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.