You never know how you’re going to meet and make new friends through Star Wars. It could be standing in line for a week waiting for the next movie. Perhaps it’s at a big Star Wars Celebration convention. Or maybe it’s someone you’re marching next to at a 501st Legion parade. In this case, it was a viral video of a really smart and articulate 12-year-old boy reading a letter he wrote to Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts after he heard that Justice Roberts and his wife had two adopted children.
You see, Daniel Leffew and his sweet eight-year-old sister Selena were adopted six years ago by Jay and Bryan Leffew, then domestic partners who got married in that brief period in 2008 before California voters overturned a court decision allowing same-sex marriages. With the Supreme Court’s hearings about to start on the legality of California’s Proposition 8 and the incongruously named 'Defense of Marriage Act', Daniel decided to write the Chief Justice a letter pointing out the similarities shared by both families -- but also a huge difference in the way the law treats them. (You can see the video here.)
I couldn’t help but be intrigued, not only by Daniel’s well-thought-out missive, but also the fact that there was a huge display of Star Wars toys behind him, and Bryan was sporting a retro shirt from The Empire Strikes Back. Now, as you may know, I’ve got a few Star Wars toys on display, too. And while Bryan and Jay have been a couple for a mere 18 years, my life partner Bob Canning and I will celebrate our 37th anniversary next Sunday.
So I started watching more of the Leffew family videos on a YouTube channel they call “Gay Family Values,” which was born during the raucous campaign leading up to the vote on Prop 8. “That term itself is meant to convey that same-sex families carry all the same values of love and family that any other family does,” Bryan says. “It still surprises us today that this remains controversial.” Sometimes the videos are just about their week or the kids talk about what they’ve been doing in school or they answer questions from viewers. Sometimes more serious topics are discussed such as the “coming out” process, bullying, and gay teen suicides.
Of course, I was curious about the Star Wars angle, since there were a few videos about that, too. Bryan and Jay, then both college students, first met over breakfast with friends, and Jay spotted a Timothy Zahn Star Wars novel that Bryan had brought along. That sparked a conversation where they realized they were both huge Star Wars fans; new action figures were just coming out after a nine-year hiatus, and they began hunting them together. “I’ve told the story often about our first kiss at the beach being the moment at which I knew that Jay was the one for me,” Bryan says, “but without those first days of just being Star Wars geeks together, we may not have made it that far.
“Jay and I have been collectors and fans both separately and in our lives together. And that’s given us something to be playful with and to be big kids together. I’ve always looked at that as one of the strengths of our relationship.”
When I discovered that the Leffews lived less than a half-hour away, I invited them for a tour of Rancho Obi-Wan. We all bonded immediately over Star Wars and pizza, and I learned a little more about the family. Jay is a deputy sheriff in San Francisco and usually is behind the camera even though the videos were his idea; Bryan, who takes care of the kids, is more often onscreen.
Social workers had been trying to find parents who would adopt Daniel, then five years old, along with Selena, then 13 months. As Daniel tells it in his letter to Justice Roberts, which he worked on by himself over an entire weekend, “When I was in foster care I was told that I was considered unadoptable because of my Goldenhar syndrome. That is a genetic disorder that affects the whole left side of my body. I lost my little brother Emilio because some people wanted to adopt him, but they weren't willing to adopt me because of my medical condition. Lucky for me, that's when my two dads came along.”
Daniel has since undergone a great many operations and will have some more intensive ones over the next four to five years. “We know that Daniel’s a champ and he’ll get through them,” Bryan says. “But where’s a bacta tank when you really need one?”
Both kids are “fluent” in Star Wars, watched new episodes of The Clone Wars with their dads every week, and share in the fun of the saga. Jay and Bryan expect that someday they’ll pass along the love of Star Wars to their own kids.
“Star Wars has helped me dream of a better tomorrow and then work to make that happen here and now,” Bryan says. “It taught a lot of kids what it meant to be noble and that our world was bigger than even the boundaries of our imaginations. Most of all, it has kept me in touch with the pure wonder of being a kid at heart, and makes every day its own adventure. By carrying my love of Star Wars throughout my life, I’ve learned how to better appreciate the world I’m in now.”
Then the guys turned the tables and asked Bob and me to appear as guests on one of the Gay Family Values videos. And so a week later we were taping here at Rancho Obi-Wan and you can see the results of what they titled “A Star Wars Love Story.” To me, what all of this shows is how life could be so much better -- for everyone -- if we simply concentrate on what binds us rather than what divides us. Race, religion, gender identity, ethnicity, and other traits may help someone create a stereotype of who we are, but until you delve into the soul of a person, you really know very little. And somehow, like Jay and Bryan, I firmly believe that my lifelong love of Star Wars and fandom has led to a better appreciation of the world around me in all its splendid diversity.
Steve Sansweet, head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm for 15 years and now Fan Relations Adviser, is chief executive of Rancho Obi-Wan, a non-profit museum that houses the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia. To find out about joining or taking a guided tour, visit www.ranchoobiwan.org. Follow on Twitter @RanchoObiWan and https://www.facebook.com/RanchoObiWan.