I was seven the year that RETURN OF THE JEDI was released. I’d discovered girls, but I knew almost nothing about sex. What little frame of reference I had was derived from Jenny Agutter in an NYU T-shirt, and Robin Williams’ wife accidentally biting off a penis in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Girls were beginning to look good to me, and I found myself developing mad crushes on the elementary school goddesses I tried (and failed) to impress with stories about my portable carbon freezing chamber. If you missed that story, congratulations: this one’s worse.
Like every other heterosexual STAR WARS fan of the day, I was in love with Princess Leia. Being a (very) small child, these feelings were both intense and mysterious. I didn’t want her to end up with Han Solo (I was Team Skywalker all the way), and hoped the smuggler would die as a result of the unnatural carbonite procedure. Yet for all this, when I discovered that a friend on the far side of the apartment complex had acquired a small collection of glossy lobby cards -- one of which depicted Han and Leia messily devouring one another’s faces in EMPIRE -- I haggled my way into possession of the photo. It went inside a secret folder, sandwiched between two hardcover books on my shelf. It was the pre-teen equivalent of porn: a somewhat guilty secret, brought out only in private moments. The feelings this image evoked weren’t in any way lustful; it was the gentle ache of a longing heart that can’t process what it’s feeling, rather than the painful ache of a lengthening hard-on that can’t process what it’s not feeling. That was later in life. So for the sake of this story, get your fucking mind out of the gutter.
Anyway, during the build-up to JEDI’s release, the promotional materials began spilling out. Images of Han Solo running around the shield generator on Endor spoiled his yet-unresolved conflict with Jabba the Hutt (and also meant the fucker was still alive to smooch my girl); and Luke not only had a new lightsaber – it was green. But I had seen the trailer! It was clearly blue! There are only two colors for lightsabers, guys: red and blue! Duh. Everyone knew that.
And then I saw it, right there in the pages of TIME: the image that launched a thousand boners. The outfit every cosplay girl has worn at least once, or secretly desired to. The costume that every husband has asked his wife to put on for his birthday at least once, often with dispiriting results.
The gold bikini. This particular article of clothing is just as iconic as lightsabers, the Millennium Falcon, and Darth Vader’s labored breathing. For many of us, it represents our very first erection. May the Force be with you, indeed.
Being a pretty sexless, dispassionate guy, Lucas had gone out of his way to downplay the female physique in the first two films. Carrie Fisher’s boobs were famously minimized in STAR WARS through the generous application of gaffer’s tape; in EMPIRE, she more or less wears a car seat cover during the first half, and your grandmother’s drapes in the second. But holy Christ, there she was, half-sitting, half-lying at Jabba’s feet, a chain around her neck, a loin cloth fronting and backing her naked hips. There was something wanton about her expression, something dangerous. Princess Leia knew all the secrets that nerdy little boys wanted to learn from her, but never realized they wanted to learn until that precise moment.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one to respond to the outfit: it made its way onto the cover of Rolling Stone, and was featured heavyly in advertising. All the kids at school had the same weird, spirally-eyeball expression I must have had, and all previous STAR WARS discussion -- the ships, action figures, whether or not Vader was really Luke’s dad, etc. -- was replaced by somewhat self-conscious, but very eager, under-the-breath conversation. Did you see what Princess Leia is wearing in the movie? they’d whisper, the question affirmed by the giggles that followed. More than one discussion was had about trips to the toy store to see whether there was an action figure available (SPOILER: there wasn’t. I checked.).
And then, all the sudden, listening to this talk, I started turning into a Dude about it. All these guys were panting over this chick I was in love with, and my seven-year-old jealousy began to kick in. Remember: this was the same kid who tried to trick his class into believing his sister’s finger was amputated after a STAR WARS toy-related accident. I was impetuous, creative, and quite possibly a bit disturbed. This was Carrie Fisher they were eyeball fucking. Was nothing sacred?
It came to a boil on the playground, which is the battleground of all child warriors. One of the neighborhood kids, a little creep named Michael, told me one afternoon that he’d just gotten a poster -- an actual poster! -- of Princess Leia in her slave girl outfit. Fists clenched and crimson-faced, I opened my mouth and did the honorable thing: I lied.
“Oh yeah?” I spat. “Well guess what: you can just keep your dumb old poster, because she’s my real life girlfriend.”
Yes, I said that. I actually said that.
Michael’s eyes became dinner plates for one brief moment; then, just as quickly, he was shaking his head. “You’re a liar,” he stated (correctly). “She’s not your girlfriend. She’s not even real.”
“I didn’t mean Princess Leia, stupid,” I replied. “I meant Carrie Fisher. The real-life lady who plays Princess Leia.” DERP DERP, Michael.
Michael hesitated. I was literally that convincing. “But…she’s old and you’re just a kid.”
I took Michael over to the playground swings, like a big brother gently guiding a young boy toward some important insight. Teaching a lesson. Patiently, but with a tone that suggested that this information was very private, and very important, I explained that my relationship with Carrie -- yes, she was “Carrie” now -- had to remain a secret. After all, she was a Movie Star. If the Hagerstown newspapers found out that her boyfriend was right here under their very noses, and that Carrie Fisher herself was stopping by every weekend to visit, the press would have a field day. “You know how sometimes I don’t ride the bus home?” I pressed.
“I thought that was ‘cause your Mom picked you up,” he said (again, correctly).
I shook my head and smiled, my expression mocking his gullibility. Michael, Michael, Michael. “That’s what you’re supposed to think.”
I had him. I’d baited the hook and reeled him in, and now he was flopping at my feet. However, the consequence of my very convincing performance was that Michael began pestering me daily, desperately wanting to meet Carrie Fisher. Every time he opened his mouth I loudly and aggressively shushed him, at which point his eyes would dart back and forth to make sure the coast was clear before picking up where he’d left off, now in an exaggerated stage whisper. It started to become annoying: he was watching my every move, and when I didn’t “go away to California” that weekend (I had told him Carrie would pick me up in a convertible and take me to her private jet), I had to improvise and come up with a decent excuse. Given that JEDI was about to be released, I was able to explain away her absence by saying she was busy with the movie. She was in Hollywood doing Famous People Stuff.
This went on for about a week, which in Kid Time is like seven years (or twenty when you’re juggling a complicated and ever-expanding bag of horseshit). And now Michael was demanding proof. Proof? From me? I was insulted. There was even the vague implication that he might share my secret if I didn’t pony up the goods. All right, Michael: challenge accepted. I took my glossy photo of Han and Leia kissing and, copying my mother’s decidedly feminine handwriting from her checkbook, I signed it: To Erik, The Star in My Wars. Love, Carrie. The fact that the image depicted her kissing another man hadn’t really seemed all that important at the time. Regardless, it bought me another day or two with Michael, until, needing to serve up more evidence, I suggested a phone call to Carrie. I managed to fake my way through about thirty seconds before the dial tone kicked on, a sound that Michael heard, and one which caused him to become nearly hysterical in his righteous indignation; I merely explained that she’d had to unexpectedly hang up because a reporter was taking her picture through the window of her mansion.
By the middle of the following week -- days before JEDI’s premiere -- it was getting dangerous. Michael was threatening to tell everyone (he even claimed to have an uncle who Worked For The Newspaper), and he required boner-hard evidence if he was going to go on protecting my alleged secret. I was wracking my brain, trying to come up with another stall tactic (and no, friends, it never once occurred to me to come clean; I just needed to get past this patch and let the tale fade into memory); and then I saw my solution, sitting there on the spinner rack at the neighborhood Highs. This was where I bought my Marvels, my HOUSE OF MYSTERY “I…Vampire!” comics, and my MAD Magazines. Here now was something completely unexpected, shimmering and glowing as if delivered by God Himself in my hour of need.
It was the last copy of Marvel’s official RETURN OF THE JEDI adaptation, all four issues collected in a single, magazine-sized volume. The movie wasn’t even out yet -- the individual issues weren’t, either! -- but here it was: the entire story, laid out, and mine for the taking. And there was only one copy left. The fact that I was a cross country runner helped me book it home, beg and plead with my Mom for the $3.50 cover price (plus tax), and sprint back before anyone else could claim it. And I got it. Oh yes. I left Highs with all the secrets of RETURN OF THE JEDI in my grubby, baby hands.
And I then proceeded to spoil the movie for myself like it was the biggest bowl of ice cream in the world. I’ve never forgiven myself for doing it, either.
That afternoon I learned the secrets of Anakin Skywalker; the truth about Luke and Leia’s relationship, and saw Darth Vader chuck the Emperor down a reactor shaft. My Dad had already secured tickets for Saturday morning, but I wrecked it for myself, gulping down the plot points like a starving dog. When I’d finished, I knew I had the ammunition I needed.
It just so happened that as I rounded the corner of my apartment building, my brain swimming with the knowledge it had just absorbed, I saw Michael poking around the playground all by himself. Hands in my pockets, I began to whistle, casually strolling over to where he was standing. He turned his dark, suspicious gaze toward me, becoming Darker and more Suspicious with every cocky step I took.
“Guess where I was today?” I said/sang, checking my fingernails for dirt. There wasn’t any, because I had chewed (and still chew) them down to the nubs.
“Nope,” I returned. “I was home.” So far, I was telling the truth: I had been home, after a late-night fever that was likely brought on by Carrie Fisher-induced stress. “Guess who came to see me?”
Michael regarded me warily, both doubtful and hesitant at the same time. I smirked. “Not only that,” I went on, my faux-casual tone becoming faux-er with each sentence, “she brought over a copy of RETURN OF THE JEDI and let me watch it with her.” Before his already-open mouth could vomit forth questions or accusations, I delivered the killing stroke, the final nail: “And she wore the gold bikini while we watched it.”
According to my story, I’d been lying in bed feeling crummy; then there’d been a knock on my bedroom door. It opened on its own, and there she was: Princess Leia, hip cocked, arms outstretched to grasp either side of the doorframe. She was posed there in her metal bikini, backlit majestically as if the celestials were blowing the load of Creation in response. She offered a seductive grin and asked how I was feeling; then she offered me some cinematic medicine. Behind her back was a VHS tape containing the new STAR WARS movie, and she held me in her womanly embrace as we watched it on the living room couch.
Michael was stunned. He asked where my mom had been at the time, and I said she’d been doing dishes, because she’s a Mom and that’s what Moms do in their spare time. Then he asked if Carrie and I had kissed, to which I shrugged and said, “Sure, of course.” When he asked if I had “come in her,” I had no idea what he was talking about, and said, condescendingly, “A person can come into a room, but not into another person, duh. How would you even fit?” Even then, I was correcting grammar.
Because he was eyeing me like I was a fucking liar or something – which, by the way, really, really pissed me off -- I then proceeded to spoil JEDI for Michael the same way I’d spoiled it for myself. I fucked up some of the plot points, but more or less covered my bases. I faltered only once: when Michael asked what Darth Vader looked like under the helmet, I wasn’t sure, since the comic had intentionally left the villain’s face off-panel. “He’s all cut up and gross,” is how I described it.
I was walking back to my apartment building with Michael in tow. I had accomplished my goal: he now believed every word I’d said about Carrie Fisher, what she’d worn for me, and the film I’d just seen. I figured that now I was finally in the clear. I’d be able to let it burn off during the next few days, and then maybe casually mention that I’d broken up with Carrie for being “too old.” I was feeling pretty good about myself, actually: I realized that I was good at thinking on my feet. I was able to use my creativity in everyday life. Storytelling didn’t have to be limited to the page. Maybe I’d even make movies of my own someday! Why not? I could do it! I just needed to ask my parents for one of those VHS camcorders I’d seen at Sears; then I’d cast all the neighborhood kids in a production, and maybe some of their parents, and I’d take Hollywood by storm. Someday, I’d be famous. Someday, people would tell lies about my movies. I smiled confidently.
And at that exact moment, my Mother walked outside with my sister, heading toward the playground.
“Mrs. Myers!” Michael exclaimed before I could stop him. “Erik told me how Carrie Fisher came over today and wore her gold bikini and showed him RETURN OF THE JEDI! He told me the whole movie!”
Mom laughed, because of course she did. “Oh, Erik’s just kidding,” she said, shaking her head. “He doesn’t know Carrie Fisher. And he hasn’t seen the movie; he got the comic book.”
LESSONS LEARNED: People named Michael are assholes who eventually grow taller than you, pick on you, and tell everyone at school that you’re full of shit. Plus, Mothers betray their young.
Erik Kristopher Myers (aka ekm)