Star Wars: The Next Generation
Opening the Eyes to Opening Night
The whole world was awakened to the force of Star Wars this past weekend as The Force Awakens shattered records in every category as millions of fans and families packed theaters Thursday night, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in over four thousand theaters in the United States alone. Add that to millions more worldwide who were able to see this highly anticipated sequel and the totals are beyond what many imagined to be possible. My kids and I were in the mix Thursday night as the Force awakened within all of us during the first screening in our area.
This was the first time my younglings went to the premiere of a new Star Wars movie (other than the first showing of The Clone Wars which opened early in the day in August 2008 to little local fanfare). It wasn’t their first premiere. We’ve been to midnight releases of Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies, all of which were exciting events, but in a house that boasts Star Wars decor in the front room, this event surpassed anything we had formerly experienced as a family. The energy in line was visible as nearly everyone was wearing Star Wars T-shirts, and those who weren’t wearing them had opted for less subtle nods to that galaxy far, far away as Sith and Jedi, Stormtroopers and scoundrels stood amongst the civilians sporting images of ships, characters, and logos across their chests.
The journey was nearly complete. In just a few hours, we would all see and hear something both familiar and new. For three years, we had talked about what Episode VII would bring. We had watched teasers, trailers, and TV spots. We had joined other fans in September for the midnight release of the new Star Wars toys. We had spent the past several weeks watching the six saga films on Blu-ray (in chronological order).
There were several families in line for the movie with us. Some with children as young as ten or eleven, many with teenaged children like mine. A few multi-generational families were there together, as well, as silver-haired grandfathers joined their sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters for the experience of a lifetime, being afforded a new opportunity to introduce the next generation to a story that has captured our imaginations and emotions for nearly four decades.
Would the movie live up to the hype? Or would some fans feel that it didn’t feel like Star Wars? Would prequel fans resent the focus on the characters of the original trilogy? Would children whose Star Wars has been primarily animated on television screens accept J.J. Abrams’ telling of the story?
The previews finished. The Lucasfilm logo dominated the screen as the speakers went silent. Not a sound could be heard in the theater. Then…the fanfare sounded and the crowd erupted in applause and cheers — and were suddenly silenced as the first sentence appeared at the bottom of the screen before us: “Luke Skywalker has vanished.”
Our eyes were wide open, taking in every image before us. Our ears perked up in an effort to tune in to the music, the sounds, the voices. We didn’t want to miss a beat. But when the vehicle called “garbage” by Rey was shown on screen, we cheered again. When the Falcon scraped and slammed the ground, time and again, fathers of sixteen year-old drivers winced and groaned together. We roared at the jokes, applauded Han, Chewie, Leia, and C-3PO as they appeared before us. We felt every blaster bolt, every bump, and were pierced to the heart as father and son reunited on screen. When the final credits rolled, we rose from our seats, dropped our 3D glasses in the recycling bins, and headed back to our cars to process what we had all witnessed. We were satisfied…or were we?
“That wasn’t Star Wars.”
I will never forget these words of my thirteen year-old son as we emerged from the theater. My daughter (shabbeyzzar) and I turned to him (shazzyluke) in disbelief. Had he really just said that? What was it about The Force Awakens that wasn’t Star Wars? “It was too ‘Hollywood’,” he continued. “Star Wars isn’t supposed to be funny.”
I shook my head in amazement. Star Wars has always been filled with jokes and situation comedy. The whimsical element has always been a cherished part of every iteration of the franchise. How had he missed this? I wasn’t the only one surprised by his opinion; shabbeyzzar quickly defended the film, reminding him of the many humorous parts of the original trilogy, the prequels, and the animated series. But he was adamant. The movie had disappointed him. When we got home, he said as much to his mother. She, like the rest of us, was stunned.
The next morning, after his sister went to school (she had a final at 8:00 AM), he sat down in the living room and put A New Hope in the DVD player. Within thirty minutes, he turned to me and explained that the humor in Star Wars isn’t supposed to be “2015 humor”, it’s supposed to fit in to that galaxy, not our real world. To illustrate his point, he cited Finn’s braggadocio before Captain Phasma. His complaint was that Finn was too much like people today — not just in that moment, but in other places, as well. Threepio’s comments about having a red arm were classically Star Wars, but some of Finn’s words and actions seemed like they “belonged in a superhero movie.”
Then I understood. His complaint isn’t all that unlike the complaints people have had about the prequels. Jar Jar seemed out-of-place to many (and though I like Jar Jar, I admit that “icky-poo” and “exsqueeze me” were more suited to ‘90s sitcoms than Star Wars, just like Mace Windu’s “This party’s over,” belonged on a snake-ridden plane with a cheeseburger-eating Shaft than in the midst of a battle on Geonosis). After years of absence from theaters, Star Wars risks losing its audience when the next trilogy feels different from the previous releases.
Not Like Opening Night
By ten o’clock, we had picked up shabbeyzzar from school after her final and continued our day of Wookiee Hookiee by heading down to Panama City Beach to catch The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D with some friends. On the drive down, we convinced shazzyluke to focus on the big picture instead of letting a few moments pull him out of that galaxy far, far away. He agreed, and when we met up with our group for lunch, he was as excited as the rest of us to see the movie again.
Since I had never seen a feature-length movie on an IMAX screen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Neither were my kids. The line was shorter. There were fewer Star Wars T-shirts, and only one costumed character (Jango Fett was at the front door). To summarize our experience: the sights and sounds were terrific, unlike anything we had seen before, but it lacked the energy of the night before. There was less applause, less shouting, less audible laughter, and generally less crowd-pervasive excitement. We all liked the movie better after the second viewing — especially my son — but we all agreed that we liked opening night better for the experience. On the drive back home, we committed to seeing every new Star Wars movie at its first showing. There’s nothing quite like it.
Since then, we have seen The Force Awakens again (with more friends who hadn’t seen it by Sunday night), and we plan to see it later in the week with out-of-town family. Each viewing has increased our appreciation for the movie (even as the cheers and applause die down), especially as we’ve become more familiar with the John Williams score which now is recognizable to all of us. Now, The Force Awakens rivals Return of the Jedi as my third favorite Star Wars movie. Both kids are joining in with speculations about what has happened over the past 30 years and what we will see happen in the next movie.
I wonder when tickets will go on sale….