A Long Time Ago, sweet memoir of growing up Star Warsish


A Long Time Ago, Gib Van Ert's memoir about growing up with Star Wars became news last Christmas, when it disappeared from Amazon following a bogus trademark question. It's been back for months now, and has been in my to-read pile for much longer, and I've finally had the pure pleasure of reading it.

A Long Time Ago is a thoughtful, funny, and beautifully written story of the role that Star Wars played in Van Ert's life, shaping his destiny as he was raised by a USMC-deserting draft dodger and a runaway Texas beauty queen in small town British Colombia. Like me, Van Ert saw the first movie as a small boy, and thereafter principally experienced it through toys, records and merchandising tie-ins. His critiques of the Kenner action figures are both scathingly hilarious and bang on, and that's pretty much a microcosm for the whole book.

By Van Ert's own admission, he's not the biggest Star Wars fan that ever lived. But Star Wars was a gateway into other nerdy pastimes -- comic collecting, Atari home systems, coin-op video games, Dungeons and Dragons -- and he does an excellent job of tracing the curious ways that the specific nerdiness of his (and my generation) shaped his intellectual and personal pursuits.

He explains how he fell away from Star Wars fandom after the third movie, forgot about it until the "special editions," and experienced his first rumblings of anxiety about the destiny of his nearly forgotten but warmly remembered passion. He nails the prequels -- fish in a barrel, but still -- and then ties it all into a story of personal development that's sweet, hopeful and wistful.

It's a short book and a quick read, and it rewards the reader with an echo of the excitement, disappointment, anger, delight, and, ultimately, love, that Van Ert feels for the franchise.

A Long Time Ago

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22 Responses to “A Long Time Ago, sweet memoir of growing up Star Warsish”

  1. I want to buy this but I don’t want to buy it from Amazon because of the already mentioned dustup.

  2. yeastbeast says:

    British Colombia?

  3. BarBarSeven says:

    He explains how he fell away from Star Wars fandom after the third movie…

    I can relate to this, but happened when Return of the Jedi was released. Boy was I stunned at how flat it fell for me. Saw it twice in the stereotypical geeky way of trying to “get it” again.

    Meant little to nothing to me.  And the main appeal of the “Special Editions” in 1997 was to see the film on the big screen again. That was fun for a few minutes until the tweaks started to popup on the screen. Man, the CGI killed it for me.

    To me it was about the magic between 1977 & 1980. When the LucasFilm empire had not grown that much. Marketing was still hokey.  And the franchise still had a scrappy feel.  Like going to toy stores & seeing blatant knock-off toys made professionally that were clearly “inspired” by Star Wars but would clearly not exist nowadays in the ultra-liscensed & litigious world we now live. THAT was the fun to me.  None of the prequels or even new sequels will feel the same.

    You know why? Because life was better when I was 9 to 12 years old.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I re-watched them a couple of years ago and found them remarkably boring.

      • BarBarSeven says:

        The problem is you don’t have memories of being 9 years old & seeing Star Wars for the first time in 1977 on a summer day camp trip like I did at the Loews Astor Plaza in NYC. Or have to truly hunt down the first 12 figures because the market wasn’t saturated with the merch back then like it is now.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          No, I have memories of being 19 years old and seeing it three times in a row in an air-conditioned theater in Boston with a bunch of other hot, cranky drag queens.

  4. Xploder says:

    Well, I bought it from Amazon despite the dust-up. On that note, my wife says you guys have GOT to stop reviewing books here as every time you do, I buy it regardless of what it is. It isn’t quite THAT bad, I think I didn’t buy at LEAST two over the past year.

  5. uberbitter says:

    I just finished reading this last night, prompted by the earlier mention. I’m slightly out of Star Wars’ prime marketing demographic (born in 1977 and female) but I love the original trilogy deeply and enjoyed this book. Having a young child now myself, the part about the author introducing the story to his kids struck a chord (we settled on a modified Machete order) but I was surprised how my heart beat quickened and my stomach flopped when the author mention Heir to the Empire. I found that book in my local library the summer after eight grade by happenstance – it was sitting by itself, out of the proper section, alone on its shelf. Serendipity! I was the first the one to check it out, and I COULD NOT WAIT to get home and devour it. I read it over and over that summer, and the subsequent novels when they appeared. 

  6. Cowicide says:

    draft dodger

    He was raised by Ted Nugent?

  7. Chris Woods says:

    LONG overdue on boingboing.net. Nice work Gib. You should be proud. A great read and a great guy.

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