Growing up, I watched my parents’ VHS (taped from television) copy of the original Star Wars – what is now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – just about every weekend. Part of that was because we didn’t have cable and there was usually nothing good on. But another part of that was because I was just drawn to the story – the adventure, the galaxy-wide perspective, the fight between good versus evil, the humor, the subtle romance… all of it. I, like so many other people, simply loved the essence of Star Wars.
Because of that love, it’s still a bit odd to realize that that is primarily where my experience with George Lucas’s epic space fantasy ended. As far as I know, my parents don’t own Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back or Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi, so I never really watched those – though of course I knew all about Darth Vader being Luke’s father, Luke and Leia being twins, etc. With the exception of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which I can’t even remember if I saw in a theater or not, I never really watched the prequels in their entirety until the Mysterious Mr. C and I decided to revisit everything following Rod Hilton’s Machete Order prior to the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. And though I shelved the books when I was a bookseller at Barnes&Noble (and always made sure I put them in consecutive, not alphabetical order), I never got into the Expanded Universe before Disney decreed that it would no longer be considered canon.
All of this is to say that I came to The Force Awakens pretty starry-eyed and without too many preconceived notions. I was, of course, excited by the prospect of seeing a new Star Wars movie on the big screen and was completely swept up in the hype, but more than anything, I was just looking forward to a really good story. Luckily for me, J.J. Abrams and crew delivered a really GREAT movie!!
By now, you likely know that The Force Awakens has crushed just about every box office record that’s out there, that it has a similar story to A New Hope, and that a beloved character doesn’t make it out alive (I’m going to try to leave it at that and keep spoilers out of this). You will also likely know that some people – like me – absolutely adored the movie, while others thought it wasn’t original enough.
Personally, I think Abrams did exactly what he needed to do in terms of reinvigorating the saga and making it fun again while paying enough homages to the past that the people who were steeped in Star Wars lore could enjoy being in the know, yet keeping the movie accessible to those who weren’t. I also think that some of the criticisms about not knowing enough about the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke, etc. are a bit strange considering the fact that 1) we didn’t know much about the Empire, the Emperor, etc. at the end of A New Hope; and 2) there are at least two more movies currently in the works! Come on people, they’ve got to save something for the sequels!
Since the film came out a month ago, people more well-versed in the Star Wars galaxy than I am have written reviews breaking down all of the characters, great moments, and lingering questions that The Force Awakens introduced us to. And to be honest, I’m not really sure there is anything that unique that I can add, at least in terms of describing how absolutely amazing Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac were in their respective roles; how nice it was to see the original trio back together (ish), albeit a little older, wiser, grayer, and sadder; and how much more present the Force seemed to be, whether it was being discovered anew or in a battle between its light and dark sides for the soul of a new villain.
More, the thing that I will take with me from watching The Force Awakens on opening night is the feeling of being in that theater as the lights darkened and those familiar words – “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” – appeared on the screen. I will treasure the memory of hearing John Williams’ score in Dolby surround sound as I read the scrolling text with wide, expectant eyes. I will remember the joy that I felt at watching a story centered on a strong, independent female protagonist, who was supported by an increasingly diverse cast of characters. I will smile when I think of how the entire audience was just delighted to be there and how we clapped as the credits began to roll, something I haven’t seen a crowd do in years.
Indeed, I will always know where I was when the Force finally awoke.