Ever since I was a child, my mother has shared her love for Star Wars with me. This love is mixed indistinguishably with her lifelong crush on Harrison Ford, but even aside from the awesomeness that is Hans, she and I have watched these movies more times than I can count, and the series has been part of my life as long as I can remember.
In high school, one of the two times I ever skipped school was to see the Phantom Menace. Throughout my adolescence, Mom had a life-size Hans Solo cut-out who stood in various parts of the house for years, scaring visitors (and us) on walking into a dark room. My first screenname was yaddle83, after the character of Yaddle- a female member of Yoda's species, who sat on the High Council. When I got to college, my first boyfriend claimed he knew Harrison Ford, and promised to introduce him to my mom. Unfortunately, my parents never met Harrison, as it turned out this boyfriend had a problem with lying. When I got to medical school, life got more complicated, and my love for Star Wars has actually been fairly dormant for me up until this fall. But Mom and I watched the first movie (the real first movie, Episide IV) together in September, and she and I both can still quote most of the lines.
So when I learned there would be a new movie, featuring our favorite actor, I was ecstatic. And when I walked into Target one day in September to find an entire section of the store now devoted to Star Wars, I was stunned. In another setting, I might complain about George Lucas selling out, but after Jar Jar Binks, I think we all expect that by now. And in my current situation, I was thrilled to see so many clothes and knick knacks that I knew would make Mom smile, even on a really tough day.
I won't detail the numerous Star Wars purchases I've made over the past four months, but in early October, I stumbled across a rack of Star Wars fleece onesies for sale, and started thinking about Halloween. I came home and asked my mom if she'd enjoy dressing up as Star Wars characters and taking pictures of ourselves for Halloween. Mostly for our own entertainment, but also to share those pictures with others as an illustration of how, even with the shadow of multiple system atrophy hovering in our lives, we can have fun together. And I thought it would be fun to also show Mom how beautiful she is. She agreed. I asked which character she wanted to be, and she paused, then replied, "Darth Vader."
This is reflective of another important character trait of my mom. She is this thin, beautiful woman, a former Catholic school attendee, and generally an introvert who now also appears to be weak, shaking, in a wheelchair. But she loves things fast, loud, and dangerous. She bred her Morgan horses to have attitude, so they are like finely tuned sports cars, requiring experienced and steady hands to get the most from their incredible power and energy. I bought her a statue of a black horse who looked like her prize horse, Exodus, because it had flames and a silver engine painted on its back. Her GT Mustang, as her physical therapist said when he saw it, is a "real" Mustang. It looks mean, fierce.
She has always loved rock and roll, and when driving, would pound her hand on the steering wheel to the beat while she sang along to the bass guitar. When the MSA first started to progress and she needed to get a cane, we found her one online with flames going up the side. Currently, she is looking into getting a motorized wheelchair, and we have already agreed we will need to get flame decals for that as well. So it was the obvious choice for her to be Darth, and not Leia, or a droid, or even Chewie.
I bought the onesies, and a Darth Vader mask on Amazon, and I made us light-sabers out of wooden poles Pop happened to have lying around (because, well, doesn't everyone?). Then we decided to include our poor dog, Zena, in the shoot as well, and I made her a matching cardboard Darth breast plate so she could be Mom's sidekick.
It ended up being the day after Halloween, and we did this bizarre photo shoot, a combination of glamour shots, the Dark Side, and chaos. The room was too small. The lighting wasn't right. The light saber was a bit too heavy for Mom to hold up easily. The Vader mask was too small and strange looking to be taken seriously. My tripod was broken and kept falling to the side. And when it was time to get Zena involved, we added a whole other level of complexity to the whole event.
When we were done and I looked at the pictures we had taken, I was angry. I wanted this to be a beautiful set of shots to make us laugh and smile, and instead I was frustrated that so many things weren't quite right. I didn't share them as I had originally planned, and a few days later, Pop had his knee replacement, so I forgot about the shoot completely.
Until now. Today, in honor of the premier of The Force Awakens, I found several shots from that tumultuous day that I think highlight Mom's beauty and playfulness, as well as her ongoing devotion to a story a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, and forever part of our lives. Star Wars always makes me think of Mom, and it always will.
There is a new campaign in the MSA community called "MSA Can't Take," designed to encourage patients and family members to share the parts of their lives that this pervasive and devastating disease cannot touch. Well MSA can't take Mom's kick-ass spirit, our memories, or our shared love for this historic movie series (an "epic space opera franchise" according to Wikipedia). And I'd like to think that if Darth was driving a car today, he'd drive a Mustang GT, complete with silver hood pins.