Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Star Wars revisited, the cradle of mankind and the importance of potatoes

I got my tickets to the premiere of "Star Wars" this morning. I actually got a little teary when I saw the third trailer, which went online last night.

Why "Star Wars?" 

It's the movie that made me an astrophysics major for three years of college (I later switched to journalism). It's the reason I love astronomy. It's why I wanted to become an astronaut. It's why I worked in a public observatory for eight years, and why I worked a a research assistant on a couple of NASA projects during college. It's why I own a telescope even now, and sit outside observing the heavens and watching meteor showers from our back yard.

It was "Star Wars" that pulled me from nights dancing at disco clubs to nights sitting in cold observatory domes comparing still images of the sky and taking notes. To say it took my life in a 180-degree course change is accurate. It changed my goals, the things I wanted to learn about, and how I saw the world. Suddenly the Disco Queen became a Science Nerd. It happens.

Perhaps it's even why I love this piece of land I live on, always conscious that it's just a speck on a little, blue planet, hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour. The fact that it's my home planet means something to me, probably because in "Star Wars," the characters seemed to think the planet you came from was important -- no matter where you traveled throughout the galaxy, it was the place you were from.

But while this planet has been humanity's cradle, no one should remain in the cradle forever. Those other planets are out there, beckoning us through the night sky. Part of the reason "Star Wars" was important was that it made the stars above us inviting, accessible and exciting. Unlike previous movies like "2001 -- A Space Odyssey," space was not cold and forbidding. Instead it brimmed forth with possibilities of life, of stories and of adventure. When I'm out amidst the night sky, I don't feel like I'm alone in the dark -- I'm among friends: bright Sirius, Mighty Orion, and the misty Milky Way running through everything.

But although "Star Wars" inspired my life, it's true that I never became an astronaut. Instead, I worked  in public relations in the aerospace industry, then taught science, then did some newspaper writing and now, a bit of farming. 

But you know, Matt Damon is now growing potatoes on Mars, so perhaps farming is still a valuable skill set if we ever do get to the stars. I know I won't. I'm too old now. But you can bet come December 17, I will be seated front and center at the movie theater with a big tub of popcorn and a heart laden with emotion.

Because "Star Wars" made me who I am. And maybe it will inspire the next generation to get out into that vast, warm, friendly universe and have some new adventures. I hope so, anyway. I just hope they remember, those new steely-eyed star sojourners, how important it is to know how to grow potatoes, wherever you are.


  1. Oh I love this! I enjoy Star Wars but haven't ever thought of it in this way. I can totally see that message now. I would argue that your role in space was even more important than being up there yourself. Think of the opportunity that exists working in an observatory: you can be the gate that opens your love of space to so many others. By making it accessible and relatable. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I have no interest in space. My scope is much, much smaller than that. But thank heavens for the big thinkers.

    1. Thank you for those words; astronomy is not for everyone, but we all have our own "Star Wars" moments, where we're suddenly exposed to something that changes our life and our interests forever. Yours may be something else, but the important thing is, you followed your heart and it led you to being the person you are today!