As we scoured the local theaters last week for an open showtime for the 17 December opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my family had the supreme good fortune to stumble on a movie house that was in the middle of transition to new management. In the interim, they couldn’t sell advance tickets and were off the internet grid for ticket sales. People had gone elsewhere, leaving them with lots of vacant seats. We landed in a beautiful theater that was only about 3/4 full for the 7pm show, no lines, no waiting. There wasn’t even a serious delay for popcorn.
The internet moratorium on anything approaching a spoiler severely restricts what I can say about the movie if I value my life. In a couple of days, everybody who cares will have seen it and whatever insights I might offer will be lost in the communal dissection that will continue months from now. So, this is more in the spirit of a reflection than a review. There are no spoilers, of course.
The Force Awakens is an excellent movie. It recaptures the spirit of the original trilogy and puts the franchise on a promising path into the future. The new characters and the actors who portray them are brilliant. It left me wanting more.
I was 17 when the original Star Wars premiered. It came out of nowhere, and was that much more effective for the surprise. In the 60’s and 70’s, science fiction movies were supposed to be ponderous, and brooding, and ominous, and filled with dire warnings about the ultimate insignificance and impending doom of humanity. Stuff like Soylent Green, and Silent Running, and Planet of the Apes. Yeah, the apes were pretty cool, but you know what I mean. Space was cold and empty, the planet was dying, and we had no future. Yay. Go us.
Star Wars was pure fun. The movie was marinated in the sheer joy of adventure. It had the audacity to proclaim that freedom was something worth fighting for, that heroes came in all shapes and sizes, and good could prevail over evil despite impossible odds. It moved at a breathtaking pace, like nothing I’d ever seen before. Popcorn? Bathroom breaks? There was no time for such trivialities. Important things were happening on that screen. You didn’t dare blink.
It was the first movie I wanted to (and did) see over and over again. Alien creatures, and lightsabers, and fighter plane battles in space, and droids, and that final, mind-blowing detonation that reduced the Death Star (Death Star!) into so much interstellar confetti.
Almost 40 years later, I’m a little jaded. When you’ve seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhuser Gate…well, I’m not sure what it would take to generate the sort of incandescent rush that I got from Star Wars as a teenager. I find myself appreciating the little nods to nostalgia. I recognize a lot of the old beats from the original trilogy playing out and wonder if the filmmakers went back to that well one too many times. I love the use of scale to once again remind us how very big things can be in this universe. I’m glad they understand some things can be done better with real props and makeup effects than with computer graphics.Yes, they took some risks, and folks will probably be talking about those for a good long while. I’m still trying to figure out how BB-8 keeps his head on.
I suppose the only way to sum it up is that I want to see it again.
It’s been a long wait, watching the transition of this mythos from the original creators, through some hands that grasped its power while utterly failing to understand its heart, and now to the grown-up kids who fell in love with it at the first frame and know it inside and out because it’s part of their souls. They’ve honored a fine heritage and opened the next chapter of the story in style with a worthy new generation of heroes and villains. After all these years, Star Wars retains its power to thrill and astonish.
As one old friend said, we’re home—and it’s good to be back.