I’m not sure that I would ever say that The Force Awakens is the best Star Wars film. I have my gripes with it – I know everybody does. This isn’t the place to recast all of those: it would be redundant, and I think films are meant to be enjoyed. I think Coop from Eleven Thirty-Eight put it well when he described the films as experiences rather than films. You don’t offer critiques of experiences, right? So, I would love to reflect, coming into Star Wars’s 40th year, on why The Force Awakens will always be “my” Star Wars.
Part of why I bring this up comes from my reflections on the 40th last week. As I was thinking about A New Hope, I realized that it wasn’t really “my” Star Wars. I loved Star Wars since the first time I saw it. I digested Legends novels like it was my job. I tuned into Clone Wars mini-episodes every time I saw it on TV. It was a part of me, really. But everything in me wanted to turn to the canon. So, in response to my own reflections on the 40th Anniversary, I wanted to write about why The Force Awakens may always be my favorite Star Wars.
I remember the announcement that Disney had bought Lucasfilm with the plan to make a new slate of movies. I was walking down Duff Ave, or basically the street with all of the bars near Iowa State’s campus. I didn’t believe it at first: I knew who SuperShadow was, so I heard these rumors swirl all of the time. I’m not even sure I remember where I read it; I guess the source would have been good to let me know what was going on. But anyway, I put my phone away and kept walking.
The texts kept pouring in. Half were excited about a new set of films, and the other half were mad that the previous canon was being “discarded” (their words, not mine). I think this is when it started to filter for me as something that was actually happening. I went home and just…sat for a while, honestly. It was a lot to take in. I remember leaving Revenge of the Sith for the third time, thinking it was the last time I was going to see Star Wars in theaters. (That feeling was revisited when I left the theatrical release of The Clone Wars in 2007, but that’s a different story.)
September 2014 rolled around, giving us one of our few canon sources for Star Wars material. Then Rebels aired, and it was good! Rise of the Old Masters absolutely proved that the show deserved my time and attention. I’m glad I stuck around, and I am glad I was able to watch most of the episodes on the app as my stepdad invested in a cable package with Disney XD. One of my favorite memories from my undergraduate career was watching the season one finale with my best friend, Ryan. Freaking out when Ahsoka appeared in the Ghost was one of the highlights of the show and my college career.
Right before my 22nd birthday, the Star Wars comic series launched. I remember waiting outside of the comic shop for it to open so I could grab a cover…and sixteen variants later, I felt like I was done. (I’m not: I have the Alex Ross cover which I adore, but there are a few I’m waiting to come down in price.) As February, March, April rolled around and the rest of the comics launched, my excitement was piquing.
As the first year of canon novels rolled out, I was intrigued, but I wasn’t sure where the canon was going in a different direction. I think this was, in part, because the first round of novels were written as (anachronistically) Legends novels. The shift really began with the Journey to the Force Awakens. The change in direction Aftermath took the post-Endor era in combined with the breadth and mastery of the Lost Stars narrative showed me that this was a bold new era.
As the excitement built, I think The Force Awakens became the climax of the entirety of the 2014-15 Star Wars material. Yes, we were half-way through some seasons, halfway through some comic stories, but the film dropped and changed everything.
I had a crappy day at work earlier that day. During the day, was literally screamed at in the middle of the store as my shift supervisor was mad that I didn’t understand something (a month into my new job, mind you). I didn’t think I was going to be able to get that out of my head. Reading Shattered Empire that afternoon was getting excited again. Living right next door to the movie theater, one which offered assigned seating, I knew I didn’t have to get there early because the seat would be saved when I arrived. I still wanted to get there as soon as possible.
Now, back up: I highly suggest going back and reading my 40th Anniversary reflection to understand what Star Wars has meant, and means, to me.
So, as the logo comes up, “A long time ago..” I was on the verge of tears; I didn’t think this moment was happening again. Nor did I believe that I was living in this moment. But then: the title! The theme music! I lost it. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I read “Luke Skywalker has vanished…” the great mystery of the trailers, finally solved! It was intentional! Han and Chewie on the Falcon? Tears. Han and Ben? Tears. Rey holding the saber: could not handle it! I was a mess for the entire movie.
As I sat, watching and digesting the film, the canon hadn’t done a ton to get us to these moments. Darth Vader focused on getting Vader to Bespin; Leia was focused on Alderaan; even the JtTFA novels were more focused on Return of the Jedi than The Force Awakens. But, in some special way, watching the film in theaters, made it feel like everything came together in the film.
As the music swirled (and the camera with it!), I wasn’t sure I wanted to move. I wanted to live into that moment for a while. It had happened: the new era of Star Wars had arrived. Sure, we had a bit more than a year to prepare, and we had the entire future ahead of us. But it all came to a climax, or even the real beginning, at The Force Awakens.
It may never be the best film. The Force Awakens has its problems (and, some day, I may have to come face to face with those and stop denying them. Who knows? It may be the best way to move forward in order to better anticipate future films). But that doesn’t stop the film from being “my” Star Wars.