November 29th, 2017
By Janet Smith
When Nicholas Harrison was nine years old, he saw Star Wars—a movie that didn’t just change his life but, as he puts it, saved it. He’d been invited to his first birthday party, to watch Smokey and the Bandit with some other boys, and started wandering between the theatres of the multiplex. Something caught his attention on one of the big screens: two robots were walking across a sand dune, and one said, “We were made to suffer. It seems to be our lot in life.”
The words struck a nerve in the boy, who had endured more suffering than any child should ever have to face—almost five straight years of unspeakable physical and sexual abuse by the teachers, nuns, and priests at his Catholic elementary school.
Later, another line hit him just as hard: the elderly Obi Wan Kenobi telling the evil Darth Vader “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
“Seeing this old man go up against Darth Vader: it was amazing to me, having this courage,” Harrison recalls, sitting with the Straight in a West Broadway coffee shop. “So I had to go back and watch it all the way through with my dad. It gave me hope that this small group of misfits could win against an organization like the Empire. The Empire has order and discipline—it even has black robes…”
The preteen Harrison figured that if he could just use the Force, he would be able to protect himself. “I wanted to know more about what that Jedi was; I kept going back to ‘What was this Jedi?’”
Harrison would follow that dream into adulthood, becoming as close to a modern-day Jedi as might be possible on 21st-century Earth. In his youth, he began studying martial arts. He would go on to pursue kendo, the Japanese martial art that inspired Star Wars’ light-sabre battles, even fighting professionally on the British kendo team. He would become a fight director, working for companies like Vancouver Opera and Bard on the Beach, as well as an actor and a stuntman. “A lot of people say ‘How did you become a fight director?’ ” he says. “And I’m always like, ‘Do you want the short or the long version?’ ”
It’s a story of survival and hope that he turned into his doctoral thesis at UBC. And now, at the encouragement of some of his theatre colleagues, finally into a one-man show—How Star Wars Saved My Life.
A father of two, and a teacher with his PhD, Harrison has put his world strongly back together, but when he talks about the secrets he carried with him in childhood, the raw emotion is, understandably, still near the surface.
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