There are people who were never even remotely interested in science fiction, space opera, fantasy, or any kind of speculative fiction until they saw one of the Star Wars movies for the first time.
I am not one of them.
If there’s anyone who was pre-sold for Star Wars, it was me. I can’t recall any moment in life when I wasn’t interested in aliens, monsters, vampires, ghosts, fairies, faraway lands, mysteries, or tales of high adventure. Maybe it was because I was born at a very strange time. It was the summer of 1969, like the Bryan Adams song, but it wasn’t all about nostalgia and guitars. Prior to and immediately following my Earthly arrival were a parade of unusual events: the moon landing, the Manson murder spree, Woodstock, etc.. On top of that, I’m a native of America’s weirdest state, Florida. I was baptized at Church of the Immaculate Conception in San Diego’s Old Town, right next door to the Whaley House, one of the most famous haunted homes in America.
A product of my age, my introduction to the world of speculative fiction was through television, not books or pulps. It was around the age of four that I got to watch t.v., with Saturday becoming my favorite day of the week. After cartoons and the collected works of Sid & Marty Croft, there were monster movies from the ’50s and ’60s, Godzilla movies, and those Roger Corman horror movies with Vincent Price. There were live action shows like “Isis” and “Shazam.” Then there was my fave, “Star Trek.”
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I started out a Trekkie.
The show really fascinated me, even though most of the plots and concepts naturally went right over my little head. For instance, when I was in pre-school, I thought Mr. Spock was female due to the amount of eyeshadow he wore on the show. It took a while for me to get that “Mr.” meant “dude,” and the eyeshadow was a Vulcan thing. The re-runs aired every Saturday afternoon/early evening, making it prime for watching shortly before early bedtime. I was also a devotee of the short-lived animated Star Trek show that aired Saturday mornings.
I remember having a babysitter, I think she was a student at UCSD, who was a big Trek fan. She even read the spinoff books. I used to talk Trek with her, even though I had to have been about five or six at the time. My end of the conversation probably made no sense, but I’m sure it was quite amusing.
Surprisingly, my mom indulged my affection and I guess my brother’s affection for Trek. One year for Christmas we got toy belts and phasers, and we even got little Starfleet shirts. I had the Spock blue one and my brother got the greenish gold Kirk one. Believe it or not, we got a lot of compliments on those shirts!
Then there was the teenage son of one of my mom’s friends who was a big Trek nut. He had the most awesome room ever, complete with model Enterprises and Trek fan art on the walls. My mom said he even wrote his own Trek script once and later sold scripts for “Laverne & Shirley.” This was before I learned that every Trek fan has a script sitting in a drawer.
Trek appealed to me greatly because of all of the “strange new worlds” explored on the show. But I think what I loved first and best about Trek was its characters. I loved all of them but I particularly dug Kirk and Spock. They were the first fannish heroes I ever looked up to. Up until this very day, I still have a soft spot for William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.
By 1976, my love for Trek continued unabated but there was another show I’d become addicted to, British cult favorite “Space 1999.” I remember the snappy uniforms, Barbara Bain, and some brunette chick with funky eyebrows. Plus there was the awesome character actor Martin Landau. Whenever I was on one of those epic 3-6 week visits to my mother’s family in Panama, I’d watch Japanese fare like “Ultraman” and Italian horror movies translated into Spanish.
My brother and I also got into the shamelessly campy “Batman” re-runs with Adam West. Catwoman was probably one of the first “strong” female characters I’d seen in any of these genre shows. Even though she was bad, I kinda liked her. In prime time, the best genre show was “The Six Million Dollar Man.” In the early mornings before school, we watched the proto-anime classic “Speed Racer.”
My affection for horror movies grew as well: the Universal classics from the 1930s, the relatively recent Hammer House of Horror British imports, etc.. I’d missed out on “The Exorcist,” but the film’s success spawned a wave of mostly R-rated horror throughout the 1970s. My parents refused to take me to see any of them of course, but it never hurt to ask (“Can we go see ‘Audrey Rose?””). The oddball thing about my fascination with horror movies was that it sometimes made me a little afraid to go down a dark hallway to the first floor’s bathroom, not to mention the cause of the occasional nightmare. But that didn’t stop me from watching them anyway.
Then there was my fascination with natural disasters–maybe living in earthquake country had something to do with it–and with mysterious phenomena like Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle. I read every book I could get my hands on about these subjects.
None of my friends at school really were into any of that stuff. But I still liked plenty of little girl things: birthday parties, stuffed animals, board games, Barbie dolls, slumber parties, Holly Hobbie, “Little House on the Prairie.” I watched “The Brady Bunch” re-runs almost as religiously as I watched “Star Trek.” “Happy Days” was my favorite sitcom. For all of the world knew, I was no different from any other red-blooded American girl.
But, while we occasionally saw the usual kid movies, such as “Benji,” my dad loved action, science fiction, disaster, and adventure movies. So whenever we did go to the movies during the lean Hamburger Helper years, it was usually a genre movie. The funny thing is sometimes these movies, such as “Logan’s Run” (1976), were as wildly inappropriate for little kids as the horror movies. “Logan’s Run” was full of sex and gratuitous nudity. An adventure film “The Deep” was full of busty babes in wet t-shirts. Where did my folks draw the line? “Jaws.”
The 1975 mega-blockbuster became the highest grossing film of all time and lines snaked around the movie theaters. Every kid in my class saw it. It was rated P-freakin’-G. My brother wanted to see it. I wanted to see it. Sharks were part of my dad’s business, for petey’s sake! But while breasts were okay with my mom and dad, man-eating sharks were not. My mom’s rationale was that it would scare us so bad, we’d never want to go to the beach again.
Halloween was always my favorite time of the year, not only because of all of the fun of decorating and picking out a costume, but because of all the supernatural-themed books highlighted at the library and the fun scary stuff on t.v.. Another one of my childhood favorites was the television “reality” show “In Search Of,” hosted by none other than Leonard Nimoy. It had everything I was obsessed with at that time: Trek, aliens/UFOs, natural disasters, Egyptology, ghosts, monsters, legends, and the all-around unusual.
While on those epic-length visits to Panama, my mom would also buy us the only English-language publications besides grown-up newspapers, comic books. No we didn’t take good care of them.
So when I first started to hear about Star Wars and see stuff about it in the newspaper, I was immediately intrigued…