A New-Found Force

A brand new Star Wars fan is about to have a “grand” experience.

You see, a short time ago on an internet not so far, far away, a website called FinanceBuzz put out an offer. They wanted to recruit someone who had never seen any of the nine “Skywalker” Star Wars films and pay them $1,000 to watch them all in release order, from the original 1977 film through 2019’s Rise of Skywalker.

“We’ll use our Wookie Rookie’s analysis for an upcoming story on the franchise,” FinanceBuzz wrote, according to UPI. Naturally, the hiring period closed on – wait for it – May the 4th, the unofficial Star Wars holiday.

Now, if you’ve read this column for any length of time, you know that I am utterly ineligible for this. Star Wars has been part of my life since at least age 7. I watched the films, played with the action figures, even worked out a George Lucas-style “Christmas Carol” with one of my classmates that starred Han Solo as Scrooge. And yes, my wife Heather and I stood in line 25 years ago for the midnight opening of The Phantom Menace (which I still do not regret, despite some jarring moments … or rather, some Jar-Jarring ones).

In short, my chances of cashing in on an offer like this are considerably worse than the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field. (Approximately 3,720 to 1, for the record.) But the pitch still makes me smile.

With or without the money, it means someone’s encountering the stories for the first time. And that’s always an exciting thought.

I’m not just saying this to revel in geekdom. It’s wider than that. Helping someone open the door to something new can be absolutely magical – especially when it’s something you’ve loved for years and get to see the joy reborn.

I introduced my brother-in-law to a post-apocalyptic book series I enjoyed. He became so passionate about it that he read ahead of me.

I introduced my young nephews to Dungeons & Dragons. Saturday night gaming quickly became a “must” for them – and a chance for me to regularly see the awesome people they’re becoming.

And of course, Heather and I accidentally (I swear) got our Missy hooked on Star Wars one fine afternoon – especially the parts involving Darth Vader and Chewbacca.

Each time, a light in the eyes ignites. An enthusiasm rushes out. And you remember why you fell in love with it in the first place.

I wish I could say this was universal. Some people are more than ready to mock others for only just now discovering what “everybody knows.” But as the webcomic “xkcd” once pointed out, every day, there are literally 10,000 people in this country who discover an “everyone knows” fact for the first time – even something as basic as the Coke-Mentos reaction. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that moment of personal discovery?

It’s a choice we can make every day, to ignite an interest or smother it. And each time we choose to encourage it, we bind all of us together a little more tightly. Almost like … I don’t know, some kind of mystic energy field or something.

And if you didn’t get that last joke, don’t worry. There’s some great movies out there that’ll get you right up to speed. (Or even to light speed, for that matter.) I can’t offer a thousand bucks, but I’d still love to hear what you think of them.

After all, there may be a new discovery ahead. And by George, that would be grand indeed.

Unexpected Lives

When I found out that my immunization period would end on May 4, I joked that it was perfect for a geek like me.  International Star Wars Day – “May the Fourth Be With You” – what better time to wrap things up?

But lately, it’s not a John Williams theme I’ve been hearing. And that’s appropriate, too.

You see, while the mainstream world knows this time as the day before Cinco de Mayo and the would-be Jedi flood the internet with Star Wars memes, musicians know that there’s another meaning to 5/4. It’s a rhythm, and  a tricky one for many people to feel. Compared to the steady walk of a 4/4 or the lilting waltz of a 3/4, it sounds offbeat, like there’s a slight hitch in it, even though it’s completely regular.

Only a few 5/4 pieces are well known to the general public. But one of them is very well known indeed.

You know it as the “Mission: Impossible” theme.

“Bum, bum, BUM-BUM; bum, bum, BUM-BUM …”

Heather and I have had a lot of Mission: Impossible on lately – not the Tom Cruise movies, but the old 1960s and ‘70s TV show where a team of sharp-witted agents had to think their way through a sensitive assignment. Instead of the abilities of James Bond, an Impossible Missions Team relied on the skills of the con man: planning, misdirection and an ability to steer an over-eager mark into engineering their own doom.

The structure was completely predictable and easy to parody. The team leader would get the latest assignment, “should you choose to accept it,” on a self-destructing recording. He’d assemble his team of experts – usually the same ones every time, unless a guest star was in store – and then put together an elaborate plot of fake identities, careful timing and a little technological magic.

And every single time – EVERY single time – that careful plot would go off the rails halfway through, if not earlier, requiring the team to improvise.

Does that last part sound familiar?

For more than a year, we’ve been living unexpected lives. OK, it’s fair to say that life is never utterly predictable (John Lennon did say “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”), but most of us aren’t used to the disruptions being quite this relentless. We’ve had to rewrite how we work, how we learn, how we live … not just once, but over and over.

It’s dizzying. Even infuriating to some. Certainly tiring. Constant alertness, constant adaptation can exhaust anyone.

But two realities from the old show are also in play for us.

The first is that survival and success require a team. We’re not in a Hollywood world where one superstar can save the day, no matter how powerful or famous that person might be. It needs all of us, looking out for all of us, doing what we need to do together.

The second? Simple. The team’s success was never based on “Did the plan anticipate everything?” It was “Did we accomplish the mission?”

We’ve learned. We’ve adjusted. Sometimes we’ve failed. And we certainly won’t see quite the same “normal” at the other end of the pandemic as we did at the start. But as long as we reach that other end, still together, still finding a way to do what we must … then we’ve succeeded.

It hasn’t been easy. But it can be done. Like a certain theme, we all feel a little offbeat, but we are moving forward.

You might even say we’re heading Fourth.

Striking Back

When the editor told me I’d be coming back to print, he couldn’t resist teasing me a little about the date.

“For you, that would be May 4, which seems appropriate for your column,” he wrote.

I didn’t even know that he cared about Dave Brubeck Day, with its 5/4 jazz rhythm that celebrates the slightly offbeat and …

OK, who are we kidding?

Cue the John Williams fanfare, please.

Yes, “Rochat, Can You See?” is returning to the Times-Call on International Star Wars Day – as in “May the Fourth Be With You.” For a self-confessed geek with a love of puns, there truly could be no better time to retake the stage.

Especially this year.

What do I mean? OK, let’s have Industrial Light & Magic roll the opening narration …

Like a lot of my generation, I grew up with Star Wars in my blood. My sisters and I frequently re-imagined the backyard swing set as a trio of X-wing fighters, with the two-seater as the sorta-trusty Millennium Falcon. We envisioned new daring tales that would surely leave our action-figure heroes scarred for life. (One time literally, when my youngest sister introduced Han Solo’s hand to the automatic pencil sharpener.)

And always, since its first release 40 years ago, my favorite of the tales has been “The Empire Strikes Back.”

It’s the darkest of the original films, which made it controversial at the time and an enduring classic now. Many of the most memorable images from that galaxy far, far away got their start here. Han Solo spitting out “Never tell me the odds!” The tiny Yoda with his mighty wisdom and his backward syntax. And of course the famous Darth Vader revelation to Luke that spawned three years of arguing among the fans. “Was he telling the truth? Psyching him out? We have to know!”

And in the days of COVID-19, it may be the film that most relates to us now.

No, I haven’t gone batty from too long in isolation. Consider for a minute.

The villain wears a mask and carries out most of his “essential work functions” from a distance. In one case, he even uses a monitor to remotely … ah … keep in touch with an employee.

The main character spends most of the picture isolated from his friends. And when he tries to come back to them too soon, it’s disastrous.

A lot of time is spent hiding, learning, trying to make repairs, trying to get stronger.

But most importantly – and more seriously – it’s a movie about endurance.

There isn’t a solid target to hit this time, no Death Star to destroy for an instant win. The heroes are overwhelmed at every turn, using everything they have just to keep going against a destructive force that isn’t holding back. By the end of the film, one of them has been maimed, a second destroyed and rebuilt, and a third has been taken by the enemy.

It’s a disaster in every sense except one.

Despite everything, the heroes are still standing at the end of it all. Still able to regroup. And still have hope for the future.

That’s huge.

And just maybe, it’s a comfort now.

We’ve been enduring a lot. We’ll be enduring more. It won’t be easy. Finding “normal” again is going to take slow, patient work.

But by enduring, we win.

By caring for each other, we win.

By taking the careful steps needed to protect all of us – especially the most vulnerable – we win.

Someday, there will be a more obvious victory, a moment to celebrate. But for now, it’s about the small moments. There’s still stress, still strain … but we’re still here.

We have hope.

And that’s a Force to be reckoned with.