Star Wars as a lifeline: surviving sexual abuse, finding hope in 'The Force'
Survivor of childhood abuse created a play about finding inspiration in the 1977 film
Many people consider themselves fans of Star Wars, but for one British Columbian the story of Luke Skywalker and his fight against evil was more just than a film — it was his lifeline out of childhood trauma.
Starting in kindergarten, Nicholas Harrison was sexually, physically and emotionally abused while attending a private Catholic school in a small town in B.C.
"I was always told by the priests, who were my primary abusers, that if I were ever to tell about what was happening to me that God would kill me and kill my family," Harrison said.
The abuse came to an end in Grade 4, he told CBC host of On The Coast Stephen Quinn, when his mother discovered welts on him after he had been hit with an electrical cord.
It was years before he broke the silence on the extent to which he suffered.
Breaking the silence
Decades after the abuse, Harrison created How Star Wars Saved My Life, a one-man performance that premieres in Vancouver on Wednesday.
The play explores Harrison's story of survival and seeks to break down barriers of silence surrounding abuse.
"It's a story of hope, it's a story of healing," he said. "It's a testament to the resilience of the human spirit."
Although Harrison was pulled out of the school in Grade 4, the trauma of the abuse stayed with him.
"I was raised on fear and intimidation, shame and guilt and I carried that with me as a child," he said. "I was a mess when I left there."
'Just gave me this inspiration'
In May 1977, Harrison was invited to a friend's birthday party at the movie theatre. By accident, he said, he walked into the wrong movie screening.
"I wandered into Star Wars and it was amazing," he said.
He immediately related to what was on the screen and was mesmerized by the story.
"This unseemly rag-tag bunch of people taking on this organized, structured evil entity and all because they have hope," he said.
He watched the film over and over again.
"It just gave me this inspiration that it doesn't matter to be one person or to be thousands of people, to stand up for what is right is so important and it just motivated me throughout my life," he said.
Years later, Harrison wrote an essay about his experience while working on a PhD and looking into pop culture as a form of therapy for childhood trauma. He used his story as a case study and that essay eventually prompted the new play.
How Star Wars Saved My Life runs from Dec. 6 to 10 at Performance Works on Granville Island.
To hear more, click on the audio link below:
With files from On The Coast.