Before the much-awaited Star Wars movie opened last weekend, friends told me they planned to watch all the earlier movies to get up to speed. I was skeptical. That’s a combined binge watch of roughly 14 hours including bathroom and popcorn-popping breaks. Frankly, most of my pals talk big but aren’t nearly Jedi enough to endure that much John Williams music, scampering Ewoks, or Jar Jar Binks’s “me-sa you-sa” proclamations.
On the other hand, thanks to my crazy brother, I already had an opening-day ticket for a marathon screening of the entire oeuvre, beginning at three in the morning with the prequels (episodes one through three), followed by a 10 a.m. brunch break and then into the original films (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), ending with the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
In fact, my bro, my son Zac, and I survived the 18-hour ordeal (the closest I’ll come to an Ironman competition) with a couple hundred like-minded viewers in an Oxnard mini-megaplex where popcorn, hot dogs, and sodas were discounted for our sustenance and pleasure. I’m back now, scruffier but wiser, and here to share the fruits of my wondrous excursion into that other galaxy far, far away — you know, the one just north of Camarillo.
The most important revelation? I’ll never see the prequels again. They really suck, even though beautiful moments occur. It took true stamina to watch Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker make yucky love to Natalie Portman’s Padmé Amidala. The audience, surprisingly ungeeky (few costumes or lightsabers), was strongly united in their uproarious laughter whenever Anakin said something mushy. The idea of a prequel that explained Darth Vader, from Jedi to villain, wasn’t bad, but George Lucas hiring himself to write grown-up dialogue — that was stupid. The other bizarre aspect is severed limbs: Lucas loves leaving hands and feet on the floor of movie sets. Pop Freudians in the house? I suggest emasculation anxieties at work. Put that together with the abundant lack of sex (or credible romance) in Lucasland, and it’s more obvious to me now why stodgy critic Stanley Kauffmann dismissed this space opera as a shrine to adolescence.
Except it isn’t. A lot of shock and awe happens, too, more so with the addition of the new J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan–penned film. Most of our theater reactions were awe-based, even though my posse is made of smart-alecky pop-culture lovers. We laughed and argued between films (Zac hated the prequels, too, but boldly defended the depth of the plotting). Yet I rarely whispered in any movie. And don’t assume I was sleeping. At the beginning, I thought, one movie down, six to go. (Full disclosure: I slept during the Tatooine pod races and Yoda instructing Luke.) But by the middle, I was genuinely sad only three movies remained.
When the last film ended, we disagreed over the problems and wonders of The Force Awakens and drove home in the same darkness we had 20 hours earlier, accompanied by a surreal sense that only a few hours had lapsed. Sleep improved memory, and the next day my brain brimmed with spectacle. My thoughts got crossed by Death Stars, lightsabers, and spaceships jumping to light speed. More to the point, I relived Star Wars worlds — we visited at least three in every film. Even dumb old Attack of the Clones with its laughably bad romance scenes offers the sea-covered world Kamino and the Maxfield Parrish lake region of Naboo. In 18 hours, I traversed an imagined galaxy from outer rim to inner core.
What remains? Not Joseph Campbell hero archetypes, not even severed hands. Wonders. I lost my adolescence years before the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, though my spouse might disagree. Yet I was readmitted for one full day to a time when the ability to duck into dreams was ready-made and travel to other worlds was easy. When episode eight gets released in two years, I might not do another marathon, but I’ll watch a bunch of Star Wars. Maybe even the prequels, enduring the yucky lovemaking scenes to get to Naboo when magic hour hits the lake.