It's been well established that I grew up in thrall to Star Wars. Born in July of 1977, less than a month and a half after the first movie premiered, I literally have never known a world in which it did not exist. I grew up with Luke, Han and Chewie, and Princess Leia as the ultimate good guys, and my action figures were my prized possessions as a kid. The various Luke figures were known by their colors—White Luke was in his initial Tatooine outfit, Orange Luke was in his flight suit, Brown Luke was in his Bespin fatigues, and Black Luke was in his Jedi outfit. (Curiously, Luke in his Hoth gear did not have a nickname, or, if he did, it has been lost to history. Winter Luke? Maybe.) Remember fire safety lectures as a kid? When they'd tell you that if your house was on fire, you were just supposed to get out without stopping for anything? I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Yeah, sure, fine, but there's no way I'm leaving my burning house without Black Luke." True story.
|Orange, Brown, and White Lukes, respectively (not mine, for the record, although I do still have a bunch of the old action figures).|
But I digress. The point is this—when the prequels came out, I was excited, but those movies (and leave arguments about their quality aside for now) were never going to be 100% for me. I knew pretty much everything I needed to know about Anakin Skywalker's backstory. I saw all the prequels at midnight showings, yes, and I was bummed that they mostly sucked, sure, but it didn't affect me too much, because what I really wanted from Star Wars was the further adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia. I got that from the Expanded Universe (which eventually expanded too far and became tedious), and I was okay with that.
Another thing I want to mention is that, because I loved the action figures so much, Star Wars was pretty much all I could think about around Christmas during my youth because all I wanted were figures and ships. To this day, I have a tendency when talking about Christmas presents to say something along the lines of "I can't wait to see which Star Wars guys Santa brings me." Another strong memory is climbing under the Christmas tree every chance I got (knocking my mom's nativity scene from hell to breakfast, no doubt) and pretending I was Han Solo, working on the Millennium Falcon.
At any rate, fast forward to 2015, when a new Star Wars movie was set to premiere a mere week ahead of Christmas Day, and it's something of a miracle that I managed to function at all as an adult. My wife got Christmas presents and everything (although I didn't get around to wrapping them). I managed mostly by refusing to let myself dwell on the movie coming out. After all, this was what I had been waiting for—a continuation of the original story, with the original actors (even Harrison Ford!) as Luke, Han, and Leia.
So I was stoked, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also at least a little bit apprehensive. If this movie sucked, with these characters in it, it would be more of a blow than the prequels. And for that reason, I was glad George Lucas wasn't involved. As skilled a moviemaker as he is, writing and directing just aren't his forte. Best to eliminate him from the process entirely. (That said, I would be incredibly interested to know the details of the story treatments he had written up, which JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan discarded.)
I bought a ticket for opening night on the night they went on sale, suffering through the malfunctions of overloaded websites until there was an opening. By that time, all the very earliest showings were sold out, somehow, but I managed to get one for 7:20, ensuring, at the very least, that no one would be coming out before I went in. Back in the prequel days, of course, even having a ticket, you needed to get to the theater early to get a good spot on line with other people who had tickets, to make sure you got a good seat. This time around, reserved seat, no problem. Which was cool in its way, but I kind of missed the old way, crowding into the lobby with a bunch of other like-minded superfans for an hour or so beforehand.
Finally seeing the movie was an emotional experience. As much as I tried not to let myself think about it in the days and weeks leading up to release day, in truth this was the culmination of 32 years of anticipation. Once I got into the theater, I gave myself over to it and just let it wash over me. There were several moments in that first viewing that gave me chills, but the biggest one was when the Millennium Falcon appeared onscreen for the first time. Not gonna lie, I almost lost it. So many of my imagined childhood adventures featured the Falcon in some way, and seeing it again really was like greeting an old friend.
Perhaps strangely, seeing Han Solo meet his tragic end was not one of the most emotional moments for me, probably because I had seen it coming since they first announced that Harrison Ford was returning to join the cast. Ford, after all, had lobbied for Solo to be killed off in Return of the Jedi; I was surprised he agreed to be involved with the new movie, and assumed Solo's death as a foregone conclusion. So when it indeed happened, I was ready for it. What I was not ready for was the very next shot, in which Leia, worlds away, feels his death through the Force. Devastating.
I ended up going to see The Force Awakens seven times while it was still in theaters. That may seem excessive, and I know it exasperated my stepmother-in-law for some unknown reason, but I couldn't get enough. And beyond that, I wanted to savor it, because this is probably the last time that a new Star Wars movie coming into theaters is going to be a really big deal. There's going to be a new SW movie coming out each year through at least 2020 (starting with Rogue One this December). I'm sure I'll be excited about them, and seeing them in theaters will be awesome, but not "I've been waiting years for this" awesome. So I let The Force Awakens be a really big deal for me, and it was great, and I regret nothing.