It’s hard to fully tell just what the Star Wars franchise meant to me growing up. For most, if not all, of my elementary school years, it was a huge part of my childhood. The first movie came out when I was 4 years old, the second when I was 7, and the third when I was 10. I had a Star Wars lunchbox, one of those metal kinds that come with the plastic thermos. I had the plastic guns and even tried on my mom’s knee high boots so that I could look like Han Solo (she wasn’t thrilled about that one). Star Wars was a mainstay to my generation and when we found out that episodes I, II, and III would finally become a reality, we began to dream about all the possibilities.
Needless to say, that didn’t go as expected. While you might agree that Episode III was a worthy effort, there are hardly arguments when criticism is heaped at the first two (if not all three). A generation who had become cynical based on what they were experiencing just found one more reason to maintain that same cynicism. The possibilities that seemed endless had actually ended with a less than stellar result.
Meanwhile, book after book was published about the characters to whom we were introduced in the original series. No one ever wanted to read about Jar Jar, but they could read about Luke, Han, and Leia until the cows come home. Stories were written and it seemed that every fan of Star Wars would be doomed to be left with the bad taste in their mouths after hearing that dumb Gungan speak his backwards form of English. At least Yoda’s backwards speak has an endearing quality to it, Jar Jar’s is just plain annoying.
In 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm, the company behind Star Wars, for $4 billion. Some of the greatest loved characters of all time were now being combined together through ownership and many wondered what that might mean for Star Wars.
Well, if Star Wars was second nature to me as a child, it’s hard to describe just what Disney was at the same time. I grew up going to Disney World. I still have the 8MM films that I can play on my projector of our jaunts to Disney World when I was barely the age of my youngest child. While Star Wars was a mainstay in my life as a child, Disney seemed to be a permanent fixture as well, not only to my generation, but to my parents’ generation as well. It had an intergenerational connectivity and quality about it that was rarely seen by others. But we had been burned by Star Wars before and the thought of the House of the Mouse taking over at the helm of Star Wars seemed a bit worrisome.
At first, the connections were subtle. You go to Disney World and you see the hybrid of some of your favorite characters from both Disney and Star Wars. A little kitschy, but not a deal breaker, after all, Lucasfilm began the animated series “The Clone Wars” before Disney had made the deal. Then came the rumors…..rumors of another trilogy.
My son claims that I first mentioned the prospect of another Star Wars trilogy to him around 2010 or so (he claimed that he had been waiting half of his life for “The Force Awakens “ to become a reality and he was born in 2006). In early 2013, rumors that J.J. Abrams (of TVs “Alias” and “Lost” fame) would be directing the first in the new trilogy were confirmed, and the Star Wars universe went a little crazy. What had been dreamed of would become a reality.
Nearly three years later, “The Force Awakens” broke box office records by bringing in a record $238 million on opening weekend. Just two weeks prior to its December 18th release date, I took my oldest son, the one who had been waiting half of his life for this event, to buy tickets at the theater.
Standing there at the theater with my nine year old son, holding tickets to a first run Star Wars film seemed a bit surreal to me. Was this really happening? If it was, would it (could it) live up to the hype? Could millions of fans really be satisfied by the outcome of this? Should it even be attempted?
In 2009, J.J. Abrams had successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise, overhauling the cast and characters to bring them to a new generation. In geekdom, how would he fare at taking over another beloved franchise, not for a reboot but for a continuation?
When December 18th finally came, when I finally brought my boys to the theater, I wasn’t sure who was more excited. These kids got out of school early for this, not too early, and it was the last day before Christmas break, but early nonetheless. There was excitement in our house all week long. Even our beloved Tinsel Trooper (our own geek version of the Elf on the Shelf) had gotten in on the action. We were excited, there was no doubt about it.
I can’t remember the last movie that I saw in the theater where there was as much clapping throughout as there was in “The Force Awakens.” The familiar “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” appeared on the screen and the theater erupted in applause. Familiar characters appeared on the screen and the theater erupted in applause. Even X-wings and Tie Fighters got in on the action, not garnering nearly as much applause as the Millenium Falcon, but still it was applause.
We all say glued to that screen for the just over two hours that the movie ran, and as the final moments of the movie played, as I felt the action slowing to a stop, something inside me welled up. I realized that I was experiencing this with my boys. MY boys. I was sitting in theater, watching Star Wars with my two sons, and we were all seeing it for the first time. My eyes began to well up a little themselves and I put my arms around my boys as we walked towards the exit.
My oldest, always displaying the typical birth order characteristics of an oldest, announced his sheer approval of the film. He was satisfied. My youngest son, also fitting into all of the stereotypes of a middle child, cautiously opined over the film, expressing his approval, but not too much, just enough to still be safe should anyone else have anything not so positive to say about it.
We walked into the night towards our car and I still was processing what had happened both on and off the screen. It was a powerful moment for me, not one that will easily be matched or forgotten, that moment when I experienced this movie with my sons. I couldn’t help but think about my older brother and me walking out of the theater with my mom who had taken us to see the original trilogy’s second two films. The picture in my head made me smile while at the same time caused me to hug my boys just a little bit closer.
“The Force Awakens” was more than a film to me, it was an experience that held so much nostalgia. It’s almost unfair to tack so much weight onto something, but somehow it managed to hold that weight. My boys are still talking about it and I’m feeling the need to see it again with my wife just so that my middle child doesn’t explode at the prospect of keeping everything secret for any length of time. My four year old, she’s still got a little time before she gets there, but once Mommy sees it, for these boys, I think all will be right with the world…….and I just can’t wait!