Laura Reeder is not just proof that I do know a woman, but quite a fine writer as well. Quite prolific in the University of Northern Iowa Creative Writing Masters program, Laura takes delight in producing fantasy and work that laments the discontent of rural Midwesterners and married couples. In addition to being a graduate student at UNI, she's also one of the finer College Writing and Research instructors.
Laura's selection is "Star Wars," a strange little movie from 1977 that hardly anyone has ever heard of.
The first time I saw "Star Wars" was in pieces. Dad was watching it in the living room, and it was a gorgeous summer day, so I spent most of it playing outside. At one point, I wandered in during "The Empire Strikes Back," right when Darth Vader was trying to get Luke to turn to the dark side. I turned to Dad and asked him what the Force even was. He told me it was a beer, and that Vader was trying to get Luke to give up his crappy light beer and try some real stuff. I didn’t believe him, but from then on I was entranced.
The original "Star Wars" trilogy is the only set of movies I've seen more than twenty times. It actually shaped me as a writer. I was fascinated by the storytelling element, the epic feeling of it all. I would imagine myself as a warrior-princess, running around in a plain white dress while fighting for justice and freedom. The world of the story felt so real, yet there were enough bizarre little aspects that made me very much aware that I was no longer in familiar territory. We have men in spacesuits riding on giant reptiles. We have robots conversing with people who wear outfits that look like they belong in museums. Only later did I find out that this is what most fiction teachers classify as good story-telling: add enough true-to-life details so that the audience can believe it, yet enough details that are opposite of real so that the audience doesn’t get bored—or what is known as the “continuous dream” and “defamiliarization.” Even if I didn’t know that these things had names, I picked up enough of the technique to start using it in my own stories.
But what "Star Wars" really gave me was a burning desire to enter its world, one that couldn’t be quenched until I created one of my own. Soon, I was writing fantasy worlds, fully entering my own creations as both master-of-design and actor. From there I launched into other types of writing, until I find myself here today, getting a Master of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing.
For the last week I’ve been teaching Percy Shelley’s A Defense of Poetry to my freshman writing students. When I first encountered the essay as a sophomore, I had something like a religious experience. Shelley believes that artists can change the world by making us more empathetic to our fellow human beings. My students scoff at this—no one’s life has ever been changed because of a story, they say. All I can do is think back to a time when I met a princess in a galaxy far, far away, and suddenly I was aware of just how small a world Earth really was. - Laura Reeder