A New Hope, Indeed

opening_crawlI’m in full preparation mode for Thursday, which includes purchasing as much Kleenex stock as possible and buying tissues by the boxful.

That evening will culminate 42 out of my 48 years here on earth, and I’m not being melodramatic in the slightest.

As a little girl in the 1970s, I wasn’t a tomboy, but I also wasn’t a “girlie girl.”

I fell in the middle, a misfit of sorts, and always sympathized with those toys relegated to the Island of Misfit Toys in the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” especially the polka-dotted elephant.

Toy options for little girls like me in the 1970s included various models of Barbie dolls including Cher and Farrah Fawcett, Shrinky Dinks, Easy Bake Oven, paper dolls, Holly Hobbie, Fashion Plates, Spirograph, and baby dolls.

While the Spirograph and Shrinky Dinks were okay, the rest?

No, thank you.

My little brother, on the other hand, always received the coolest toys for Christmas and his birthday, so I played with them instead.

I spent hours creating highways out of the plastic, orange track that my brother’s die-cast cars could take back and forth to work or use to race their nemeses. I took pleasure in building cities and creatures out of his collection of hard, plastic interlocking blocks in all shades of primary colors. I could pretend and use my imagination to create stories that didn’t have females conforming to the societal stereotypes of the era when I played with toys marketed to boys.

Especially in 1977.

That’s the year when my beloved uncle and grandfather took my brother and I to the movies to see some two-hour-long space-type flick that was all the rage.

I was six years old, and I remember it.

My brother was two, and he remembers it.

The characters and vehicles and lands from this so-called “space opera” were top-billed requests on letters addressed to Santa from all over the country that year, and believe you me, I raided my brother’s treasure trove of vehicles and figures from said “space opera” every chance I got.

That blockbuster movie, known today as Star Wars: A New Hope, has coursed through my veins for 42+ years and positively impacted my life in several ways.

At first glance, many are surprised that this blonde-haired, blue-eyed beach-loving writer and educator has had Jedi dreams and a desire to join the rebel alliance surging through her blood since childhood. I am not ashamed about my love of Star Wars, which began the minute I first heard the London Symphony Orchestra blare the main title while I read the quintessential opening crawler announcing that it was a period of civil war and that “rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.”

Star Wars was deliciously different and provided me with a new way of seeing things. It was the first time I was exposed to a strong woman who wasn’t being molded into a future wife or mother. Leia was a princess, that’s true, but she had a purpose much greater than her title. She wasn’t searching for a prince or seeking admiration. Instead, she was fighting for a cause she believed in with fierce determination and ultimate fearlessness.

Leia was my inspiration, and I adored her.

I still do, now more than ever.

Star Wars offered me new hope at an age when I so needed it.

And it wasn’t just Leia.

I loved all of the characters and their idiosyncrasies. This most interesting band of misfits and their missions transported me to exciting worlds as they defended their cause with 100% effort and dedication for what they believed was the greater good.

And Boba Fett is the baddest-ass misfit mercenary ever to travel to the Outer Rim and beyond. He’s got swagger and an aura of cunning dauntlessness, and is the coolest cat I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

Star Wars lands like Tatooine, Hoth, Bespin, Endor, and Yavin 4 were so different from the other lands of suburbanite make-believe I was exposed to as a child. Who would have ever thought that now, thanks to the magic of Disney Imagineers, I can actually board and ride the Millennium Falcon and walk through lands inspired by those in the Star Wars franchise two- score-and-two-years after seeing them on the big screen for the first time? Shameless plug here for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which is out of this world, pun intended, and Shangri-La for the millions of people like me who have Star Wars in their bloodline.

Three trilogies with nine movies and two spinoffs spanning 40+ years in both space time and reality… I’ve loved every single one of them.

Let me loudly repeat that for the fanboys in the back: I unconditionally loved every single movie.

Now, the saga featuring the story of the Skywalker lineage is ending with the ninth installment, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which premiers on Thursday night.

Sure, there will be new Star Wars series and films in the future, especially on Disney+, but THIS saga, the Skywalker three-three-three trilogies, has reached its end.

This saga’s threads spans generations and have run deep through my life tapestry inspiring me, exciting me, and providing me with a sense of acceptance and a love of story I might never have found otherwise.

More importantly, this saga has provided me with hope, time and time again, and I’m eternally grateful for its lessons.

Carrie Fisher taught me to follow my heart and age authentically, that it’s okay to be broken, and honest writing can be therapeutic. George Lucas taught me to write what my soul tells me to write in spite of the naysayers. Princess Leia taught me to be a strong and independent woman while fighting for what’s right, and also that I never have to conform to society’s norms. Han Solo taught me that scoundrels aren’t all that bad. Luke Skywalker taught me to believe in what I cannot see. Chewbacca taught me the value of friendship. C3PO taught me the importance of wisdom. Anakin Skywalker taught me the perils of giving into darkness. Darth Vader taught me that family ultimately comes first. Padme Amidala taught me to serve when I can. Lando Calrissian taught me to let bygones be bygones. The Emperor taught me the importance of balancing the dark with the light. R2D2 and BB8 taught me to keep rolling when things get difficult. Kylo Ren taught me to focus on the lesson instead of the outcome. Finn taught me that anyone can be a hero. Poe Dameron taught me the importance of teamwork but to recognize when it’s time to work alone. Rey taught me to seek my destiny and to believe in my journey, no matter where it takes me. Obi-Wan Kenobi taught me to trust the Force because it will always guide me in the right direction.

Boba Fett taught me that there’s nothing cooler than being a bad-ass misfit, and to answer requests made of me with, “As you wish.”

Finally, Yoda taught me to do instead of try, and that there’s a time for everything to end.

And, so it is.

If you see me on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s opening night bawling like a baby, it most definitely isn’t only because of what happens in the storyline, not that I know anything that’s going to happen, mind you.

Those heartfelt tears will be flowing because the curtains will have closed on a very special part of my life as the double suns set for the final time while the credits scroll among the stars.

Cue the John Edwards fanfare.

The force will be with you.

Always.

cropped-img_0764 Thanks for joining me on my journey. I’m glad you’re here.

With gratitude,

Jill

“A New Hope, Indeed” was posted on jillocone.com  and on soulseaker.com on December 14, 2019. Views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the writer who was not compensated in any way by any entity. Copyright 2019, Jill Ocone. All rights reserved. Contact jillocone@gmail.com with licensing and publishing inquiries.

Nitro’s Check Mark

I took my teenage niece, nephew, and their friend to Six Flags Great Adventure yesterday (August 10, 2018). My husband and I have given Niece and Nephew season passes to Six Flags Great Adventure for Christmas every year since 2015.

What I love most about our gift is that I also get a season pass, which allows me to spend time with them at the park several times a year. Each visit is special to me because it’s our thing, and it’s a great way to help provide a break for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. If I had a nickel for how many times we laughed together or for each memory we made or silly story we told, I’d be a millionaire by now.

Nephew knows more about Six Flags rides and parks than anyone I’ve ever met. He can tell you when a ride made its park debut, who built it, who designed it, and what park received the ride it might have replaced. He understands the physics and design elements that goes into building a ride and if you ask him what park in the United States had the first looping roller coaster, he will know the answer.

When it comes to actually going on the rides, Niece is fearless and she will go on anything.  Meanwhile, Nephew and I have a similar sense of moderate adventure and we tend to stick to the middle-of-the-road rides and coasters, then when we are ready, we’ll attempt riding a more extreme one.

Our favorite ride is Skull Mountain, which is a fun, little inside coaster that operates in the dark. Two summers ago, Nephew and I set a personal record for going on Skull Mountain 22 times in a row, which took a little over two hours. We only stayed on the ride when the ride queue was empty five times; the rest of the time we got out and walked around. It probably wasn’t my best decision, in hindsight, since I flew to Dublin the following day with a splitting headache.

Our last ride conquests were Superman: Ultimate Flight and Green Lantern at the end of last summer. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Superman experience, considering riders are face down to simulate Superman’s flight. We conquered Bizarro in April of 2017. Man, that one is fast! It’s like the Batman coaster after it had three energy drinks and a shot of super-charged espresso. Batman: The Ride has always been one of my favorites, and we conquered that one together in 2015 at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Holidays in the Park.

The coasters Nephew and I haven’t found the courage to ride yet are notoriously extreme, and we weren’t sure which coaster we’d be brave enough to conquer this year.

Enter Nitro.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

When Nitro opened in 2001, it was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in New Jersey (Kingda Ka stole those honors from Nitro a few years later). While Nitro does not have any inversions, it is 230 feet high at its peak (which takes almost 60 seconds to climb) and reaches speeds up to 80 miles per hour in its two minute, twenty second mile-long course.

I went on Nitro once while chaperoning a school trip in 2005, thinking it would be like either Rolling Thunder and Scream Machine, two classic, now long-gone, coasters I loved.

I was completely wrong.

Nitro nearly killed me.

Well, maybe not killed, but the experience scared me tremendously.

I ended up uncontrollably shaking and trembling when I walked off the ride, my legs like jelly and my arm muscles sore for several days later due to how much I strained them as I held onto the restraint as tight as I could.

I vowed I was forever done with the infernal contraption known as Nitro.

I shared my Nitro story with Nephew on several occasions, including yesterday when we safely sat and waited for Niece and Friend to return from Friend’s first time riding the steel beast.

Nephew is older now, and I could see the curiosity twinkling in his eye as he told me what he knew about Nitro while he watched a car roaring along its track. “It was designed by B and M,” he said, “and they have a great safety record.”

There was no doubt about it. He was ready to take the Nitro leap and I wasn’t about to let my fear hold him back.

Niece and Friend returned rather quickly since the wait time was a few minutes at best, and Friend absolutely loved the Nitro experience.

Nephew said that if Friend could do it, he could too.

All three looked at me with pleading eyes but I stubbornly shook my head. “You guys have a great time!” I said as I bid them farewell, then I walked over to where people on the ground could see Nitro’s ride cars leave the loading area. Nephew was safely seated between Niece and Friend as their car passed by, their arms flailing in enthusiastic waves.

“Bye!” they yelled in unison.

They returned 140 seconds later with Nephew wearing the widest smile I’ve ever seen on his face. He gave me a thumbs up from up on high as he jubilantly shrieked, “It was awesome!”

Dammit.

I knew what I had to do.

A minute later, they surrounded me as they jumped around in sheer excitement and joy. A chorus of “please?”s rose up.  Nephew looked me right in my eyes and said, “You can do it. I did it, and so can you.”

I remembered a story told by a colleague who was in a similar situation. Her grandson wanted her to go on a thrill ride with him, and her outlook was, “I can do anything for two minutes.”

Realizing that I could too, I sighed then nodded my head as I said, “Okay.”

A whoop emanated from all three as Niece took my hand to lead me to certain death.

“You’re lucky I love you,” I grumbled as we walked through the air gate to the seats in Row 4.

My pulse raced as I sat down between Niece and Nephew, with Friend to Nephew’s left. The yellow restraints locked and were subsequently checked by the ride attendants. It’s a good thing mine was secure because at the last second, I cried, “I don’t want to do this!” and I honestly would have ran if I could.

However, it was zero hour and flight was not an option.

After the “visual scan” and “all clear” over the loudspeaker by what I was sure was the Grim Reaper disguised as Nitro’s head supervisor, our car was set free.

Nitro, from the Six Flags Great Adventure website

I closed my eyes and leaned my head as far back into my seat as possible. With each upward click, I squeezed Niece’s hand a little tighter. She, along with Nephew and Friend, found my reaction highly amusing. I think they were all laughing, but I can’t exactly remember because I was concentrating so hard on praying for redemption.

“Here we go, Aunt Jill!” Niece shouted as we reached Nitro’s summit.

This is it.

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

Within seconds, we were traveling down the 215-feet drop at the advertised eighty miles-per-hour.  I’m pretty sure my heart rate matched the number of expletives I let fly.

“I’m going to die! My eyes are closed! My eyes are open! No, they’re not! I’m going to die!”

Towards the end of the journey to my undeniable demise, Niece yelled, “Bunny hops!!”

I opened my eyes to see the blue and yellow hilly path we were on as we smoothly rode over each bump. It was surprisingly much smoother than the Runaway Mine Train bunny hops at the end of its path, that was for sure.

“Hold on!”

The car suddenly came to a halting stop.

And I was alive.

Sure, my legs were once again like jelly as we walked off the ride, and I felt a surge of electricity pulsing through my entire body.

But it was a good energy, and I did not die.

The sleek, wicked-fast roller coaster was one of the smoothest rides I’ve ever experienced, and the sensation of weightlessness was exhilarating.

I looked at Nephew, who threw his arms around me and exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you!” Niece and friend hugged me too. “You did it, Aunt Jill!”

Somewhere along the ride route, a remote camera snaps a photograph which is then displayed for about a minute or so on the monitors at the Nitro photo kiosk near the ride’s exit. The picture of our row featured three gleeful faces with arms up in the air and one red face screaming for mercy as she gripped onto the restraint for dear life.

We didn’t buy the photograph, but I’ll be able to picture it perfectly in my mind’s eye for the rest of my life.

The unspoken question hovered in the air around us as we regrouped outside the ride.

It was answered by all four of us walking together once again through Nitro’s entrance.

Three minutes later, a photograph with four delighted smiles in our row flashed upon the photo kiosk’s screen.

2018 Roller Coaster: Nitro. Check mark achieved.

 

Nitro’s Check Mark“: Copyright 2018 – Jill Ocone. This post originally appeared on both the Soulseaker blog (www.soulseaker.com) and the personal blog of Jill Ocone (www.jillocone.com) on August 11, 2018. Views and opinions contained in this post are solely those of the author, who was not compensated in any way by any entity, including Six Flags Great Adventure, the Six Flags corporation, or their affiliates. All rights reserved.