This is not the review you are looking for. I'll spend some time talking about The Force Awakens itself further down, but it's almost pointless since Star Wars is now and will always be a critic-proof franchise. It doesn't really matter what any critic says about the newest film in the decades-spanning series, either you're extremely excited to see it, or you have no interest whatsoever. Either way, I want to talk about something else: The experience of actually going to a movie.
Star Wars fandom is thick with hyperbole and volume, but this year's premiere was different than the average premiere. I was too young to catch A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi in theaters, but I went to the midnight premieres of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, and the special edition re-releases of the original trilogy.
The midnight shows were a special place for the die-hard fans. Everyone would get dressed up, wait in a massive line (or sometimes even camp out overnight) just to make sure they had the perfect seats, and people would hoot and holler just for the Lucasfilm logo when it popped up. Painted faces, Darth Vaders, plenty of Yodas... it was a communal experience that made you feel like you were a part of something larger. But then over the last few years, some things changed the state of midnight shows forever.
First was the killing of 12 people in a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Ever since then, security has tightened up and purses and bags are subject to searches. At last Friday's screening of Star Wars, one woman had her face painted like Yoda and was brusquely told she had to wash her face off before being allowed in the auditorium and her brother was asked to remove his Darth Vader helmet. I can understand not allowing someone in a full facemask into a movie, but a painted face?
The second thing that changed was midnight screenings became a moot point. Back in the day, the 11:59 pm or 12:00 am screenings were always sold out with ecstatic fans because that was the only time it was shown a day early. Now the rules about Thursday screenings have changed and come as early as 7 pm for movies opening on Friday. Now that we don't have to be out that late to be the first to see a film, most of us choose not to be.
Even with all of that, I was still excited for the midnight screening of The Force Awakens, even though it was hard for me to get out of bed with my girlfriend to drive my old, lazy self down to the theater at 11 pm. I was cautiously optimistic, but I'd also been burned by the prequels too recently. While there were still quite a few people milling about, they were mostly getting out of the earlier showings. We saw one Princess Leia and that was about it when it came to costumes.
We were seated in one of the smaller rooms, which was perfect since a more intimate viewing audience might enhance such a late night screening. By the time the movie started, the auditorium was probably half full, which was strange for someone who has never been to a midnight screening that wasn't sold out.
After 20 minutes of trailers ended, it was time to see Star Wars. The movie was supposed to be in 3D, but 30 seconds into the movie everyone realized the film was in standard 2D. This would have been fine, but the extra bucks it costs for 3D adds up if you're buying a few tickets. Multiple people ran out to tell employees what was wrong, and about 20 minutes into the film someone came in and told us that they realized there was a problem. They would have to rewind the film to the beginning, set it in the proper format and then they would fast-forward to where we left off.
Longer story marginally shorter, they fast-forwarded about 20 minutes too far and spoiled a huge reveal for the entire audience, and then still didn't rewind far enough and spoiled another huge scene before finally landing about five minutes before we initially left off.
The film itself is a blast. The Force Awakens isn't perfect, but it does exactly what it needed to: It was better than the prequels and also felt like a damn Star Wars movie. There are real sets and snappy dialogue and truly transportative moments that reminded me of why I dedicate so much of my life to writing about film. This type of escapism can help get us through the day, sure, or at least make a bad day better, but it's more than that. These movies and midnight screenings in general—whether it be Star Wars, Rocky Horror, or Lord of the Rings—connect us with our tribe and remind us that we're not alone in the world of having that one fictional thing that we connect with above all else.
It was 3 am when the film got out. Movies are basically shown off of a desktop computer now, so the art of projection is becoming lost. Cinemas like The Hollywood in Portland or Cinefamily in L.A. or The Drafthouse in Austin, they understand that film is sacred to some people, whether they know it or not. They take pride in the prints of their films, digital or otherwise, and want the experience to retain some magic, even after they get your $20. But maybe expecting that sort of personal touch is unrealistic. Maybe it's something we could only expect from cinematic experience a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens
Dir. JJ Abrams
Now Playing at Old Mill Stadium 16