They say there are friends you can be close to, spend a lot of time with, then go years without seeing or having any contact with them, and when you're finally back together, it's as if no time passed at all; you just pick up where you left off. That's kind of how I feel with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
I didn't really get into Star Wars until middle school. My parents weren't big Star Wars fans and so it wasn't a tradition in our household to watch any of the movies. I was born in '80, so that gives you an idea of what movies came out when and whatnot. However, I did watch the Muppet Babies cartoon when it was on TV and it was full of Star Wars references and allusions. Heck, just out in regular pop culture you couldn't spit without hitting an allusion or reference. I remember at our county library in Cary, NC, seeing a poster of Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back espousing the virtues of reading. I didn't know who he was or what he really was all about, but I knew he was from Star Wars.
No, it wasn't until about 1992 or '93 when I finally fell in with the right crowd in middle school and subjects such as comic books, Star Trek (TNG), music, and of course Star Wars were oft-discussed topics of conversation. I fell in with the band geeks.
At some point it occurred to me that I didn't have much to contribute as I hadn't seen any of the films in their entirety. I have a vague memory of a family trip to Oklahoma, and one afternoon while all the relatives were at my grandparents' house, someone put The Empire Strikes Back on one of the TVs for the kids to watch. Heck, maybe it was one of the older cousins who did it. I do remember seeing the iconic scene of Luke's hand getting lopped off (slightly traumatizing) and then Vader revealing the true nature of their relationship to him. I didn't quite grasp the full weight of that because I hadn't seen the first film and I was already well-acquainted with the phrase, "Luke, I am your father." I knew it was supposed to mean something, but I didn't know what and so I felt like I was missing out on something significant.
And then back to middle school, after falling in with the band geeks, it just so happened that the Sci-Fi channel (as it was still called then) aired the whole trilogy over the course of a weekend - unedited and with limited commercial interruption.
I only succeeded in recording one and a half of the films on our VCR because familial demands of the TV overrode my desire to see the trilogy. Later, thanks to my percussion instructor and his voluminous VHS library, I was able to watch not only the whole Star Wars trilogy but the Indiana Jones one as well.
And so while I was able to finally watch all three movies, I was still...missing something; some deeper emotional resonance. I do remember marveling at the complexity of the space battle in ROTJ and how it had evolved since Empire. I also remember...huh...now that I'm actually taking time to reflect on it, I do remember a bit of resonance in the redemption of Vader. I didn't like seeing Luke manipulated into his rage but I was glad for his final act of restraint once he saw his father had been previously dismembered some time ago.
So yeah, there was a decidedly emotional response to Jedi which would have been absent without having seen the previous two on multiple occasions.
And then it came time for the theatrical re-releases of the original trilogy - the Special Editions. I remember, in high school, feeling mostly disappointed. On one hand, it was cool to see the films in a theater for the first time. On the other hand, Han shot second, Jabba looked dumb, extra stuff was extraneous...*sigh*... The most egregious error in judgment though, was at the end of Jedi where the Ewokese celebration song was taken away. Effects throughout the galaxy should have been visualized after the whole of the original scene if at all; personally, I think it shouldn't have been included.
And then...the prequels.
At the time, it all seemed so marvelous and wonderful: the story of how Vader became Vader. I remember taking my sister to a midnight showing opening night for her birthday. The excitement in the theater was palpable. Unfortunately, most folks reading this know that what was supposed to be a good story about Darth Vader was actually a listless story with a dearth of Vader. AKA - it sucked.
The only redeeming quality of the film was Darth Maul and he was killed off at the end of the movie. The following prequels were only less disappointing from the first but overall, resulted in the death of my enthusiasm for anything Star Wars.
The last time I was truly excited about anything related to the Star Wars saga was at the beginning of that first time watching The Phantom Menace. Everything after that was a descent into disillusionment as expectations bottomed out with the conclusion of Revenge of the Sith.
The only breath of fresh air at that time was the Clone Wars mini-series put on by Cartoon Network. That was some cool stuff.
And so fast forward to Thanksgiving 2014. Black Friday. The previous two years were full of talk of Disney buying Lucasfilm, J.J. Abrams joining on as director and a return of the three main characters and everyone getting all excited. But everyone had been all excited before; I wasn't having it. I wouldn't believe it until I saw it.
Black Friday 2014, I watched something I couldn't comprehend on the first go-round, so I hit replay on the YouTube player. I watched it again; and again; and again and again and what in the world was this odd feeling bubbling up in my gut? Holy crow - watching the first teaser for the new Star Wars movie, I was actually getting excited for Star Wars again!!
And not long after, the first preview with Han and Chewie aboard the Falcon! I had tears in my eyes during that first round of viewing. And just more and more stuff kept coming out about the film - I did successfully evade any spoilers - and I was just looking forward more and more to the release of The Force Awakens, I found myself getting nervous.
It's the kind of nervous you get when someone you haven't seen in a long time is finally back in your neck of the woods and you set up a time to see that special someone again. When you're finally reunited, how will it go? Well? Disastrously? Tepidly?
It's been 15-17 years since I've seen the original trilogy - and by that I mean the ORIGINAL trilogy. What would this experience be like?
Friday afternoon, Dec 18, my wife and I went to see it; wound up seeing it in 3D. It was like seeing that old friend again, but with...I dunno, bad gas or something. It was good, but not as good as it could have been and I blame that on the 3D. Thankfully, I had purchased tickets for a showing Friday and Saturday (today, 19DEC), and the second viewing was in an IMAX theater - no 3D, just a great movie the way movies are meant to be seen: 2D with people you care about, be it friends, family and/or fellow fans in the theater.
We picked up where we left off, 17 years ago, like no time had passed at all (except for the wrinkles and sore joints). It was good to see a new good Star Wars movie and I'm eagerly looking forward to Episode VIII.
Welcome back, Star Wars.