This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
Note: this post does not contain any major plot spoilers. It does contain some references to key characters and moments that you might not wish to read if you have not yet seen the film. It also contains a lot of feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings, which you might prefer to be surprised by. Feel free to bookmark and come back once you’ve seen the film. This post will still be here, and will still be full of joy.
To begin: I am certainly a morning person, but I am not a morning-at-the-theatre person. I’m not even, generally, an opening weekend person. I don’t like crowds, or sold-out theatres, or people talking, or people. There is basically only one franchise that can get me to (a) pre-order tickets, (b) pay 3D IMAX prices, and (c) leave the house well before dawn to attend a screening.
It’s gotta be Star Wars.
Going that early made it difficult to make any adult decisions this morning beyond “which Star Wars shirt do I wear?” (Answer: this one from the Star Wars Identities exhibition, a baseball tee where Darth Vader’s face is made up of the Death Star and all the different fighters, which I see they have filed in the men’s collection and which I thought was a unisex shirt until just now.) The experience itself was totally surreal. By the time we got to the theatre, it was still dark, but the parking lot was completely full — it started to feel like an evening showing. But everyone was there to see one movie, and everyone already had tickets (the human-operated box office wasn’t even open), and everyone was holding enormous cups of coffee.
(Here’s something that doesn’t change just cuz it’s before dawn: the fifteen-year-old fascist tearing the tickets still won’t look the other way and let you take your latte in, EVEN IF YOU’RE ALLERGIC TO DAIRY AND THE THEATRE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE SOY MILK, KYLE. Ahem. I digress.)
The theatre, predictably, was packed, but here’s the thing about a 6:30 am crowd: they are all there to see the goddamned movie. You’re not a straggler or a hanger-on in need of something to do when you buy a 6:30 am movie ticket. As a result, you could hear a pin drop in the theatre. So many respectful, silent nerds, coming to worship at the temple. It was a beautiful thing.
The movie is wonderful: it’s well-crafted and respectfully succeeds the original trilogy. It has the heart and humour and spirit of those films, without the silliness and pandering and CG-obsession of the prequels. There is cuteness, humour, and fan service, but it all works with the larger storyline rather than being stapled to it. The stakes are high. The events matter. And the characters are true to themselves throughout. Your heart will soar, and break, and soar again. You will remember why you can watch the original trilogy again and again without tiring. You will remember why physical effects and the mastery of the Creature Shop matter. And you will fall in love with all the possibilities that are yet to come.
But what I really want to talk about here is the experience of seeing a good Star Wars movie — a movie that is worthy of the moniker — for the first time in the theatre. I’m 32 years old and I grew up with an older brother obsessed with Star Wars so I, of course, loved it too, because he was cool and things he loved were cool by extension. But because I’m 32, I missed the original series in theatres. By the time I saw the rereleases in the 90s, I knew the films by heart, so while the beauty on screen was exciting, there was nothing to shock or surprise me anymore. And the prequels just made my soul ache with disappointment.
But this film. Reader, when the screen first read, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” I spontaneously burst into tears. As the scroll ran, I tried to figure out my feelings: nostalgia, excitement, hope. I think, though, it was all of those things and more: just being overwhelmed by the collective experience we were all having. When we realized all at once that Rey lives in an abandoned AT-AT, the audience chuckled. When we saw the Millennium Falcon rise in to the sky, the audience gasped. When Han Solo appeared on the screen, the audience spontaneously applauded. When Leia looked into Han’s eyes, the audience collectively swooned. We were in it together in a way the prequels didn’t engender in any audience I saw them with. The experience was collective in a way moviegoing is supposed to be but rarely is.
Every single person in that theatre wanted it to be good. Needed it to be good. You don’t go to the theatre at 6:30 am to hate-watch or snark. And when we were rewarded for our hope and patience, we sank into the collective experience together.
When characters die or are wounded in the Star Wars universe right now, two things are true for the first time in my life: I don’t know what will happen next and I care. When Luke is injured in the original trilogy, I know he will be okay because I’ve just always known Luke will be okay. When Padme is in peril in the prequels, I don’t care enough to be invested; when Anakin is falling to the darkside, we already know what will happen next. But The Force Awakens gives my generation of Star Wars fans the closest thing we can ever have to the experiences of those first audiences in 1977. What a powerful gift that is.
I already have plans to see it again, over the Christmas holidays, with my hometown friends and, most importantly, my big brother — the person who taught me how to love Star Wars and how to expect and demand the best from the experience of watching it. I can’t wait, because I know this film will stand up to repeated viewings the way the originals did. And I know that the happy nostalgia I feel in this moment is something I can return to again and again.
The force is with me.
I missed it.