A fan’s journey to The Force Awakens
I was introduced to the original Star Wars trilogy when I was young. My mom was a fan and made sure that was a part of my life. My first time seeing a Star Wars movie in theaters was when I was a kid. It was The Phantom Menace. I was so young that I couldn’t enjoy the hype around the movie. Honestly, I remember enjoying Jar Jar Binks. Hey, I was like seven. He was funny at the time. Who knew he would become a Sith Lord (I’m kidding!).
While I liked Star Wars, my love and passion for the fandom stemmed from The Clone Wars. I appreciated Leia, but I never could connect with her on a personal level. But I understood Ahsoka, oh my precious padawan. I saw a lot of myself in her journey. I loved her brash and naive self shedding away into a strong and confident young woman. At the time, I was in college trying to figure out who I was. I was switching majors. I was trying to figure out my own future. I didn’t know the kind of person I wanted to be. Ahsoka’s journey was mine as well. Sure, I wasn’t fighting droids in an intergalactic war, but I was growing up into adulthood which is a war within itself.
Because of Clone Wars, I met Chris and Scott at Dragon Con 2008. They ran a podcast called Two True Freaks featuring shows from Star Wars Monthly Mondays to Walking Dead Wednesdays and everything in between. They were on the Clone Wars panel that year discussing the show. I asked a question about whether or not the Jedi were truly good for breeding clones to die in a war they had no say in. Impressed, they approached me afterward and asked me to be a guest on a show.
After recording a few shows with them, they invited me into the network to have my own podcast called Hope of All Trades. I had officially fell in love with podcasting.
I graduated college starting my life as a freelance writer/retail worker. I joined another show on Two True Freaks called Who True Freaks, a Doctor Who podcast. There I would talk New Who with our leader Shawn Engel and other “Freaks” in the network. Between the two shows, I got my moxie and direction in life. I knew what I wanted to do just how Ahsoka chose her own path. Through podcasting, I met many friends from other shows and fandoms including my editors here on What the Fangirl, Bri and Alex. Because of Clone Wars, I used podcasting to better my career and help create this site I’m so proud of. Hell, I’m even reviewing Clone Wars on here! Here’s my shameless promotion of my season one and season two reviews! I’m currently working on season three.
Years of podcasting and several blogs later, it was announced that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was coming to theaters. Holy crap! A new Star Wars movie! Not just that, but an entire new franchise!
Unlike the prequels, I was now old enough to enjoy the hype! I grabbed every Star Wars comic and reviewed them with great pleasure. I read Shattered Empire over and over again looking for clues for the new movie. While I analyzed the trailers, I avoided spoilers wanting to enjoy this movie without clouded perspective. I knew I wanted to see Rey. Ahsoka followed by Sabine and Hera in Star Wars: Rebels were huge steps in the right direction to have more women in this franchise. With Rey, the later reveal that Captain Phasma was a woman was huge for me. The trailers informed me that these were two powerful women who would influence the next generation of young girls. I already knew I wanted my nieces to see Rey. December 18th 2015 seemed like it was eons away in another galaxy.
Like time does, December rushed here faster than expected. The older I get, the more time flies. I was seeing an early showing on that Thursday. I had already asked off the entire day to get ready for the movie. Wednesday night in my excitement I tweeted out at work:
Not even fifteen minutes later, Chris from Two True Freaks messaged me on facebook. He wrote to me saying that Shawn Engel– the brave leader of Who True Freaks, my friend, my mentor who rooted me on in making What the Fangirl, the man who always made sure my voice was heard being the only female on the podcast– had suddenly passed away.
Like Ezra experiencing the Dark Side for the first time, I was cold. I was numb and confused. What did Chris mean when he said Shawn was gone? Sure, I knew he had been sick recently, but he was on the mend. He had been posting on facebook and was recovering at home. He was only 45, so he was bouncing back. I rushed to the Two True Freaks facebook page and saw it was true. Right there in the middle of my store, I broke down crying. I wailed probably freaking out my customers, but I didn’t care. My friend was gone.
Shawn was an avid Star Wars fan who was looking forward to The Force Awakens. I had briefly chatted with him about the teaser trailer, and I could hear the boyish giddy excitement in his voice. And now, he would never get to see it.
I got home and jumped on skype with Chris. He spent most of the night with the other “Freaks” processing what to do. What would happen to Shawn’s podcasts? Should we get flowers? What about his family? He had two daughters! Should we help them? We didn’t know. Chris told me than several of the “Freaks” wondered whether they should see Star Wars the next day. I wondered about that too. How could I enjoy a movie with this void in my heart? Chris then said they all agreed on one thing:
Shawn would be pissed as hell if we missed the movie because of him passing away.
That’s the kind of guy Shawn was. He put everyone before himself. He made sure everyone’s opinion was heard. He was kind, respectful, insightful, and brilliant. He would want us to live in the nostalgia of seeing Luke, Leia, and Han again. He would want us to laugh at Poe’s wit. He would want us to cheer on Rey and Finn. I had to see the movie in his honor.
Most of the day on Thursday was rough. My emotions fluctuated from being okay to bursting into tears. I was exhausted already as I got dressed for the movie. Donning my Ahsoka shirt from Her Universe, the first Star Wars shirt I ever bought, I drove to meet my friends.
I’m glad I did it. While they knew what had happened from my facebook posts, they tried to keep me happy. I knew I was a muted version of myself, but I found myself laughing again. My friend Paige brought a Captain Phasma action figure that she let me hold when I needed to. We had fun posing Phasma throughout the pre-show antics. Since we went to a Movie Tavern, they had Star Wars themed drinks.
Settling into my seat, I felt a bit like myself for the first time in twenty four hours. The excitement that I was truly about to see a movie that felt like I had waited my entire life for was about to start. From watching A New Hope with my mother to weekly episodes of Clones Wars to falling in love with Star Wars: Rebels to reading the Marvel comics, it came to this. In twenty eight years of my life, I knew my fandom world was about to be blown away into sheer bliss.
The theater darkened. The words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” rose up on the screen. I closed my eyes a moment and thought of Shawn. I thought of my fellow “Freaks” also seeing this movie in his honor. And I opened my eyes and cheered as the Star Wars theme swelled through the room.
It’s like Kanan Jarrus said to Ezra in Rebels, “The moons are setting. It will be morning soon… The Jedi teach that life doesn’t cease at death, but merely changes form in the Force. Your parents are alive inside of you. They will be, always.”
Rest in peace, Shawn. You will live on in the Force, my friend.