An Open Letter to Star Wars: A Spoiler-Free Reaction to The Force Awakens

 

Tee-70sHi, Star Wars. It’s been a long time since I’ve reached out to you like this, so I don’t know if you remember me or not. I was that pudgy nine-year old kid who met you back in 1977. The trailers (although back then I just called them “commercials”) scared me a bit because there was this terrifying guy in a black mask that looked like a nasty piece of work, so I wasn’t sure if you and I would get along. My older brother told me I had to see you, so I did.

I went back to the theatres another 39 times in the year you were in Richmond. I saw you at Cloverleaf Mall. I saw you at Chesterfield Mall. I saw you at the Ridge Cinemas. I saw you at the Capitol Theatre. The best time, though, was at the Bellwood Drive-In. At the drive-in, I made a great audio recording of the movie (so I could play it in the background while playing with the toys) and I saw previews for this thing called a “sequel,” The Empire Strikes Back. I have memories of my mom dropping me off at an afternoon matinée and Christmas shopping while I sat through two showings back-to-back. I collected the original figures, all twelve of them. (The Jawa was the toughest find.) I sent in the proof-of-purchase seals to Kenner for my free Boba Fett. I got the toys all the way up to Return of the Jedi. (Too many toys to try and collect.) I remember getting you on VHS and watching you over and over. I knew the dialog. I read every issue of Bantha Tracks. And I remember in May 25, 1983 when my dad (completely out-of-the-blue) took me out of school and bought us tickets for your first showing of Return of the Jedi.  Some of my best years were spent with you in a galaxy far, far away.

If you remember me now, you’re probably surprised by this letter. I’m writing to say “I’ve missed you.” Last night reminded me of that. And what we’ve been through.

SW-SpecEdIf you want to know when I noticed changes between us, it was at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore. 1997. Your 20th anniversary. I remember getting together with a group of friends from the Renaissance Festival to see this restored version of yourself. Missing footage added in. New special effects. Look, I didn’t think you really needed any work done. You still looked great to me, but your creator and guardian—George Lucas—was telling everybody how excited he was about your new look. So was I. The changes in your first few scenes were really subtle, and I liked what I saw. I was hoping for a lost scene between Biggs and Luke at the beginning of the film, but that apparently wasn’t up to par. Still, what was added I liked.

Then we got to the scene between Han Solo and Greedo.

Han says “Yeah I bet you have.” Then Greedo shoots. Point blank. (And it sounded like a marshmallow gun.) Misses…at point blank. Then Han shoots. I still remember the reaction—a nervous murmur rippling through the theatre, all of us trying to understand what just happened because that wasn’t the way it happened back in 1977.

George Lucas wasn’t improving you. He was changing you.

People were raving about the “new-and-improved” you, but the whole Han-Greedo thing bothered me. You assured me, though, that this was just a phase, that George was wanting to make you better (when there really wasn’t anything wrong with you at all to begin with) for future generations; but with each new DVD release, Han and Greedo got worse. At one point, Han was dodging blaster fire. I wanted to know why this was happening, and you responded with nonsense about how Han wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. Thing is, I was writing by this time; and I understood things about character arcs and hero’s journeys so this idiotic change made no sense to me. Still, I supported you and stood by you, especially when you offered in stores an “unaltered” edition on DVD. That was a real gift for me, and I appreciated you for that.

I wonder if you knew just how sought after your unaltered DVD would become? Mine “disappeared” from my DVD collection after I hosted a Christmas party. Just something to think about.

All these Special Editions and Unaltered DVDs, I understood, were your efforts to keep you in our hearts and minds as new films were coming. May, 1999. You were taking us back to the beginning. I remember showing up early at my day job to take advantage of the Internet connection there. Two hours later, the trailer for Episode I: The Phantom Menace arrived, and on my lunch hour I watched (several times) what you were bringing to the world. In that moment I realized how long it had been since we’d shared anything new, and I was so excited. So were a lot of other people. Servers crashed because of you, which made perfect sense. You were you, after all, regardless of that hiccup with Han and Greedo.

And best of all, your creator and guardian was at the helm.  What could possibly go wrong?

houseofcards-look

When I saw The Phantom Menace the first time, I was a little confused. You were sending me mixed messages. About the Force. About the Jedi. About Rastafarian life forms. About a lot of things. Then I thought that maybe it was me. I was expecting too much from you. You looked pretty, that was evident. There were also some really good actors on the screen; so maybe we needed to go out on another date. You know, after the hype died down?

You were even more contradictory the second time around.

Ray-ParkA lot of people came to your defense. I remember a lot of people telling me you just setting the scene. The next movie will be even better. “And what about that Pod Racer scene?” To your credit, the Pod Racer scene was very cool; and yes, Darth Maul’s lightsaber duel was amazing. (Ray Park. Talented fighter.) Those were two scenes in a movie that was over two hours long.

And what was with the midichlorians? And Annakin Skywalker as the Immaculate Conception?

But you assured me questions would be answered in Attack of the Clones, so I asked off for the day and went to your first showing on opening day.

Throughout the entire movie, you pushed me further and further away.

Was it something I had said? Something I had done? I didn’t understand what was happening. You and I were a team through my formative years, together forever and always, empowering me in many respects; and yet here I was, watching a computer-animated Yoda audition for Cirque du Soleil while talented actors like Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, and Natalie Portman perform against green screens the kind of acting found only in Tommy Wiseau films. What. The. Fuck?!

But you had your supporters all tell me—again and again—how great you were, how awesome it was to see Yoda unleash his Jedi skills on Christopher Lee…

That was one scene in a movie over two hours long.

Anakin-Obi-Wan-SW-ep-IIIAnd yet I came back for more with Revenge of the Sith. My best friend, Orion, bought the ticket. Again, opening day, first showing. I was apprehensive, but I trusted you. I trusted you were going to make amends for these two terrible films. I had faith in you, and you broke my heart that day. You were a complete stranger to me.

I honestly thought it was me, at first. Maybe I’d outgrown you. I was really worried that I’d changed somehow, but then Orion—at the moment of the end credits rolling—stood up and said “Well, I’m ready to go.”

Maybe I wasn’t so alone after all.

You might think saying goodbye was easy for me but it wasn’t. You gave me a lot of strength when I needed it. You had me thinking creatively which eventually led to me writing. My first love happened because of you. So parting ways was difficult, especially when I would go to conventions and see the cosplayers, all of the X-wing pilots, Slave Leias, stormtroopers, and Darth Vaders serving as harsh reminders of what we once were. You and your guardian, though, were justified in your decisions. You all decided that this was canon, and damned what you both accomplished back in 1977. The box office proved me wrong.

Yes, these prequels of yours made money hand-over-fist and no doubt, this movie would do the same, but I didn’t recognize you anymore.

I only wanted the best for you, and I guess things just weren’t meant to be forever with us.

When I heard you were coming back into town and keeping company with that guy who was responsible for Star Trek: Into Darkness, I honestly dreaded the release date. This would mean from the time of the first trailer to opening night, I would hear fan theories, mindless jubilation, and optimistic anticipation for this film because fans sometimes forget the past. And you still had fans that were plenty forgiving when it came to you. Even with the return of original cast members and the induction of new, diverse characters (John Boyega piqued my interest as I loved him in Attack the Block.), I had worked really hard to get over you and I really didn’t think I could handle the disappointment again. I know there were those telling me J.J. Abrams really wanted to direct you and not your BFF (or playground rival, depending on who you talk to), but that was cold comfort. After Into Darkness, I trusted Abrams as much as I trusted Lucas.

Then I saw this…

I saw hints of you in there. The Star Wars I knew. That wide-eyed wonder. That breathless feeling of happiness and glee. And no actor could fake that kind of excitement. No one is that talented.

I got excited.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterWhich brings us to last night. After what felt like hours of trailers (nope, still worried about Jessie Eisenberg; but Gal Gadot, you have my attention…)  came “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” followed soon after by your name. Then came the crawl, and once again, I found myself putting my faith in you.

At the roll of the end credits, I became aware of the fact that I was holding my breath. I don’t know for how long, but I exhaled and that was when I started to cry. This was the second time this year that I felt this way, the other time ironically on account of a Disney movie. You had come back. After all these years, you reached out to me and said “Hey, Tee, remember me?” You weren’t perfect (as I have a lot of questions), but what you did last night was nothing sort of astounding. You didn’t just restore my faith in you and the Force; but you gave to my daughter the same wonder I felt around that same age. For that, Star Wars, I cannot thank you enough.

If you were to ask me what was it that made me feel this way about you again, I don’t think I can pinpoint. The new characters, Finn (Boyega, no surprise there) and Po Dameron in particular, exuded a real charm that I found irresistible. The dialogue never felt stilted or forced. I also felt like not only did the cast want to be there, they were all pulling together (both human, stormtrooper, and alien alike) to make the best damn Star Wars movie they could. Even John Williams’ soundtrack took a step back from the bloated themes and choir backups, and returned to something heartfelt and, at times, subtle. There was a spark in The Force Awakens that went notably absent in the prequels; and when all was said and done, I was elated, heartbroken, curious, and deliriously happy. You not only managed to be the Star Wars I remembered, but you reinvented yourself for a new audience. You were moving forward, and I was so happy to see you again.

behind-TFA

After the movie, I said again and again just how good I thought you were. To me. To my wife. And to our daughter. Both Pip and I said The Force Awakens was what we had wanted back in 1999. Last night reminded me, too, how long it had been since I had felt this good about you. 1983. That’s a long time, but yes, you really were worth the wait.  I’m being warned by a few fans that there is more to come and there are no guarantees. Could you break my heart again? Sure. Right now, though, I’m okay with things as they are. You surprised me last night, and I hope we can make amends for these decades of silence.

I’d really like to see you again. What are you doing Sunday afternoon?

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