Heir to the Empire and the Dark Times: 20 years distant
I jumped at the chance to read and review the new 20th Anniversary Edition of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire – my copy arrived last week and I just plowed through it so I could get this GeekDad piece written in time for the book’s release date.
And while I wrote a little bit at the beginning of that review about my introduction to the book back in the summer of 1991, there are many other memories tied to that summer and that book and what was going on in my life. Because while that summer was fantastic in so many ways, it also holds hidden in its gleaming moments origins of my Dark Times, which I wrote about in Collect All 21! –
When I was a freshman at Bowling Green State University, I went to my first Big Lots store. High on a shelf I found a whole stack of Star Wars record totes, sized to hold vinyl 45s. This was the fall of 1989, mind you, so grabbing one of these for 50 cents was a treat and a trip and many, many times since, I’ve realized that I should have gone back with a five-spot and bought a pile of them. I used it to collect my pens and pencils and desk clutter and that’s what it’s still for almost two decades later.
It was a good farewell to the ’80s and a great way to start the ’90s, stretching myself out in the flatlands of northwest Ohio. Between the old and new friendships, regular fights and tears and ridiculous joy, I can’t think of another time in my life where everything in every moment seemed to matter so much. It still feels very close and very real.
And yet within a few years, I’d made some stupid relationship decisions, alienated most of my friends and family, and moved a thousand miles away from everyone who mattered to me while my Dad was dying of cancer.
At the same time, there’s a thread of Star Wars running through the whole period, particularly during the years I call (only half-jokingly) the “Dark Times.”
The last good summer, 1991, my friend Ivan and I lived in a crappy, boxy apartment in BG to take summer classes and enjoy a little independence away from home. We had original Star Wars trilogy posters above the little black-and-white television set in the living room were we watched a lot of “Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
That summer, my buddy Aaron came up for a day or two and told me about this book he’d started reading called “Heir to the Empire.” Aaron had never been a big reader, so I knew this had to be something special. I was hooked immediately, and I remember lying on an overstuffed, worn blue couch underneath the sole window in the living room reading while the hot breath that passed for a summer breeze wafted faintly through the apartment. Ivan scarfed the book down as quickly as I did – I think we may have even read the same copy simultaneously, passing it back and forth as we came in and out of the house from classes, summer jobs and WBGU radio duties.
[W]hen Aaron brought me that Timothy Zahn book, long after our sequel-writing and Star Wars RPG-collecting days had faded, I was psyched like I hadn’t been in a long time. A long time.
I’d never stopped being a Star Wars fan, but that book, that summer, was like hooking the jumper cables to the Landspeeder up on blocks in the back yard.
Over the next couple years, then, I coped with things (both the crap I brought upon myself and life’s punches over which I had no control) in large part by immersing myself in the resurgence of Star Wars, questing through comic stores and nostalgia shops and flea markets for old toys and books and at the same time eagerly awaiting the release of new Dark Horse comics, new Topps cards, and, of course, the other Timothy Zahn books.
Which means that even now, when I look back at what were without question the toughest couple years of my life, I find that I vividly remember those small moments of, well, not joy, necessarily, but relief and solitude and reminders of happiness and other, brighter days. And in the same way that flipping through a 1970s-era Marvel Star Wars comic can throw me back for a second or two to those endless-possibility elementary-school days, from time to time, the pages of Heir to the Empire strike bittersweet chords that have little to do with a galaxy far, far away, and everything to do with my memories of a personally chaotic time and place in my little corner of this planet.