Let’s get one thing out of the way at the beginning – I love Star Wars. I remember discovering the original trilogy when I was in 5th grade, after hearing some classmates talking about lightsaber battles and X-wings and whatnot. I recall watching VHS copies of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back at my Uncle Nick and Aunt Kathy’s cabin (Aunt Kathy is a huge Star Wars fan as well). This would’ve been during the 1995-96 school year, when I was 11. Then, in 1997, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original movie, the Special Editions of Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi were released in theaters. I could not have been more excited.

I remember going to the local theater in Holdrege, NE – The Sun Theatre (long before it was renovated). A New Hope came out 10 days after my 12th birthday, on January 31, 1997. Empire and Jedi would follow over the next two months, and even though I’d seen all of these movies before (except maybe Jedi), I was overcome with excitement when scenes such as the Star Destroyer in the opening of A New Hope and the lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader on Bespin came on the screen. Yes, there were changes and additions that were made to the films, but I was seeing Star Wars IN A THEATER.

The more I’ve thought about this over the years, the more I’ve come to think of myself as a member of the “Special Edition” generation. We all know there are labels for every generation – baby boomers, Gen Xers, millenials, etc. – but I chose to create a label that describes my first encounter with Star Wars. The previous generation, my parents generation, saw Star Wars when it was released in 1977. Twenty years later, their children – my generation – were introduced to the saga through the Special Edition rereleases.

We, of course, got Episode I: The Phantom Menace two years later in May of 1999. Now 14, I could not believe that we were getting a brand new Star Wars movie. My friends Brian and Keith Hoogheem, Matt and Nate Opfer, Loren Sites, and several others drove over to Kearney, NE on opening day and sat in front of the World Twin theater downtown, waiting for the doors to open. We got there several hours beforehand, and even ordered a pizza for delivery.

I loved Episode I. This was a new generation of Star Wars movies, and while they overlapped fairly closely with my first encounter with the original films, they were the start of something new. Looking back now, they may not be the best films ever made, and yes, there are issues with the storylines, acting, CGI, etc. But when you’re 14 years old, you don’t notice that stuff! I mean, come on, podracing!

As Episodes II and III came out over the next few years, I was still there, standing in line for midnight showings. In fact, I had my wife, Abbie (at the time, just my friend from college Abbie), go to the theater in Hastings, NE to get tickets for the midnight premiere of Revenge of the Sith. This was the big one – the one where Anakin turns to the dark side, fights Obi-Wan, and becomes Darth Vader.

Ten years would pass before we got another Star Wars film. When Episode VII was announced in late 2013, I was, again, beside myself with joy. Now the next generation of Star Wars fans, many of them the children of the Special Edition generation, would be able to experience Star Wars for the first time. The Force Awakens did not disappoint, at least in my eyes. Yes, there are familiar tropes and storytelling devices, but if it worked for Lucas on A New Hope, why not have it work for J.J. Abrams on TFA?

Now we’ve had The Last Jedi, Rogue One, and Solo. I know each one of those movies have caused divisions among the fandom, and some of the issues, I feel, are justified. I, however, liked all three movies. I feel that Solo is sorely underrated, and that a lot of the issues raised by haters with The Last Jedi are stretches brought about by what they thought should happen after TFA. “That’s not my Star Wars,” many say. You’re right – it’s not. It’s a new generation of filmmakers bringing their ideas and visions to the saga. Sure, some of them don’t make sense and some of the storylines fall flat. If you don’t want to see the movies, then don’t see them! I for one am still in love with entire Star Wars universe, and I always try to remember that feeling of the first time I heard that opening fanfare and saw that scrolling yellow text on the screen. I could also write for hours on John Williams and his soundtracks, but I’ll save that for another time.

In all my ramblings, I suppose my point is this – everyone who’s ever encountered Star Wars seems to have strong memories, as well as strong feelings, about the saga. I was 11 years old when I first saw A New Hope, and it remains at the top of my list of all-time favorite films. With The Rise of Skywalker coming to theaters in a few months, the 34-year-old Aaron will be the one buying tickets for opening night and the one sitting in the seat, but you better believe that 11-year-old Aaron is right there with him, eyes wide, waiting for that opening crawl.