NM and I went to an English-language showing of the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. As we arrived at the surprisingly low-key theater, two dudes were having a friendly lightsaber fight in front, and I thought, “Here we go.” Not many people dressed up, but a handful did, including one guy who was a fairly convincing, albeit über-Germanic Han Solo, complete with blaster on his hip. All the costumes I saw were the make-at-home variety, no store-bought costumes. The theater was smaller than I expected, but I was glad it was in English. This theater has assigned seats, so there was no waiting in line, except for the concession stand.
I enjoyed the movie, though I’m eager for more people to see it so we can talk about it. I won’t post any Episode VII spoilers here, though the inevitable “fandom” dissection is already beginning. But what struck me most about the experience of seeing Star Wars in another country was how normal it all seemed. The experience of Star Wars is a global one.
My dad The Bruce loves the Star Wars movies, so my brother and I grew up watching them. AN remembers seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater, though I was too young for that. I caught up with VHS and TV versions until the re-releases when I was in high school. I remember The Bruce taped VHS copies of the original trilogy off TV for me when I was probably 7 or so. Never one to waste anything, he put all three on one tape. But since he knew I liked the music at the end of Return of the Jedi, he took the time to “bleep” the commercials (pressing pause so the recording would also pause), to make sure all three movies fit completely on one tape. I watched that tape over and over until it fell apart.
When I was a kid, I loved Luke and thought he was a great hero, not caring that his whining about going to Tosche Station was a little lame. Now I see Han Solo as the more interesting character, but nobody beats Princess Leia. A strong, calm leader, though admittedly a little too compartmentalized when her entire planet is destroyed, but not afraid to be feisty, Leia seemed like the women I knew in my life: no nonsense, interesting and fearless. Even when they put her in the demeaning slave-girl getup, she used her chains to free herself and Jabba… freeing him off this mortal coil anyway. I wanted to know more about where she came from and where she’s going. Who cares if the movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel test?* Aside: Interestingly, it turns out we really didn’t want to know more about where she came from – filling in the details of a story to which you already know the ending robs it of all suspense. But we didn’t know that then. /aside These characters had an impact on me. I didn’t know then that Lucas created them out of archetypes that have been around forever, and that’s part of why they’re so enduring.
A couple years ago, I was chatting with a colleague, and I said, “I don’t know what it says about my life that the Star Wars character I most identify with is mid-Empire Lando Calrissian: you know, ‘you’re a businessman, a responsible leader,’’ to which he replied, “You’re not Lando; you’re Leia.” High praise indeed. By the way, these are typical break-room conversations in an IT shop – stereotypes or no.
I would later fall in love with other “fandoms” in the genre: Star Trek Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and the Star Trek movies, Battlestar Galactica (the remake – not the original), Firefly/Serenity. But all of them were second fiddle to Star Wars. When I was a teenager, I read most of the Star Wars books that have now been decanonized, including the fairly awful Courtship of Princess Leia where we learn Han is a secret prince *eyeroll*. I have not kept up with the cartoons, not having children or cable, though I probably will catch up on those someday. I know Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings both hold a global appeal (quite rightly), but Star Wars predated all of it. People the world over will see this movie and be talking about it. There’s something compelling about that.
I recognize Star Wars is just a movie, though this episode is likely to make billions of dollars for the fine folks at Disney. But honestly, with all the other things going on in the world, can’t we all just take a couple hours and enjoy the collective experience of watching fictional things get blown up in wildly unrealistic ways?
Title quote: Opening text lines for every Star Wars film
*Don’t get me wrong: the Bechdel test is a valuable measure, and I’m a fan. This TED talk with Colin Stokes was really thought provoking about the impact of pop culture on young boys and what they’re learning. It’s a great watch.