Space Fans

Why Star Wars: The Force Awakens matters (if only a little bit)

My first experience with the Star Wars movies was an abbreviated one. The friend I brought to a re-release screening of the first film screamed and wet his pants as soon as Darth Vader marched on-screen for the first time. We had to leave the theater because he was sobbing so loudly, and I had to wait another interminable week until I could finally watch the movie in full. It was worth the wait. (I just Googled the pants-wetter; he's now an evangelical Christian computer programmer who reviews Bibles on Amazon in his spare time.)

Like every other Nerd of a Certain Age, I was very much a Star Wars fan. I had the action figures and I ate the Pepperidge Farms Ewok cookies and I tried to be cool like Han Solo even though I was an obese 7-year-old with glasses so thick they could stop a bullet. But even then, my Star Wars fandom had limits. I tried and failed to get into the comics published by Marvel and Dark Horse, I could never finish one of the Star Wars novels, and I was too intimidated to try the ridiculously complex role-playing game.

Now that I'm an alleged grown-ass man, I don't own any Star Wars merchandise, aside from a single Boba Fett action figure I've had since I was a kid. I don't argue about George Lucas' digital remastering of the original films in online forums. The prequels were offensive on a filmmaking level, but they didn't make me howl about anyone "raping my childhood." My Star Wars fandom is in my past, a memory that's been strip-mined of its sentimentality. I'm not an especially nostalgic person, so I'd written off the Star Wars chapter of my life entirely.

And yet I still bought an advance ticket for The Force Awakens. Not for opening night — cosplay ain't my thing — but within five days of opening night. I'm not anxious about the movie, but I am excited for it. I love the new cast. Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac are among my favorite young actors. John Boyega positively nailed his debut role in Attack the Block. Lupita Nyong'o leaves me speechless more often than not. Director J.J. Abrams is more hit-or-miss: Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness were inexcusably bad, but the first Star Trek and Mission: Impossible 3 were lots of fun. The fact is, any movie with IMDb credits like this would get me out to the multiplex.

But if I'm honest, this isn't just any movie. The thing about The Force Awakens that won me over was the return of the original cast. Without Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, I'd almost certainly avoid those orgiastic opening-week crowds and take in a matinée a month or two after the film's release.

It only occurs to me now that this is why I didn't care about the Star Wars role-playing games or the expanded universe of the novels or comics as a kid, and it's why I don't care about all the spin-off and prequel movies coming our way now: Star Wars, to me, isn't a "cinematic universe," whatever that means. It's a story — one single, solitary story — about a whiny kid and his shitty dad and a prickly princess and a space cowboy.

Everything else, from Jar Jar Binks to Grand Admiral Thrawn, is entirely besides the point. I'm excited to see if there's anything left of that story to tell. I'm pretty much expecting the answer will be no. But as long as the person next to me in the theater doesn't piss himself, I'll probably be fine either way.♦

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