informed me on how to be, two flickering images on how to conduct myself, and how to believe in something that didn't look back at me in the mirror, and I know I'm not alone. In Bloomington, there was no art house cinema, no indie flicks to see, an age before the Internet was king and cable television was owned only by the wealthy. I watched these movies over and over again with my VCR. I knew every flinch, every syllable from these two guys, every word they said and why they said it. Now at the age of forty, I am a firm believer that pop culture is our greatest teacher. It is just as important as the lessons we learn from our parents, our preachers, or teachers, and our friends. I'm a teacher, a professor, really, but a professor doesn't sound like a guy who would shoot Greedo under the table, and I sure as hell would, and I teach Empire as one of the best stories of the past 100 years. Why? Because it is. Every plot point looks like a character decision. I show my students all the dirty tricks Lawrence Kasdan wrote to manipulate the audience. I want to share with my students the power of what storytelling can be for everyone, and how fictional characters can influence.
As I have gotten older, Lloyd Dobler died in my mind, one of God's own prototypes to me. The high-powered gentleman before the selfie age faded away when I left Bloomington at the age of eighteen and learned the lovable underdog doesn't always win. He's just a poster boy for a time and place in my DNA. I live in Austin now, and on Friday a new Star Wars movie opens called the The Force Awakens. I will go to the Alamo Drafthouse, without my mom or dad, and I imagine Han Solo will die in the movie. It only makes sense, he is old now, like me, and I imagine he will sacrifice himself for a greater good, help teach the new and younger Star Wars characters how to do it, because that is what he taught me all those years ago. If this is the end of Solo I wonder what his last words to Leia will be, will I have those on pillowcases years from now? I don't teach Say Anything. That one is just for me. Dobler's voice as he says, "I gave her my heart, she gave me her pen," is a clear, metallic echo in my ears from a childhood long gone, where time began in the College Mall, the best school there ever was for me. I hope Han says something honest just one last time. How brilliant that would be.