Credit: Lucasfilms Ltd

In just two days, audiences can head to theaters to see the re-release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace in 3-D. Regardless of how you feel about the much-maligned prequel, there’s no denying the Star Wars franchise made more than an impression on millions of moviegoers who experienced the magic of the first three films in theaters or on their TV screens. This week, EW‘s writers will be celebrating their complicated relationship with George Lucas’ beloved, yet contested, franchise with a series we call “How Star Wars changed my life.” And for those of you headed to the theaters this Friday… may the force be with you.

My first year of high school, my school’s homecoming theme was movies. When the freshman class voted to do Star Wars, I was in ecstasy. I immediately signed up for the float and cheer committees. (I was that kid.) I served as the Star Wars consultant as the float committee re-created Luke and R2-D2’s crash landing in the Dagobah system from The Empire Strikes Back. Even though our float was incredible — a chicken wire and papier-maché R2, dry ice for the fog, lots and lots of dirt, and even frozen fish sticks for Yoda’s dinner — the judges were biased toward the apathetic seniors and their lame Indiana Jones boulder made out of garbage and rubber bands. We did, however, win the cheer contest because its brilliance was undeniable: “Yoda, WHAT? Yoda, WHAT? Yo da losin’ team! We’re gonna get the Jabba done and take you to extremes!”

Being a Star Wars geek was a huge part of my identity growing up — all three of my original trilogy VHSes with THX remastering broke from overuse — and I was just young enough at age 12 to appreciate the prequels when they started coming out. I decided to love The Phantom Menace as an act of will, but I did become legitimately obsessed with Attack of the Clones, arguably the worst film in the series. I think as a gay kid who didn’t know it yet, I was really fascinated by Padmé Amidala. Sure, it was the worst performance of Natalie Portman’s career, but I loved that criminally under-developed character for her outrageously ornate wardrobe, impractical hair, and take-charge attitude. I loved her Hannah Montana-like double life as a handmaiden by day, uptight child-queen by night. I got chills when she went before the Galactic Senate and in a freakishly low voice called for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum’s leadership. “I will not discuss this invasion in a CO-MEE-TEE!” What kind of accent was that? German? Swedish? Russian?

I also couldn’t get enough of Naboo. I know that’s an extremely unpopular opinion, but I think I loved it because it was the gayest planet in the galaxy. It was vibrant and softer-edged: the babbling brooks, the marble architecture, pastel fashions, gondolas, giant armadillos, and sleek, shiny starfighters. I loved the grimy, boxy aesthetic of the original trilogy, and I’ve always known that Kashyyyk is spelled with three Y’s, but the new movies gave us a lot of candy-coated camp. Many of the hardcore fans probably hated that, but George Lucas, whether intentionally or not, gave the gay Star Wars geeks (and there are a lot of us) plenty to watch for, aside from the homosocial bond between C-3PO and R2 and way before Star Wars: The Old Republic repealed the ban on same-sex marriage in the galaxy far, far, away. But the title for campiest Star Wars movie still belongs to The Return of the Jedi. Carrie Fisher in a gold bikini? A never-ending dungeon cabaret show? That movie made me a fan for life.

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