Star Wars: The Force Awakens

JJ Abrams un-raped my childhood.

Spoiler free alert: What follows are the thoughts of a middle-aged man reflecting life, film, and family more than they are thoughts on the new installment of the Star Wars franchise.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie.  It’s a very good movie.  JJ Abrams successfully delivered a sprawling universe, one that gives you the sense there are hundreds of stories woven throughout it, and you are watching just one of them.  Those other stories weave in and out of the one you are watching, which provides a real sense of scale and the unknown.  It’s been a long time since a movie left me feeling that literally anything could be lurking around the next corner, like anything could happen next, and this one delivers both in spades.

And yet…

Over the years my love for the franchise dimmed even as my appreciation of sci-fi deepened.  Which led to an odd feeling while watching Star Wars wherein I found myself more enthralled with the idea of an epic space-opera adventure.  Even more excited by that than by the experience of revisiting the characters and stories that played a central role in my childhood immersion in pop culture.

There was a time in my life when my spirit hungered for drama and excitement.  The younger version of me spent countless dollars chasing the ups and downs provided by the modern entertainment industry. He was as loud and obnoxious a sports fan as any other college guy.  He eagerly anticipated the next big blockbuster. He spent thousands of hours bent over innumerable tables thrilled by the results of ten thousand literal rolls of the dice.

And then he had a family.

The shadows on screen and echoes in the hall still pull on the same emotional strings, but their power has weakened as the ups and downs inherent in family life have taken center stage.  Listening to the silence of a room that should have been filled with the cries of your new born daughter.  Watching your son take a bone-jarring hit even as his stick fires off a last minute, game winning goal.  That brief moment after your daughter plugs her guitar into her amp, but before she shreds out that first technical riff – hoping against hope the audience hears it the way you hear it.  Opening the envelop containing the results of your wife’s medical tests – because she can’t bear to do it herself.  The thrill of starting a second career – the one you have dreamed of for decades.  Not even JJ Abrams’ camera tricks and daddy-issue drama can compete with the roller coaster feeling of those everyday moments of personal drama.

All too soon my kids will move on, and I will be left rattling around an empty house, rediscovering my wife and previous passions.  When that happens no doubt my beloved Sooners, and their regular late November discussion in the playoff discussion, will once again dominate my fall Saturdays. Meaningful everyday drama will re-enter my life by way of a table littered with dice and rulebooks and paper and wargame figures.  Someday blockbusters will resonate in my chest they way they did for most everyone in the audience that watched Star Wars with me last night.

None of this is said to take anything away from Star Wars 7.  It was amazing. It touched my three sizes too small heart, and allowed me to forget my grown-up cynicism for a few hours.  I will always be grateful to JJ Abrams for his ability to revitalize the greatest space opera franchise in cinema history, and thereby guarantee another decade of excuses to make memories with something truly worth getting excited about – my family.

In the end, Star Wars 7 could have been any one of a dozen movies, it could have been as poorly realized as the prequels, or as irritating as the remastered original trilogy, and that would have been fine. It wouldn’t have dimmed my enjoyment of the evening one jot. At the end of the day, the experience of the movie meant more to me than the movie itself.  Heading out late on opening night with my teenage son, sharing his excitement, talking too fast about our thoughts and theories while speeding down a dark highway way past our bedtime?  The fun of watching a new adventure with Han, Leia, and Luke, plays second fiddle to making new adventures with the members of my own personal Rebellion.

All that said, JJ Abrams plays one hell of a mean second fiddle.

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