The setting: An IMAX theater at 8 AM on a Friday morning.
The characters: My two older brothers, 8-year-old nephew, step-father and myself plus 450 other Star Wars fans.
What you need to know about me: The original Star Wars movies predate me, but I grew up watching them with my brothers, playing with their hand-me down Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker toys. I was there opening weekend for all of the prequels, and though those movies had their moments they seriously damped my enthusiasm for the franchise. Prior to last week, I do not remember the last time I watched any of the films in the original trilogy, and I’ve yet to re-watch the prequels. Everything I knew about The Force Awakens beforehand came from the Entertainment Weekly cover story I summarized elsewhere on the site.
Courtesy Spoiler Warning.
WAITING FOR IT TO START
2. Why doesn’t the couple next to me sound more excited? Why are they discussing their dinner plans and casually saying things like, “So, did you have a lot of Star Wars toys as a kid?” – “Not really” – “Yeah, me either. My older brothers were always way more into it than me” – “Same here.”
3. I hope my nephew loves this.
4. They’re so going to kill off Han Solo, right? Lucas isn’t around to veto Harrison Ford and Lawrence Kasdan anymore.
5. They can’t make Luke the secret bad guy in this movie. They just can’t.
6. How weird is it that this will be the first Star Wars movie since A New Hope without Yoda?
8. Independence Day: Resurgence looks kind of amazing in IMAX.
9. Thank you for your time, Captain America: Civil War trailer, but get out of the damn way. You’re blocking us from the new Star Wars
10. So, that’s a trailer for a sequel, followed by a trailer for a sequel to a movie which came out 20 years ago, followed by a trailer for a sequel. Woe is the state of Hollywood.
11. Shut up, cynical Kelly. You know you’re going to see all of those movies, and …. Oh, crap. There’s the LucasFilms logo!
THE OPENING TEXT CRAWL
13. Star Wars should have always been viewed in 3D. The opening text crawl is tailor-made for it!
14. It’s a new Star Wars movie! OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG
15. Calm down, nerd. Pay attention to the text. You actually have to read that to find out what’s going on.
16. Oh, thank God this new crawl didn’t mention anything about treaties or trade embargos.
17. Wait, Luke’s missing? How is The First Order different than The Empire?
19. Hello Oscaar Isaac as Poe Damarron, you handsome devil.
20. BB-8 is fine, I guess. I don’t get what all the fuss has been about with him or her or whatever before the movie.
21. So, this is Kylo Ren. The great Kylo Ren. The new Darth Vader. Bah-humbug I say. Do something to impress me.
22. Wait, what did Max Von Sydow mean about knowing Kylo Ren’s true name? That’s either Han and Leia’s son or Luke under there, but why would he be so obsessed with tracking down Luke if he was Luke? That has to be Han and Leia’s son.
23. Goodbye, Max Von Sydow.
24. Did Kylo just use The Force to stop Poe’s laser bullet thing in mid-air? That was…awesome!
25. Poe’s “WTF?” reaction to the mid-air laser bullet was priceless as was his Whedon-esque banter about not knowing how the whole interrogation thing is supposed to work, e.g., “Does he talk first? Wait for Kylo to speak?” Is this movie going to be genuinely funny?
26. Now we’re focusing on the storm troopers? Ah, cool. We’re about to meet Finn.
27. That was pretty clever, using the blood on Finn’s helmet to help him stand out from the rest, but is that the first time there’s been blood in any of these movies?
THE INTERROGATION & ESCAPE
29. Well, that didn’t take long. Good luck, BB-8.
30. Hello Captain Phasma. I bet we never see your face, but good for you, Gwendoline Christie.
31. Poe: “Why are you helping me escape?”/Finn: “Because it’s the right thing to do”/Poe: ”You need a pilot, don’t you?” Wait a tic, that was another genuinely funny line.
32. Now their escape attempt has hit a snag because they forgot to take the locking clamp off the tie fighter they’re stealing, which is giving us a pretty hilarious visual of the ship being held back by a giant strap thing. J.J. Abrams has officially made Star Wars intentionally funny again.
33. Think of all those poor storm troopers they’re killing in that hangar while shooting wildly in their effort to break free.
34. So, wait, who exactly is in charge on that First Order ship – General Hux or Kylo Ren?
35. Well done, screenwriters. Placing Kylo’s taunt “Maybe you should go back to using a clone army” during his early argument with General Hux quickly lets us know that all of that business with the clones from the prequels is dead and buried. It also instantly explains why there is a black storm trooper now.
BACK ON JAKKU
37. Everything about the introduction of Rey is genius, from the new John Williams theme that goes with it to the way she starts out with her face covered (like Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy) to make her seem more mysterious to the breathtaking beauty of the visuals with her descending into the downed starkiller to the absolute downbeat look on Daisy Ridley’s face when we finally see it. We are instantly told that this is her mundane everyday life.
38. So, Rey’s little ship is almost like a fancy Star Wars tractor or U-Haul.
39. I finally get it. BB-8 truly is adorable, even though it’s a glorified soccer ball robot. Every time it moves its head like a robot approximation of a facial expression it’s instantly cute, like a small dog cocking its head side to side. Plus, I can kind of figure out what it’s saying half of the time. Like, right now, it clearly just said, “Thank you,” when Rey rescued it and agreed to offer it shelter for the night.
40. Back off right now, mean alien guy trying to tempt Rey with all that food. There’s no way she’s giving BB-8 over now. She’s a good person, and that’d be like giving over your new puppy.
41. Look at you, Rey, defending yourself, not needing Finn to save you, and now he’s actually running away from you! The feminism is strong with this one.
42. I could watch BB-8 shock Finn all day.
43. In this new Star Wars, don’t grab a girls’ hand while trying to save her if she didn’t first ask to have her hand grabbed. She’ll let you have it, repeatedly. Those are the new rules. Deal with it.
44. Man, they are really not backing down from this idea that Rey is a bonafide badass. Now she won’t take a larger ship to escape because her small tractor thing is perfectly fine, and she’s a great pilot either way.
45. They just blew up her ship! They’re going to have to take the old garbage ship instead which is…
THE MILLENIUM FALCON
I thought Rey and Finn’s argument over which ship to take was just another effort to establish her credibility as a fierce leading lady. She will not be saved by Finn nor will she let him hold her hand. She sure as hell won’t take the ship he says they should. Then, there’s an explosion, a hasty agreement and the camera quickly takes a right turn following behind Rey and Finn to reveal that they are now running toward the Millenium Falcon. They completely fooled me.
That’s when I stopped nitpicking or joking to myself about this movie. That’s when I stopped marveling at the 2015 gender politics on display. I stopped pinching myself (e.g., “It’s a new Star Wars movie!”), and I stopped looking at it as a movie with performances and production values to be enjoyed and analyzed (or gadgets which would make for great Christmas gifts). I finally gave in to the actual story. It’s not so much that the sight of the Millenium Falcon invoked some kind of involuntary nostalgic response which demanded that I stop engaging with the movie in critical terms. It’s more that the masterful way it was re-introduced left me feeling supremely confident that I was in the hands of storytelllers who knew what they were doing. I freely gave in to their every whim from that point forward.
If there were gaps in the story, such as Maz’s unexplained possession of Luke’s lightsaber or Poe’s sudden re-appearance, I forgave them, assuming the answers were probably in some canonical comic books or novels. If it all seemed too similar to A New Hope I genuinely didn’t care because I’d look over at my nephew and see how much he was loving it. Like him, I wanted to see how this story with Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren played out. If it was perhaps far too obvious that Han Solo was about to die I ignored that and instead focused on the remarkably committed acting from Harrison Ford and Adam Driver.
The only things which really gave me any kind of pause was the suspicion that the movie was really rushing past the fact that three apparently important planets had just been destroyed and the creeping dread that Luke was possibly not going to be in the movie at all. Otherwise, I was transported to a galaxy far, far away in a way I haven’t been with any Star Wars in a long, long time, and the moment that truly began for me was when two characters running away from the bad guys took a hard right toward an old, familiar ship. Moreover, the two characters fleeing for their lives had already been very well-defined and seemed worth rooting for. That was when all of the Star Wars ephemera and Force Awakens hype melted away, and I entered that sweet spot in a film viewing experience of being completely taken away by the story, much like I imagine everyone was back in 1977.
Did you ever reach that point in your experience with The Force Awakens? If so, was it different than mine (for some, you might have been there the moment the LucasFilms logo popped up)? Or were you never quite taken on the magical journey with this movie?