The Night Han Solo’s Blaster Came to Visit, or My Life With the Force

When I was 13, my dad came home with a surprise.

He was working at a hobby shop on Avenue I, where regular customers would bring unusual collectibles for show and tell.

One day, a film industry guy stopped by with a movie prop he thought my dad would be interested in.

My father convinced the man to let him take Han Solo’s blaster home for the night so he could impress his kids.

I don’t actually know if the fictional gun came from the set of George Lucas’ famous trilogy or whether Harrison Ford ever touched it or if it was just a convincing replica.

It didn’t matter. It was like Christmas at our house when my dad came strolling through the door with one of the coolest looking pieces of hardware in cinema history.

My siblings and I spent the rest of the evening posing for photos with the coveted weapon in the backyard, make-believing we were slumming it at Mos Eisley Cantina or caught in the thick of battle on Endor.

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My dad, Gordon Kemble, with the purported Han Solo blaster. 

My dad was always very sweet about bringing me whatever Star Wars items he came across at the shop — books, role playing games, whatever odds and ends he could find.

It was six years after the release of “Return of the Jedi” and merchandise from the trilogy was scarce. Lucasfilm had yet to fully capitalize on the franchise’s marketing potential and souvenirs were difficult to find.

I became a disciple of Star Wars in a vacuum of sorts. I was 12 when I saw “A New Hope,” not in a theater, or on Blu-ray, or on a 60-inch flat-screen, but on the old television set in my great-aunt’s den.

Despite the humble presentation, I was awestruck by Lucas’ space opera. I remember the sight of C-3PO and R2-D2 shuffling down the shiny corridors of the Death Star, the thrill of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker’s rescue of Princess Leia, who was no damsel in distress, the hilarious suspense of the trash compactor scene, the mysticism of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the allure of the monk-robed Jedi, and of course, the brilliance and majesty of the lightsaber.

I really did think that someday the lightsaber would exist.

I saw the trilogy out of order. My sixth-grade teacher showed “Return of the Jedi” as a reward. Surrounded by classmates who had all seen the movie long ago, I marveled at Luke’s transformation from restless farm boy to noble Jedi warrior. By the end of the film, I was doing the “Yub Nub” dance right along with the Ewoks.

I then convinced my parents to rent “The Empire Strikes Back.” We took it to my grandparents’ house because they had a VCR. Finally, I was privy to the full mythology and the darkest and perhaps richest chapter of the trilogy, which was a little over my head at the time.

I wouldn’t see Star Wars on the big screen until the great re-release of 1997, a joyous occasion despite Lucas’ infamous tampering with his original imagery.

And I wouldn’t experience the heady, comforting rush of communing and commiserating with other Star Wars fans until 1999 when a certain prequel fanned the flames of frenzy over the franchise once again, for better or for worse.

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Camping out for tickets for “The Phantom Menace.”

Since then, I’ve enjoyed living in a Golden Age of Star Wars fandom, largely thanks to the efforts of Disney.

Merchandise is readily available, discussion is lively, and new developments are constantly on the horizon. It’s more than I ever dreamed of as a little girl, pretending to fly through the trenches of the Death Star in my very own X-wing starfighter.

This Golden Age will hit an unprecedented high on Dec. 18 with director J.J. Abrams’ new chapter in the franchise, “Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

Whether this new entry in the series is spectacular or an epic failure, Star Wars will remain an integral part of my life. It’s sacred to me in a way that will not fade or change.

In a way, I owe my career to Star Wars.

My fascination with the franchise led to an abiding curiosity about cinema. I wanted to know how George Lucas brought the Rancor to life or created the awesome jump to lightspeed.

I subscribed to Lucasfilm Magazine so I could find out. I checked out books from the library on editing and cinematography and sound.

One of my first articles at the newspaper where I spent nearly 15 years writing about film was a well-meaning but misguided defense of “The Phantom Menace,” which was taking quite a critical drubbing.

I’m not going to claim that Star Wars taught me about love, but however weird it may sound, it is a significant part of my marriage.

My husband Nick and I were seeing other people when we camped out in the parking lot of a mall to be the first to snag tickets for “The Phantom Menace.”

By “Attack of the Clones,” we were dating. By “Revenge of the Sith,” we had tied the knot.

Star Wars isn’t the glue that holds our relationship together, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Not a day goes by that we don’t find ourselves talking about “The Force Awakens.” Some girls dream of diamonds from their beloved. My fondest gift from my husband is a red Force FX replica lightsaber. I’ll treasure it always.

More importantly, those first, indelible images of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford  in Star Wars taught me that I didn’t have to conform to what society might expect of me.

Sure, I wanted to dress up as Princess Leia for Halloween. She was, refreshingly, a princess who did much more than waltz about in a ballgown and tiara.

But early on I discovered that I didn’t really want to be Leia. She didn’t get to wield the lightsaber. We never saw her embrace her powers or her path to the Force. What I wanted to be was Luke Skywalker or Han Solo.

Star Wars helped me realize that as a girl I could be a Jedi, I could pilot a starfighter, I could shoot a blaster, I could save the galaxy from the evil Galactic Empire. So why should I limit myself in real life?

As I grow older, Lucas’ universe keeps me connected to my childhood self, the one who stood with Luke, gazing at the setting twin suns of Tatooine, dreaming of what the future might hold.

I hope it will always hold more Star Wars.

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