Last Thursday night, a man dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi strode confidently through the lobby of Coralville’s Coral Ridge Cinema. Greeted by shouts of “Cool costume!” and “Hey, it’s Obi-Wan!,” he smiled at the strangers, posed for a few quick photos, and then quickly joined a group of friends in line, waiting to be seated for one of the night’s many showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Full disclosure: this particular Obi-Wan was actually my boyfriend, who had been slaving away sewing his costume for weeks in anticipation of wearing it to the opening night showing).
The seventh installment of the classic science fiction series debuted last Friday, Dec. 18, a full decade after the prequel trilogy came to an end with Revenge of the Sith, and Darth Vader’s infamous, tortured “Noooooo!!!” Many people came to the franchise’s newest effort with trepidation, remembering what had been, for many, severe disappointment. Hardcore science fiction fans were doubly concerned, given director J.J. Abrams’ turn at the helm of the Star Trek reboot films — movies which have left many fans cold.
For some, though, going to see The Force Awakens this past weekend was more about the experience of seeing a Star Wars film in the theaters again, than about hope or fear about the newest offering’s quality. For several fans, it is wholly about that moment after that iconic phrase, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” fades from the screen, when they are hit by John Williams’ equally iconic score. For others, it’s the excitement of the special effects during the epic space battles. For still others, it’s about the characters and their snappy one-liners.
However, the heart of Star Wars, both on-screen and in the theater seats, lies in family. While adults dominated the late Thursday night screenings, they ranged in age from college students in their early 20s to adults in their 50s or 60s. The rest of the weekend was heavy with families: parents, grandparents, little girls dressed up as the pilot Rey, little boys dressed up as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. While The Force Awakens is arguably more violent than past Star Wars films, there is no denying that this was a movie that families could, and did, eagerly watch together. It’s clearly long past time to put to bed stereotypes about socially awkward Star Wars fanboys arguing over lightsaber power sources, especially considering the multi-generational, cross-gender demographics standing in line throughout opening weekend. In addition, the focus on a strong, believable female protagonist in the form of Rey, and two male protagonists of color, Finn and Poe Dameron, signals clearly that these films are meant to be for everybody. And, at least in Coralville and Iowa City, everybody turned out to see it.
The Force Awakens continues the previous films’ focus on family, following the next generation of heroes, and their ongoing relationship with the Rebellion, the Jedi and the Sith (and the ever-present question of why the Stormtroopers are such bad shots). It does this by coupling the heart and humor of the original trilogy with fantastic special effects that were still in their infancy when the prequel trilogy was made. The results are fun, engaging and eminently watchable. My boyfriend in the Obi-Wan Kenobi costume can’t wait to go see it again. Neither can I.