“I want my son to understand that it’s ok to cry”: Star Wars Families in the UK

“I remember it specifically, because the whole world changed,” says Terence McGuire. “The previous big movie of that summer had been Smokey and the Bandit, and everybody was walking around with CBs [radios] trying to do the CB talk. And then Star Wars came out and it was a game changer. One Saturday night, we went as a family and we saw it, and I was just blown away.” For Terence, a nine-year old boy with a bowl haircut who had only recently moved to Canada from Liverpool — “looking like one of the Beatles and talking like one of the Beatles,” as he puts it — this was the start of a lifelong love affair.

Terence moved back to Liverpool several years ago where he met his wife, Lucy, and started a family: their son, Malachi, is seven. Today, in their home in Stockton Heath, Cheshire, a framed Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back poster takes pride of place in the living room, while a Boba Fett figure guards Terence’s bedside table. He even has a pair of Star Wars Adidas Stan Smiths.

Ask him his favourite character and Terence responds in detail, reflecting on the way the films have accompanied him through each stage of his life: “Han Solo was just so cool in 1977. [But] then [I moved] over to Boba Fett, because when you’re in your 20s, you want to be badass… He didn’t say much, and when he did say something, it just sort of resonated… And then you see Chirrut. I think a reflection of who I want to be now is having those ideals: the peacefulness, the mindfulness, and being a strong support to those around him.”

Being there for those around him is central to Terence’s life today. Tragically, in 2017, Lucy died after a period of illness. On top of dealing with his own grief and heartbreak, Terence has had to adapt to a new life as a single father, ensuring not only that Malachi’s needs are met, but also that he is able to understand what happened to his mum, and grieve for her in his own way — a delicate and painful process.

Until that point, Terence hadn’t yet passed on his Star Wars fandom to Malachi, a diehard Liverpool fan with an all-consuming love of football. Yet in the wake of his wife’s death, the two of them began to read the novelisation of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the story of Jyn Erso, who loses her mother at the beginning of the story, that resonated most. For the two of them, struggling to discuss the pain of losing their wife and mother, reading about Jyn seemed to help.

“By talking about Rogue One, we could talk openly about death and about loss,” Terence says. “We both get upset talking about things like that at times. But I want my son to understand that it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel about things like that… It’s about being open, being honest, and expressing your feelings.”

Watching the films is now a big part of Terence and Malachi’s relationship. As a continuation of the ‘Mummy and Malachi’ days Lucy used to share with Malachi, the two of them spend ‘Daddy and Malachi’ days working their way through the series — that is, when they aren’t watching Liverpool at Anfield. “I’ve agonised over which order to show him the films in!” Terence says. “I decided to go with George Lucas’s chronological order, so we watched [Episodes]  I, II, III, and we’ve watched Solo and Rogue One now.”

As with their reading of Rogue One, the films continue to stimulate discussion about character, hardship, and strength. [When] he asks me who my favourite character is, I’ll say ‘Chirrut, because he’s blind and he proves that you can do anything,’” says Terence. “We talk about the different aspects of the characters because there’s a brilliant diversity in Rogue One.

“I was so struck by Terence’s incredibly thoughtful parenting,” says Alice Zoo, who was commissioned to photograph the family in October. “Since the day, I’ve been reflecting on how valuable it is to encourage emotional openness in children, and to teach them the importance of vulnerability, as Terence encourages with Malachi.”

It is an openness clear in her photographic series, shot through with a rich Liverpool red. The images delicately capture both the joyous rough and tumble of the father-son relationship, as well as their understated intimacy. “I wrote an article recently [in which] somebody said that photography is a way of proving the existence of life,” Zoo adds. “I think that’s exactly what photography does. You can really see that there’s a person with a history and with a set of feelings in front of the camera.”

Indeed, there is a sense of personal history underlying the series. Terence and Malachi’s shared experiences seem to emerge in gently paralleled portraits under their bed covers, or looking away from the camera out to a window. Likewise, looking through the pictures, one cannot help the feeling that there is someone missing from the family home.

Of course, the process of mourning Lucy goes on for Terence and Malachi, and Terence is open about the need to share his grief with his son. “I’m not one for crying, I don’t like people to see me cry,” he explains, “But I think it’s necessary that my son does see me cry and understand what that loss feels like.”

In pursuing this, Jyn Erso’s story continues to inspire: “For Jyn, it was about taking the [Death Star’s] plans and being part of a real family at the end. My son’s got that family, and I want him to have those strengths. He’s already one step ahead of Jyn when it comes to his own life and whatever he might accomplish in the future.”

Star Wars Families presented by eBay is a collaboration between Lucasfilm and British Journal of Photography in advance of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. An immersive photographic and editorial project, it sheds light on families around the world who have enjoyed the magic of Star Wars for nearly half a century.

The Star Wars Families commission is organised by Studio 1854 in collaboration with Lucasfilm.

To hear about upcoming commission opportunities, register with 1854 commisions.