"I've got a bad feeling about this."
Writer’s Comment: Although I am a Mathematics major with love for logic and numbers, I took UWP 18 my last undergraduate quarter for, of all things, fun. Writing has always been a way for me to highlight experiences that without eloquent expression would blend into a life of mediocrity. It might also just be an excuse to hear myself talk, but hey, no writer wants to admit this is sometimes true. This particular essay perfectly merges my passion for writing, sarcastic opinions, and tendencies toward nerdy subjects. It is extremely rare that I look back on high school with blissful recollection, but this club was an entertaining, albeit dorky, society, and with ridiculousness comes a great essay topic! It truly was a joy to author this piece, and I owe a huge thanks to Dr. Marlene Clarke who not only encouraged me throughout the process, but also responded to every single one of my nit-picking-at-sentence-structure emails.
Instructor’s Comment: I begin UWP 18 (Style) with readings from Susan Orlean, an author whose work breaks lots of the “rules” students have come to rely on (and loathe). Orlean writes about the seemingly mundane—a 10-year-old, a pet dog, a camping trip—and makes it fascinating; or she takes the unusual—a tiger walking down a city street, a taxidermy convention—and asks us to enter a world in which the seemingly odd isn’t odd at all. Readers are usually captivated. So I ask UWP 18 students to read some Orlean essays and then write an essay in a similar style. Most students love the assignment. Jessica did not. She was not interested, she told me, in imitating someone else’s style, only in developing a style of her own. Her first essay was excellent but clearly not Jessica’s best. By the end of the term, though, Jessica had not only internalized some of the “lessons” of Orlean’s style but had fully developed her own. The essay included here sprang from our discussion of “subcultures” and our reading of several essays published in earlier volumes of Prized Writing, in particular Trevor Rogers’s “Freaks, Geeks, and the Role-Playing Subculture” (2001-2002). But, though influenced by both Orlean and the other writers she has read, the style here is pure Jessica Bisagno.
—Marlene Clarke, University Writing Program
It was too late. There was no turning back. I entered the room amidst stares and quickly sat next to my friend Julia. Late on my first day? What was I thinking? I had interrupted a discussion of the most important kind: A New Hope vs. Return of the Jedi. The territory, an English classroom on my high school campus, was familiar. But during that particular hour, lunchtime, its inhabitants were unusually inhospitable. I had embarked on a journey I would not soon forget. I had joined the Star Wars Club.
You could say my enlistment was both random and bizarre because I had never even watched the movies. Well, that’s a lie. I had seen Episodes I and II, but the Star Wars geeks at my school considered The Phantom Menace an advertisement for a video game and Attack of the Clones a non-worthy drama consisting of little storyline, little action, and a great number of cringe-triggering love scenes. The only movies they revered were the old-school classics A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. And these kids knew everything about the films: the character biographies, the planet names, even the models of spacecraft. Then there was me. I knew nothing of the complex inter-galactic culture and, embarrassingly enough, didn’t even realize Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were the same person. It was early 2005, I was an awkward sophomore, and I joined this club cult of ten because my friends Julia, Stephanie, and Jennifer were in it, and I thought we’d be watching the movies or goofing off the entire time. I was very, very wrong.
The club met weekly to discuss many (trivial) details in the films, test one another’s knowledge, and predict what was to come in the final episode. My friends were lovers of the saga and wannabe-lovers of Han Solo, but they only took things half-seriously. The founder and president of the Star Wars Club, Kwan, was laid-back and didn’t mind my presence. On the other hand, a few active members sensed my indifference (using the Force, no doubt) and consequently shunned me. They watched the films frequently, read the books, played the video games: the works. How dare someone as ignorant as I speak to them? The worst treatment I received was from a junior who found my lack of faith disturbing. His name was Kirk, and required we call him “Captain Kirk.” Yes. Captain. Kirk. He felt no shame in glaring at me from across the room if I had anything to say, which rarely occurred in the first place. He mocked my mannerisms at every meeting, overdramatically retorting to any utterance of mine with, “like, oh my gosh, you’re sooo right!” then pointedly ignoring me if he saw me around school. Maybe I should have reminded him that anger leads to hate—which leads to the Dark Side.
Regardless, I enjoyed sitting at my desk, eating lunch, and listening to the enormous amount of nerdiness emanating from the cohort. 30 or so desks filled the classroom, facing the middle in a three-sides-of-a-square formation. We girls sat on one side, the boys facing us on the other. I don’t know if it was gender, the configuration of the desks, or general interest in the subject that contributed to the debate-like atmosphere of the club, but it always seemed that the discussions divided us into Boys vs. Girls. Geeks vs. Semi-Geeks. Wookiees vs. Droids. The quarrels sprang from subjects such as, who was the most badass character, which battle scene was most thrilling, where did George Lucas go wrong, and everything in between.
“They should have replaced the Ewoks. I mean, furry Oompa-Loompas with rocks supposedly beat the 501st with blasters?”
“The point is that the Ewoks were noble despite their innocence and simplicity!”
“Seriously? Ewoks are lame. Wookiees all the way!”
These arguments could have gone on for hours, and it honestly would not have surprised me if the debates had escalated to members stalking out of the room, the door slamming behind them. Luckily, it never came to that. I was content to stay out of the bickering matches, but I still learned a lot in those 43-minute summits of analysis and argument.
On one particularly intense day, Kwan arranged for an employee on the special effects team of The Phantom Menace to come in and tell us what it was like working on the film. After the computer graphics master was done with his presentation, he held a trivia competition and gave the winners patches with insignias representing characters such as R2-D2 and Boba Fett. The battle may not have been as intense as those on Hoth or Endor, but those students really put their hearts on the line. Blood was rushing to their faces as eagerness and aggression swelled. I simply sat at my desk and watched it all unfold, my eyebrows raised and mouth ajar. Captain Kirk even knew the name of the trash compactor in A New Hope: Three-two-six-three-eight-two-seven. To this day I wonder why in the name of James Earl Jones anyone would ever feel the need to saturate his brain with that kind of knowledge.
And then the speaker posed a question: “What was Princess Leia’s final rank in the Star Wars literature?” Captain Kirk hastily answered, “General.” Wrong! The room was silenced. After a moment, I timidly guessed, “uhhh… Jedi?” because truthfully, it was the only title I could really remember from the discussions. Correct! Jessica won a C3PO badge and Captain Kirk was forever shamed.
The climax of the club’s existence occurred on May 18th. For weeks previously we’d been planning our field trip to see the final chapter of the saga, Revenge of the Sith, and Kwan had collected our dues to buy us tickets to the midnight showing. Our heavily costumed group showed up at 6 pm and although near the front of the line, we met a few dedicated fanatics who had been sitting outside all day. I felt very non-hardcore in comparison to everyone in attendance. Surrounded by Jedi, senators, Leias, Amidalas, one Wookiee, and a few Vaders, I was clearly the rebel in the crowd—not in the Rebel Alliance of the Old Republic sort of way, but in the jeans-and-t-shirt human from this galaxy sort of way.
For mid-May, it was actually pretty cold, but we huddled together and surprisingly had a lot of non-Star Wars related conversations. The guys who normally resented me were apparently in good enough moods to let their animosity subside. For once, I wasn’t the only one laughing, and for five hours we chatted and shook from a combination of low temperatures and anticipation. We gossiped about teachers, vented about upcoming finals and projects due, and joked about our oh-so-enchanting high school lives. We also socialized with groupies who were standing nearby. Kwan had a lightsaber duel with a fellow Jedi and Captain Kirk, our Emperor/Sith Lord (no surprise there), discussed his favorite non-human species with an Obi-Won Kenobi. Meanwhile, Julia and Jennifer, costumed as Princess Leia, were able to bond with a few similarly dressed girls over their crushes on Captain Solo.
An hour before the film was set to start, we were ushered inside to wait in line some more, and were then seated in the theater at 11:30. Our club obtained great middle-section seats, and as we continued to mingle with those situated around us, Kwan broke out the Chinese food he had somehow managed to sneak in. Fifteen minutes later, two clones and a Boba Fett entered the room with their blasters and performed a short skit to entertain the audience. There were hoots, shrieks, and thunderous applause as soon as the lights dimmed, viewers provided loud jokes as the trailers played, and we gasped and groaned together throughout the film. I can’t recall many specific details, but I vividly remember the moment when we sniggered in chorus as Darth Vader staggered out of his metal restraints, lifted his arms in anguish, and histrionically bellowed, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The movie itself wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of cinema, but regardless, the crowd departed from the theater in high spirits following the standing ovation.
So how did it all end? Well, once Episode III was released, Kwan felt that the club no longer had a purpose and his time would be better spent starting a new organization. The Star Wars Club was disbanded by June, and the boys migrated into a new lunchtime project the following school year: The World of Warcraft Club. At any rate, we had developed some sort of strange, mutual respect towards one another and smiled civilly when we made eye contact around campus.
I was inspired and finally watched all six films that summer, several times. I still don’t know the trash compactor’s name offhand (I had to fast-forward through the DVD for that one) and you can be sure that I will never read the books. But considering those lengthy lunch hours I spent confused about who “Jabba” and “Landor” are, I’d say with certain conviction that my identification as a low-end Star Wars nerd is long overdue.