A New Hope

It was 95 degrees.  We had been on a week-long, senior week-fueled binge of debauchery, and were pulling into the parking lot of a movie theater in Myrtle Beach.

This was May 1999.

The two hours and 16 minutes that followed were a sheer and utter disappointment.  As an angry Miguel Gonzalez would say, “Terrible.  Horrible.  Aye-aye-aye.”

At least I still had senior week to fall back on.  The beach.  The Boardwalk on the Beach.  Seeing The Roots at the House of Blues.

But waiting 16 years for such a dud of a movie leaves a lasting impression.

And so, being skeptical about the release of the newest movie in the Star Wars saga is understandable…if not mandated.  For the love of God, the franchise has since sold out to, I mean, been bought by, Disney.

Some guy who made the tv show Lost and remade the Star Trek movies is now the director.  This is going to be an absolute disaster, I thought.

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Over the past 6-12 months, for no other reason than I couldn’t stand another Barbie or princess movie, I was somehow able to get my girls to not only watch all six Star Wars movies, but to really, really get into them. (And I know I’ve mentioned it before, but for all you parents out there who are sick of the sissy princess thing….what better role model to introduce them to than the baddest princess of all time…Leia. AND, she is technically a “Disney” princess now…so that’s a selling point to the little divas as well.)

The point here is that I didn’t force them into liking this (pun intended), I simply put the movies on and they gravitated toward them.

And now, every time our Christmas tree is turned on, a menacing Darth Vader ornament from Empire Strikes Back threatens Luke.  Nothing embodies the holiday season like a good old fashioned light saber fight.

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Leading up to the release of the new movie on Friday, I’ve been asking just about everyone if they were going to go see it. Or if they were going to take their kids to see it.

And something weird is happening.

No one is fired up about it.  They are/were:

1. So sick of the ubiquitous commercials, or
2. Have kids that were born in the weird windows of time when Star Wars wasn’t permeating pop culture, or
3. Themselves born in the periods of time after the original three, but far enough in advance of the next three that they didn’t care about them (e.g. teenage years)
3. Thought the three “new” movies sucked so bad that they’re permanently scarred (I myself am part of this camp).

And so, I loathed hearing about how Disney’s machine of movie-making had planned for a whopping three new movies to be launched.  And how they hired sci-fi wiz J.J. Abrams to direct the first one.

I wanted no part of it.

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Then I started to see previews.  And I heard about how they were doing away with a lot of the computer animated crap in favor of models and actual sets.

And last night, I saw J.J. Abrams do a TED talk about the power of mystery and surprise.  He talks about how he used that power to energize the tension in Lost  (while I never saw the show, it was obviously wildly popular); and how Steven Speilberg used that power in Jaws.  Or how Ridley Scott used it in Alien.

Essentially, what the audience doesn’t see is just as important–maybe even more s0–than what they do.  And if that philosophy manifests itself in Abrams NOT overengineering the special effects and computer animated graphics….then I’m all for it.

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Am I geeking out this week about Star Wars?  I’m sure my better half has a strong opinion about that…as she fell asleep last night to the ultimate The Force Awakens trailer.

I would have never predicted that I would get excited at all…given the emotional hangover that a lot of fans suffered in the wake of the May 1999 disaster.

But 16 years have passed since then.  I’ve got two daughters that are almost as fired up as I am.  Darth Vader threatens Luke every time we turn on our Christmas tree.  The very first words I uttered to my first-born as she lay in the human equivalent of a French fry warmer (about 2 minutes after being born) were, “Katie, I am your father,” (in a menacingly appropriate Darth Vader tone).

That’s the real reason.  It’s not me getting excited just for the hell of it.  It’s not me getting fired up because I am some loser who wears Storm Trooper costumes to kids’ 5th birthday parties.

storm trooper

It’s because Star Wars has provided an intergenerational outlet over which I can bond with my kids.  Sure, you can bond over things that they like, or that you like….I gladly force my love of the Orioles and Ravens on them all of the time.

But this is something that they genuinely enjoy sharing with me.

In J.J. Abrams’ TED speech, he talks about how popular movies are not what you think they’re about.  E.T.  Is it about a kid’s relationship with an alien?  Yes.  But it’s also about a family struggling with divorce.  Die Hard. Is it about terrorists taking over Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles?  Yes.  But it’s also about a cop trying to reconnect with his estranged wife.

And he highlights a scene from Jaws.  When you think of Jaws, you think of shark attacks.  But underpinning that facade is a police chief struggling to make his way in a new town with his family.  At one of his darkest moments — full of self doubt — he puts his hands over his face after dinner…and looks over to see this.  (Go to the 10:50 mark.)

jaws_brodyson.jpg

His son is there with him at the table, immitating his every movement.  At a time when he thinks he’s a waste, or a failure — he’s reminded that he’s always a hero to his kids.

So, at some point this Christmas season, I’ll be firmly planted in a movie theater seat next to my two girls.

For those of you who think the new movie is still going to stink, I find your lack of faith disturbing.

 

 

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