I normally use this column to write about the MCU. Today, however, I am going to write about that movie franchise that very first stole my imagination: Star Wars. I know the internet has been flooded with pieces on Star Wars recently, what with Star Wars: The Force Awakens nigh on our doorstep. But if you’ll bear with me loyal reader, I want to bring attention to a story that has captured my heart and attention this week—the story of Daniel Fleetwood, a terminal cancer patient who desperately wanted to see Episode VII before he passed away. As of yesterday, his dream came true amidst a stunning display of viral support! Kudos to J.J. Abrams and Disney; actors Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, and Peter Mayhew; and everyone who tweeted the hashtag #forcefordaniel, all of whom helped make this a reality.
When I was a child I wore out the VHS tapes of the Original Trilogy that my parents had bought for my brother and me. Indeed, almost every road trip that I can remember, my father would somehow manage to tie a portable TV down in our minivan, on which my brother and I would watch that ragtag band on the Millennium Falcon fight the might of an evil empire in a galaxy far, far away. My friends and I would re-enact scenes, choreograph lightsaber duels (with sticks from the backyard), and scour Star Wars books. As with so many before and after me, I lived and breathed Star Wars for several years of my childhood. It was a definitive part of my adolescence.
When the prequels came around, I was awash in all of it. Yes, I now look back upon them with a critical eye in relation to the Original Trilogy, but at the time, as a kid, it was an amazingly exciting experience. And so, when I was fourteen years old, my father and I bought tickets to see Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith at midnight on its opening day. Needless to say, I was ecstatic—counting down the days until I could see on the big screen what I thought would be the final chapter. At 14 years old, it was the first time I was old enough that my parents would let me stay up for a midnight showing.
Unfortunately, however, it was not to be. A couple of weeks before Revenge of the Sith came out, I was diagnosed with leukemia, and my oncologist, despite my most anguished pleas, would not let me go to that midnight showing amidst my heavy chemotherapy. He was concerned, and rightly so, that my immune system would be too weak for me to withstand a crowd of theater-goers. It was devastating. While it might sound crazy amidst all of the terrible things you’d expect come with cancer, missing the chance to see this midnight release was one of the biggest let-downs during that first month. At the time, I thought it would be the final ever chapter of the saga, and so I viewed Episode III as the last chance to ever see a Star Wars Premiere at midnight, amongst a crowd of fellow fans. Ultimately, when I did finally see Episode III weeks later (my Aunt called a movie theater and arranged for me to get a special showing, God bless her and that movie-theater manager), I was so excited that I walked three laps afterward around my driveway. This was a big deal at the time since, due to all the surgery and medication, having the energy to walk was no easy thing.
It’s now over ten years since I was diagnosed, and I’m happy to report that I’m fully cured of cancer and as healthy as can be. This December 17th at 7pm, I will be there front and center, ready to go at the nearby IMAX theater for the midnight showing of Episode VII! It’ll be the chance to fulfill that childhood dream that was robbed from me all those years ago.
But the fact that the chance to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens was almost robbed of a fellow cancer patient, resonates with me. To be clear, my situation was nothing like Daniel Fleetwood’s. I am now cured, and my ability to see Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith was never in doubt. But, as someone who has suffered cancer, I couldn’t help but feel an unbelievable amount of empathy for the situation Daniel found himself in. I am thrilled he was able to see it.
One of the many beautiful aspects of Star Wars is its ability to unite people of diverse backgrounds. It is a story that captures the human condition in so many ways. Fans across the world, regardless of religion, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic status, can and have repeatedly bonded in shared interest around this mutual love. This, undoubtedly, was on display in full force with the worldwide outcry for Daniel to see Episode VII. It is a demonstration that should warm the hearts of all Star Wars fanboys and fangirls alike. The Force was with us, always.