When I (poorly) promote this blog on social media, I always write the description as “In which our hero…” with the ellipses being an oh-so-clever summation of whatever the blog is about. I do this for two reasons. For one, I find it cheeky and amusing and I’m all about making my own mirth. Secondarily, although more importantly, it is a bit of a mission statement. This blog is mostly about my becoming a father later in life and to boys who aren’t biologically mine. For me, being a father, being a good father anyway, is about doing your best to become a hero. It’s how little boys look at their dads. It’s how I feel about my father and my grandfather. Moms too, truth be told. Mothers are often much more heroic than fathers, it’s just the sort of heroism you recognize more at forty than at four. A hero is someone to emulate and I see it as my goal to be as close to a real life hero as I can be to T1 and T2, to be the same sort of real life hero to them that my parents were to me. Having those real life heroes is amazingly important.
Of course, there is something to be said for heroes from other sources too.
One of the earliest, if not the actual earliest, memories I have is of standing in my seat in a movie theater at the old Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky, hands by my sides, mouth agape, eyes wide and fixed to the screen in front of me as the Tantive IV, framed partially by the desert planet of Tatooine and carrying its precious cargo of Princess Leia and the stolen plans for the Death Star roared across the screen, the Star Destroyer Devastator in hot pursuit.
How influential was this moment for me? Well…the fact that I could write the above description without using Wikipedia, or Wookiepedia, to look up any names is pretty telling.
To say Star Wars was formative is an understatement. As is the case for a lot of my peers, it literally shaped how I’ve looked at pop culture and storytelling for my whole life. More importantly, the farm-boy turned Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker shaped how I looked at what it means to be a hero. He was a kid from the middle of nowhere with a larger destiny and the courage to seek it out. In my twenties, when asked, and it’s a question that comes up more than you would think, I would claim to identify with roguish ladies’ man Han Solo. That just the cool answer and a lie. In my heart I was always Luke.
When I was about four I got a hold of a pair of scissors and cut a part into my hair, so as to more closely resemble Skywalker. I had the movie soundtrack and, as I believe I have mentioned before, would play it randomly throughout the day. Then, emulating the last scene of the movie, I would tie my blanket around my neck and solemnly and slowly march the length of our kitchen, John Williams score blasting in the background, to where my much put upon mother would be waiting with a medal she made out of cardboard. Sometimes this would happen three or four times in an afternoon. When at the end of the Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader claimed that he was Luke’s father I spent years denying that this was in any way, shape or form possible. In Jedi when Luke shows up all dressed like a galaxy far, far away Johnny Cash badass and wrecked Jabba’s shit, I immediately decided it was the most amazing thirty minutes of celluloid action ever.
For my whole Catholic school educated life, if someone had asked me, would you rather meet Jesus Christ, Son of God, or Luke Skywalker, Son of Vader I wouldn’t even have had to think about my answer. While both have daddy issues, one is a made up character and the other is a super powered being who made great sacrifices to save us all and who has a fucking lightsaber. I’d want to meet Luke Skywalker. Duh.
Then, a few weeks back, someone actually asked me if I wanted to meet Luke Skywalker.
I’ve got a very good friend named Mark Millar. Hereafter refereed to as just “Mark” so as to avoid confusion. There are a couple of Marks in this story. Mark’s a comic book writer whose stuff has been adapted to the screen with an amazing regularity. If you have gone to the movies in the last five or so years there is a better than average chance you’ve seen films based on his work. Wanted with Angelina Jolie. Both Kick-Ass movies. Kingsman from last year. A little art house film called The Avengers.
Mark also happens to be a great guy. We’ve know each other for over a decade. Mark lives in Scotland but comes to the States a couple of times a year to check in on all the various and sundry projects he has going. Awhile back he emailed me saying he was going to be in LA for about 48 hours. He was going to do some stuff with the Nerdist, Chris Hardwick’s podcast turned multi-headed beast, and knowing I was a Nerdist fan, suggested I fly in so we could hang out.
I said sure.
About a week before the trip he emailed me again, saying he was going to invite some people from the LA area to meet us out at a bar the last night he was in town. Okay, I replied, sounds good. A few days later he emailed me a final time and told me he was 90% sure that Mark Hamill was going to be joining us for drinks.
Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker.
I told almost no one. I told Cass and my father. I didn’t tell my friends. I didn’t tell my brother. I didn’t tell my sons. I was terrified that by telling people I would jinx it.
I got into LA late at night and the next morning walked a block or so down the street from my very average hotel to Mark’s very nice hotel where we met in the lobby. It turned out that we had a driver for the day. If I ever start making that big daddy-blog money the first thing I am going to do is get a driver. It is an amazing way to travel. We hopped in the black Lincoln Towncar and headed to the Nerdist offices.
Upon arrival Mark realized he had left his Passport back at the hotel, which was a problem because most of the day was going to be him in meetings and me tagging along and to get into the places the meetings were going to be held, he needed ID. That problem had to wait, however, because we had to meet the Nerdist folks.
They were very nice. They’ve got a rather cool studio set up and the producers walked Mark through the stand-up video segment he was going to be doing with Jessica Chobot, who is essentially the Diane Sawyer of dorky shit. They talked about Kingsman, the most recent movie based on material written by Mark and what was in store for the sequel.
Afterwards we dropped Mark off at his next meeting and I took the car across town to grab his passport from his hotel room. There was the current issue of Variety in the backseat and I amused myself by pretending like I was reading it and talking on my phone every time we pulled up to a red light.
Passport retrieved, we picked Mark back up and went to the Universal Studios Lot, where the next meeting was.
I had never actually been on a film lot, so while Mark met with <name redacted> I wandered around, trying to look like I was supposed to be there. I saw Steven Spielberg’s offices, the entrance to which, amusingly, looks a lot like the gates to Jurassic Park. Cass and I love the television show Hannibal so I sent her a picture of their production offices. I found the backlot street set that has featured prominently in probably a thousand movies. Occasionally a tram full of tourists would go by and I would wave. On more than one occasion tourists took my picture. I can only imagine someone from Kansas going through their photos and telling all their friends that Neil Patrick Harris isn’t anywhere near as handsome in real life.
After Universal, we drove to a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show where Jeff Loveness, writer for the show, comic book scribe and all around nice guy had arranged for us to hang out in the green room. When we pulled up behind the building and got out of the car we disappointed a sizable group of people seeking autographs.
Backstage at Kimmel, Mark and I took a wrong turn and literally ran into Don Johnson, that night’s guest and another icon from my childhood. There are pictures of fourth grade me dressed in a white suit, aqua blue t-shirt and loafers with no socks. I still think Miami Vice was an amazing show. Don Johnson is not as tall as I always imagined. I spent the next hour watching the taping of the show and trying to convince Mark that Johnson was primed for a John Travolta type resurgence.
Finally, it was time to head to the bar.
We got there first and were quickly joined by Jim, who handles Mark’s website and a handful of Mark’s other LA based friends. A bunch of the Nerdist people showed up. The crowd grew. I found myself talking to a super friendly guy named Phil about movies and comics. Mostly at his insistence we went one room over and sang Beatles karaoke. Phil then said he was about to move to Ireland for a year for work. I asked what he did and he explained he was “a writer…I guess? Sort of a director?” He seemed embarrassed.
“What are you doing in Ireland?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “I’m making the Han Solo movie.”
“Wait,” I said, being completely uncool. “You’re Phil Lord?”
“Yeah,” he said.
Phil Lord wrote and directed the Lego Movie, the 21 Jump Street movies and has been involved in a ton of other great projects as either a writer, director or producer. He had every right to be a completely arrogant asshole and was the complete opposite. His karaoke skills are rough, but he makes up for it with enthusiasm although he gets annoyed if forced to sing too many “na-na-na-nas” during Hey Jude.
Then Mark Hamill arrived, along with his two sons.
First let me say that I have, on more than one occasion, been described as a relaxed and cool guy. I like to think of myself as Clooneyesque. But when I looked up and saw Luke…I spazzed out a bit. It was internal. I didn’t make a spectacle of myself. But I was suddenly three years old and standing in that movie theater seat and was freaking the fuck right out.
Thankfully, Mark Hamill is pretty much the most gracious guy you would ever want to meet. It is oft quoted that you shouldn’t meet your heroes because they are bound to be a disappointment. I am really happy to announce that this isn’t the case. I mean this is a guy who has spent his entire adult life dealing with nerds like me. He could be a total curmudgeon. Instead, he’s delightful.
I got to spend several hours just hanging out. He was fun and funny and completely lacking in pretention.
We talked about his beard growing regime, being married to the same woman for decades, how he had to get in shape for the new movies and how in our household he is the definitive Joker (with all due respect to Heath Ledger). He told stories about making the original trilogy, including an amazing one about the “I am your father” business during which he did a spot on Harrison Ford impression.
I got to tell him just how important he was to me and, even though I know he hears that all the time, he was appreciative and self-depreciating and managed to make me feel a whole lot less dorky about the whole thing.
I got to see him interact with his sons. They are in their thirties now, grown men. Nice guys the both of them. One of them brought cupcakes. Carrot cake vegan cupcakes…but I ate one anyway because when Mark Hamill’s son offers you a pastry, you accept it
I spoke to one of them about what it is like having Luke Skywalker as your father and he gave the answer I realized I was hoping for.
“I don’t think about it. To me,” he said, “he’s not Luke. He’s my dad.”
Driving back to the hotel, Mark asked me what I thought eight year old me would think about getting to hang out with Luke Skywalker. I admitted that I wasn’t even sure forty year old me had a handle on it. It was a bit surreal.
But his sons stuck with me. They sat off to the side for most of the night, talking to the group and watching. I could tell they were bemused by the attention their father was getting. Like him, I am sure they are used to it, used to grown men heaping hero worship on the guy who grounded them and made them do their homework.
I got the feeling that they have a very good relationship. I suspect that my hero is their hero too.
Just in real life.
That’s what I am aiming for.