Star War: The Force Awakens has taken in $1 billion in ticket sales, and I’m betting a large share comes from parents taking their kids to see the blockbuster. It’s more than mom and/or dad looking for ways to occupy the young’ns on a long holiday weekend. What was once a triennial or quadrennial ritual reserved for sci-fi and fantasy geeks has become a sharing-time moment, not too far from parents and kids watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown together every Halloween.
My two daughters and I took in the latest Star Wars epic on Christmas night, after spending the afternoon with their grandmother and waiving goodbye to their mother, who was off to California on family business. The offspring are both in college, but all their friends had obligations on Christmas night, so I jumped at the chance to share my passion for the Star Wars story. For as long as they were able to mimic Dad saying “Luke, I am your father,” I’d tell the story of waiting for two hours in 1977 to buy a ticket outside a Seattle theatre for the original Star Wars movie, then wait another two hours to see the picture, and finding myself completely captivated by it. I bought the books, listened over and over to the recording (on vinyl) of the John Williams score, and waited like a bridegroom for the second, third, and so on installments of the franchise.
My oldest took to the Star Wars story with nearly the same ardor as me, though she had her own pop culture fantasy to wrap herself into: the Harry Potter novels. The younger spawn wasn’t quite as interested, going with Dad and Sis more from curiosity, a free ticket, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), one of the great terrors of 18-year-olds. We sat together at the sold-out show, tortured by 35 minutes of TV commercials and trailers for comic-book movies before the iconic trumpet blast announcing our translation to the galaxy far, far way.
The movie itself earned 4.5 out of 5 stars in my book, mostly because it’s fun and funny. I tend to look at movies these days through a narrative lens, and the references to previous Star Wars pictures were sometimes tiresome and far too obvious. Did we really need to go to another seedy bar for an important plot point? But the script adds enough new material to make the story interesting for die-hard fans, and the performances by young actors Daisy Ridley as Rey, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, and John Boyega as Finn hold promise for the planned future episodes. Harrison Ford as the rakish, if a bit doddering Han Solo gets all the best lines and perhaps the best scene, as expected. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia was disappointing. Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker doesn’t appear until late in the picture, and his presence is limited, if impressive.
Exiting the theatre, it occurred to me that the central use of the original characters was more than a convenient way to tie the J.J. Abrams / Disney Star Wars era to George Lucas’ original dynasty. If any media company knows how to keep multiple generations hooked on its products, it’s Disney. Looking around the audience, I saw other grayhairs sharing a moment with younger people, presumably family members, and parents with youngish children. Instead of spending Christmas evening watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV, here were oldsters passing on a modern myth to a younger generation, much like the elderly Leia, Solo and Skywalker hand off the battle against The Dark Side to a new generation. I couldn’t help imagine my children taking their youngster to see Star Wars XV (or whatever), maybe with grandpa along for extra entertainment. The prospect is reason enough for people who saw the first encounter between Darth Vader and Luke to start the tradition now.