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COLUMN: My dad is a 'Star Wars' scholar

A long, long time ago, in a state not so far away, I saw "Star Wars" for the first time. My dad tells me I was 4, though I don't remember this personally. What I remember are the lightsaber battles with my brother, our games with toy starships an...

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Five hundred replicas of the Stormtrooper characters from "Star Wars" are seen on the steps of the Great Wall of China during a promotional event for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" film, on the outskirts of Beijing, China in this October 20, 2015 file photo.REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

A long, long time ago, in a state not so far away, I saw "Star Wars" for the first time.

My dad tells me I was 4, though I don't remember this personally. What I remember are the lightsaber battles with my brother, our games with toy starships and the Halloweens when I was Princess Leia or Queen Amidala. (My little sister was once Darth Vader, but that's another story.)

"Star Wars" – the story, the characters, the world – was a constant presence in my childhood, and that's largely because of my father's profession.

You see, my father is a "Star Wars" scholar. More accurately, he's a theologian who studies religion and popular culture, but "Star Wars" made him famous.

Perhaps you've seen The History Channel documentary, "Star Wars: A Legacy Revealed"? That's my dad, wearing a clarinet tie and being brilliant.

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When I called John Lyden to talk about "Star Wars" last week, he was coming off an interview with the South China Morning Post, the premier English-language newspaper in Hong Kong.

It's a busy time to be a "Star Wars" scholar, a profession that started for him in 1977.

"I think I instantly recognized that there was a mythological component here, that it appealed to people at some basic level," he said of the first film, which he saw eight times that year.

Even as a high school senior, my father noticed the film's archetypal characters: a wise old mentor, an innocent young farm boy on a hero's quest, a scoundrel with a heart of gold.

Later, he would see religious references, as well: the Jedi belief in a Force they cannot see, the martyrdom of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, Luke's refusal to give in to hate and darkness. Faith, redemption, nonviolence, destiny.

"It all presents this coherent myth and story that people can relate to, but the ideas in it are powerful because they are time-tested, powerful religious notions," my dad told me. "That's what people are responding to, at some level."

But my dad never anticipated that 38 years after the initial film release, future generations would be this giddy about a new "Star Wars" movie.

"I remember saying to one of my friends when I was in college, because I loved 'Star Wars' so much: 'By the time I have kids, they're going to have no interest in this. They're going to be these old movies I'm going to have to pull out and show them,' " he said, laughing. "But 'Star Wars' has this life of its own."

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So I like to think that we aren't the only family mimicking Yoda around the dinner table, and that we're not the only family reviewing "Star Wars" cereal over the phone.

I like to think that on Thursday night, when I walk out of the theater, I won't be the only daughter who rushes to text my dad.

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