Nelson: Star Wars memories
I recently took my best girl to this new “Star Wars” movie. The hero of the flick, a scruffy youth of humble origins, battles a bunch of bad guys while simultaneously struggling to master a mysterious force that’s called – surprise! – the Force.
The movie featured futuristic robots, although some of them looked as if they had escaped from a steampunk convention. Two things were abundantly clear by the end of the movie: 1.) I really want a lightsaber! and 2.) I really want a laser blaster!
I could have written those sentences forty years ago, when my ex-girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I went to a theater and viewed the original “Star Wars” movie. We recently watched the latest installment in the series, titled “The Last Jedi Until the Next Star Wars Movie Because This Thing Makes So Much Money, There’s No Way We’ve Seen the Last of the Jedis”.
“Star Wars” has had a huge impact on our culture. Indeed, no parent can walk across their child’s bedroom without impaling a foot on a toy X-wing starfighter.
It’s been said that the first “Star Wars” movie, titled “A New and Improved Hope,” was essentially a space-based Western. It had a plethora of unsavory characters, a quick-draw, pistol-toting mercenary, and chase scenes wherein the bad guys are pursuing an outgunned ragtag band of good guys. This formula has changed little over the four decades of a movie franchise that’s expanding to infinity and beyond.
The fact that Luke was a farm boy drew me into the first “Star Wars”. Like me, he longed for bigger things other than struggling with cobbled-together old farm equipment. Watching the twin sunsets of Tatooine, Luke obviously yearned for something more, such as a sunblock that has an SPF of 50,000.
My formative years were remarkably similar. Except that I didn’t own a zippy, bullet-shaped hovercraft.
“Star Wars” movies have promulgated the fantasy that people can zoom off to the ends of the galaxy as quickly and easily as running to the local Walmart. Such farfetched impossibilities as light speed and delicious in-flight meals are presented as a matter of fact.
In reality, space travel can be somewhat icky and is often wearisome. I learned this recently when I read astronaut Scott Kelly’s book “Endurance: A Year In Space”. Kelly just completed a year aboard the International Space Station while his identical twin, Mark, remained here on Earth. I know that siblings sometimes need to be separated to avoid annoying each other, but that’s ridiculous.
Kelly’s description of traveling to and living in space are much less glamorous than what’s depicted in the “Star Wars” flicks. For one thing, he never mentions any laser blaster battles. Nor does he write about zipping through hyperspace to visit bizarre places that are populated by exotic creatures. There are no Hooters in space.
The mere act of achieving orbit, it seems, is the world’s most dangerous and intense rollercoaster ride. You don a pressure suit – it’s serious business whenever you have to wear a pressure suit – and are secured to your seat with enough straps to supply a brassiere factory.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only means for putting people into orbit. According to Kelly, the Russians don’t perform the countdown that we Americans are so familiar with. At some point, a Russian launch controller will radio to the capsule, “You guys ready?” To which the only acceptable answer is, “You betcha!”
“Ok,” replies the controller, “Here we go!”
With little further ado, the Soyuz roars to life; the astronauts/ cosmonauts are subjected to paint shaker-like vibrations as they rocket heavenward atop a device that’s basically a barely-controlled explosion. The G-forces induced by acceleration make it nearly impossible to lift an arm. This isn’t a good time to have an itchy nose.
The weightlessness of orbit gives one the ability to fly like Superman, but it also makes it challenging to do some simple tasks. For instance, you can’t take a bite of your burrito and put it down to take a sip of soda because the burrito will likely float away. Good luck claiming that from the Lost And Found.
Many aspects of life aboard the ISS are less than alluring. The three words that deftly drive this point home are Urine Recycling System. It seems that Tang isn’t the only thing that the astronauts drink.
While contemporary space travel isn’t as spiffy as in “Star Wars,” there remains hope that we may someday travel to a distant planet, befriend its inhabitants and build a Walmart.
Which reminds me: I need to get to town and buy some of those nifty new Wookie pajamas.
If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.