(I mention Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it is only a mention. There are no spoilers here. I have an analysis brewing for The Force Awakens, but I will wait after all the reviews and the theatre madness abates. Such a great film, that it deserves that critical treatment.)
My parents took me to see Superman at Toronto’s Uptown Theatre on opening night. Back then, kids were allowed to sit on the theatre stage while parents would watch their kids and the film from their seats. I’d sit there with a big tub of popcorn and maybe go back to sit on my mom’s lap or grab more treats.
When you’re a kid, film isn’t an escape, it’s the real thing. It’s something that’s happening to you or at you. The spectacle is palpable and emotional scenes can be overwhelming. I was so excited about Superman that my parents took me again a couple times. They’d often prevent me from jumping off the bed or the dresser drawers because that I was not in fact going to fly. “It’s a movie, mi hija, a movie,” my mom would say.
Then Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back came out a couple of years later and my parents took me to see it in the theatre as well. It was like being in a rollercoaster of cool. The idea of The Force connected my love for supermen like Superman and Conan The Barbarian with the faith I grew up in. Kids in my school playground would try to use The Force on each other and teachers would take away stick lightsabers because we could poke out an eye with those things. The huge impact that Star Wars made on everyone connected everyone though. The merchandise made for the films just accentuated the fandom phenomena. A slew of cheesy copycat films came out as well (The Black Hole – which I love). Production companies were betting on the million dollar Star Wars ticket sales.
I kind of lost touch with Star Wars in my quest for more things like Superman. When the reboots for Superman (beyond the sequels, which no matter how tacky they became, were still gold for me) started happening (including shows), I’d watch and be disappointed. I watched the new Star Wars prequel trilogy because I wanted to revisit the characters and the history connected to the originals. My son got particularly into them so I had him watch the first set of films. He fell in love. In fact, he made his squirmy sister sit down to watch them too.
It brought a tear to my eye. I cry at everything though.
I think that feeling is captured best by Robert J. Wiersema in his piece, “You Will Believe.” In it, he talks about watching the last bit of the Superman-based show, Smallville, with his son.
“It started with the music, just a tease, enough to make me sit up and say, out loud, “No…” But yes, it was. The John Williams overture from Superman The Movie, as iconic a bit of music as the main Star Wars or Indiana Jones themes.
And then Clark was running in slow motion toward the camera, the shirt was pulled open, a zoom on the iconic red S on the blue background, a freeze-frame…
And I was in tears4.
Xander looked at me like I was insane, the perfect 11-year-old unspoken “Dad, it’s Smallville. WTF?”
But it wasn’t Smallville.
It was, in many ways, everything.
I was eight years old again.”
That’s happened to me a few times now. I am a big fan of the original Transformers cartoons. So when I took my son to see Transformers and this big blue and red truck came on the screen, I turned to look at him and he was already looking at me with a ridiculous smile. We had both turned into children watching Optimus Prime come to life.
Last night I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens with my son. At fourteen years old, he’s not so little anymore. He’s an existential thinker with a cynical bent and thinks he knows everything because he has the internet. As a child he was prone to temper tantrums. I wasn’t a great mother at the beginning at all, because I just didn’t know how to deal with his temperament while dealing with postpartum depression. We both were rage fuelled for a while until we both grew out of it. I eventually learned how to understand and connect with my son. He’s an amazing person and no matter what he does, he makes me incredibly proud to be his mother.
We were sitting in the theatre last night and just a couple of scenes in and we were both kids again. Together in a pocket in time, I had this moment where we were both translating the world through the eyes of our childhood fantastical realities. We’re both on common ground with memories of the films, the toys, the emotions that unfurl around every explosion, and connected to each character. We both recognized and understood the homages and cameos. My son impressed me with his comments on cinematic techniques used in the film. It means he listens to me when I jabber on about movies; that and he’s a really smart kid.
We grow older and we might lose or give away our childhood belongings. We grow older and we might play with those childhood toys again, but it’s not the same. However, you go see a movie that you love and you are there again. You are there in that theatre sitting on your mom’s lap, telling her you want to fly like Superman. You want to learn how to use The Force and where can I get a lightsaber? What adult doesn’t want an actual lightsaber? Heck, lightsaber is even recognized by autocorrect.
Blockbuster fandom films are time travelling devices and when filmmakers try to honour where that mythology or fandom came from, there is great power there. Directors should be free to experiment, which is why George Lucas, himself was so great with THX-1138 (one of my top fave films of all time), and American Graffiti. He had an avant-garde background, that created those films. It’s almost like he said, “I know how to make movies, now I want to create new constraints for other people to make spectacular films.” Thus, Star Wars was born.
Say what you will that Star Wars isn’t hard science fiction or that it isn’t science fiction at all. It’s fantasy. None of that matters when you come out of a theatre being provoked in thought, inspired to do something, or simply come out of a film wanting to watch more movies.
Nostalgia buffs like me have a great love for anything that can take you back to the time when life was play. The truth is, film is a never ending reminder that life is play.
This is all to say that if you loved Star Wars as a kid, prepare to become a little kid again with The Force Awakens. The feeling lasts long after you’ve left the theatre.