Monday, January 04, 2016
Just shy of 40 years later, I got the same chills I had the first time I saw the movie, Star Wars.
Back then, Pauly had called to tell me about it, and how he, Hank and Garrick were going even though lines wound around the block of every theater showing it.
“This is something special,” he kept telling me, first on the phone and later when I drove over to theater in Hawthorne where he said the lines were less maniac.
None of our crew had seen the film yet, so we stood outside the theater puzzled at the mania of the people around us, people who seemed almost entranced by this need to share this experience.
Once inside, we sat in one of the back rows, because all the rows upfront were filled, and waited, and when everything started, we were entranced, too, caught up in a movement that we did not expect.
A decade after the Summer of Love, movements seemed to be in short supply, and our faith in the concept of change diminished. We did not have confidence in the No Nukes movement, even though Three Mile Island scared us. And with the war over in the Far East, we had little to protest against except the perpetually spiking oil prices that made it less and less affordable to drive to and from work or anywhere else.
I drove a silver Pinto then, constantly in fear that I would get rear-ended and blow up.
No moment in time stood out as much as this brief time in that theater, except perhaps the night we all individually sat in front of our TVs back in 1964 and saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. As with most events of this kind, we knew even then we would remember where we were and who we were with when we saw this film for the first time, even though over the years, we would come back to it again and again, seeking to the same thrill, but knowing the first time would also be the best time, and we could not recapture that magic.
This weekend the magic came back.
Only it was different this time – even though it was just as difficult getting into a theater to see the new Star Wars movie.
A private affair – like finding an old love after many years, rekindling some special feeling, knowing that this was a reprise to a previous love, and marked the end of an era, and because of this sense of closure, felt as special as the first love, even though it did not have the same sense of newness the first experience did.
Unlike the first time, I held back from seeing this film. I did not jump in and buy ahead of time. Age as made me shy of crowds. But also I had my doubts. Despite the positive reviews, I was still stinging from three bad movies that bore the Star Wars name. Lucas’ selling the franchise to Disney did not make me think things would improve. I also expected a maudlin tribute to the past filled with old sentimental scenes that I would have to endure through to get to the action.
The moments were there, but they were not maudlin, carrying with them instead an emotional impact we all waited for for years, a desperate need for us to rekindle old relationships with people who have hovered in the back of our heads like spirits since the last of the original films were released in the early 1980s.
This was always the flaw of Lucas, miscasting the later films and misreading the fact that the films were less about his mythology and more about the people who lived through the experience, actors whose faces had become as close to many of us as our own families.
These moments stirred up a passion that Lucas could not, bringing back for a final curtain many of these people for use to see before we, the original audience, make our way off this mortal coil.
Not all of these moments were happy, although Hans Solo was exactly who he always was, as were the others of the original cast of characters. In some ways, this is a sad film, a closing of a door on the past that we needed, but also feel regret about. And yet, the film allows us to do what we most wanted, see our friends again one last time. Some of these will make their way into future Star Wars films, but several won’t, and this film in some ways has similar shocking conclusions some felt way back in early Disney films like Bambi.
When I finally made up my mine to see the film, most of the shows were still sold out. I stopped off in Bayonne just minutes after one show started and another wasn’t set to start for several hours. When I went to Secaucus on Saturday, they only seats they had were in the first row – and while a close friend of mine from the original movie made a point of dropping acid to sit in the front row for the famous trench scene, this was a little too close for me since my eyesight was not what it once was, and yet good enough to make out each pixel – not how I wanted to experience the film for the first time. So we changed for tickets on Sunday.
From the first moment to last, I was transfixed.
Perhaps this film means more to people like me who have the prior experience to go by, so that even with the new cast, the film seemed to stir up emotions I’d not felt in years, and when the old cast arrived, I was stunned.
This was a film that covered all the bases, touched upon every aspect of the previous films, including tributes to the bad three Lucas gave us inbetween this and the films of the magic years, tributes that did not linger, but gently danced on for us to catch or not catch on the first viewing, each scene just long enough for us to get the message before moving on.
Since Hans Solo was always my hero, his arrival thrilled me. And as I said, this was a film in which I get to meet and bid farewell to that old friend.
By the time, the concluding credits came only one word came to mind: perfect.
This was a perfect ending and a perfect new beginning. I could not have asked for anything more.