Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Long Time Ago, In a State Far, Far Away

Tonight, my life came full circle...I saw Episode Three of "Star Wars" at the movie theater in downtown Celebration, completing the six-movie saga that defined not only my own generation, but also those that followed. How many other things incite passion throughout the entire age spectrum, from tail-end Baby Boomers all the way through Generation X and right down into Y?

Was it really nearly 30 years ago that I saw the original "Star Wars," now dubbed "Episode Four: A New Hope," at the Ford City Mall theater in Chicago? At the time, I wasn't even a teenager yet. At 12 years old, I was a mere "baby" who had yet to visit Florida; that wouldn't happen for another decade or so. I had no idea that on some distant day, my 40-year-old self would see the last movie in the series at a theater 1200 miles to the south. Of course, at that time, no one (probably not even George Lucas) knew that there would be any sequels/prequels, let alone five of them.

Actually, I wasn't even planning to see "Revenge of the Sith" until it came on cable. I was a major fan of the first three movies, particularly "Return of the Jedi." I lost count of the number of times that I saw "Jedi" on the big screen. I had a good friend who was a fellow "Star Wars" fanatic, and she and I spent almost every weekend that summer parked in the front row of the local theater. We'd leave with whanging headaches from the up-close viewing, but it was worth it for the landspeeder scene.

But then, "The Phantom Menace" came along and disgruntled me to a degree that I didn't think was possible. It wasn't only Jar Jar Binks, although he was enough on his own to make me realize that George Lucas had gone completely senile. But the whole fatherless birth of Anakin and the midochlorians being responsible for the Force went a bit too far. If the Force is organic, just how the heck do the Jedi communicate with their dead comrades? Wouldn't a dead person be fresh out of blood once they become a spiritual essence? And having Anakin build C3PO seemed like a forced attempt to tie the movies together.

Due to my disenchantment, I never saw "Attack of the Clones" in its entirety. I caught bits and pieces on cable, so I know the general jist, but I never sat through it from beginning to end. Thus, I was probably one of the only people in the world who didn't catch "Star Wars Fever" as the release of Episode Three grew nigh.

My husband is a Trekkie (not the costume-wearing, convention-attending, Klingon-speaking sort, thank goodness), and after our marriage I enticed him to become a fan of "Quantum Leap," but he's never been much of a Star Wars nerd. What little enjoyment he'd derived from the first three was destroyed by the next two disappointing chapters. Between the two of us, it looked like we wouldn't be seeing "Revenge of the Sith" any time soon.

Some of our friends were planning to go, but we declined. I was a bit tempted, but I kept reminding myself that I'd probably be stepping right into another disappointment. Still, the idea of seeing the "birth" of Darth Vader was appealing. The material was there...the potential was there...could Lucas have regained his sanity? Was it at all possible that he'd do it correctly this time around?

This week, another friend called; she had an extra ticket for a Thursday evening showing. My husband still had no interest, but I caved in to temptation and decided to go. If nothing else, it would be fun to join the opening-day crowd and get caught up in the air of excitement.

Hedging my bets, I logged on to Epinions on Thursday morning to read reviews from the midnight die-hards. Their reports gave me reason for a new hope, they were almost unfailingly positive. Hard core "Star Wars" nerds don't hesitate to rip something to shreds when it doesn't meet their expectations. I remember all the awful opinions of the first two. But this time around, there was a definite trend toward the positive. Dare I allow myself to feel hopeful? By the time I had slogged my way through a slew of reviews, I was feeling some cautious optimism.

My friends drove up in their NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) so we could carpool to downtown Celebration. There are is some NEV-only right across from the theater. Amazingly, no cars had ignored the signs and taken them over, so we got a prime spot.

It was almost an hour before the start time, but a line was already forming in front of the theater. They had erected Disney-style queues in anticipation of the crowd. I was mildly disappointed that no one was in costume, but I guess all the hard-core fans had already been to the 12:01 a.m. screening.

We were early enough to snare decent seats in the balcony, which affords a nice, wide view of the screen. Once we had settled in, we made some runs to the concession stand to stock up on provisions for the long evening ahead (the movie runs nearly two and a half hours). Against my better judgement, I bought a bag of popcorn and a box of Raisinettes. I didn't need to extra calories, but I was hoping that the movie would be exciting enough to bring on a case of the mindless munchies.

While working my way through the salty popcorn as I watched the trivia slides, and then the trailers, I realized that I had made a grave error. The more I ate, the thirstier I got. I had a bottle of water, but I'd already drank most of it and the movie hadn't even begun yet. I'd been hoping to see the trailer for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (with Tim Burton directing and Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, how can it be anything but pure gold?), but I realized that I should refill my water before the movie began.

I waited through four trailers, with no Willy Wonka in sight, and finally I climbed my way over all the people and dashed downstairs to the water fountain. I needn't have hurried; the trailers were still going strong when I returned, and CATCF never materialized. I was mildly disappointed because I saw a great Wonka ad on Fox last weekend, showing Veruca Salt being bitch-slapped by enraged squirrels. I'd been looking forward to a panoramic version, but no such luck.

FINALLY, the big moment arrived. The crowd let out a spontaneous cheer as the feature presentation began. Of course, it kicked off with the famous "rolling text," helping the uninitiated (or forgetful) get caught up with the plot. Actually, I don't think there's anyone in America, save for deviants in mountain shacks and hermits lost in caves, who doesn't have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the basic "Star Wars" plot.

Next, we were immediately plunged into the midst of a raging, CGI-heavy battle scene. Anakin and Obi Wan were on an important rescue mission, which featured lots of spacecraft maneuvers, lasers, and explosions in true "Star Wars" style.

In case you are one of the seven people in America who doesn't know the plot line, I don't want to give it away here. But suffice it to say that this movie redeemed George Lucas, at least in my eyes, for the sins he committed while making the other two prequels. Those two movies were plodding and dull, and they ripped enormous plot holes into the fabric of the "Star Wars" universe. Worse yet, they featured Jar Jar Binks, perhaps the most annoying CGI creature ever to grace a movie screen. I know that George Lucas is fond of digitally tinkering with his movies and releasing "updated" versions. I wish he would do the world a favor and release a version of "Phantom Menace" in which Jar Jar is executed within the first 10 minutes.

In contrast, "Sith" was a perfect combination of the non-stop of "Return of the Jedi," melded with the darkness of "The Empire Strikes Back." The action begins on the first frame and doesn't let up until the moment that the credits start to roll, all counterpointed by the usual rousing John Williams score. It is NOT a movie for young children by any stretch of the imagination. For example, the image of a horribly decapitated Anakin, dragging himself out of a lava river while he is literally ablaze, could instigate nightmares in all but the most violence-desensitized video gaming youngsters.

Normally I prefer seeing movies in the comfort and quiet of my own home, but "Revenge of the Sith" is best viewed on the big screen so you can get the full effect of all the high-tech wizardry. And since it's an "event" movie, it's fun to have the energy of a capacity audience all around you. It's like a perfectly attuned group consciousness that yells and cheers as one as Yoda kicks some serious ass, applauds wildly at the battle sequences, and dabs at misty eyes at the tear-jerking ending (you know that it's coming, but you still can't help it). After more than two decades, I'm a Star Wars fan once again.

Coincidentally, "Star Wars Weekends" is being held at Disney MGM this Saturday and Sunday. Normally, I avoid the parks whenever there's an event that might draw a crowd of any magnitude. This year, I'm going to break my own cardinal rule and take a swing by the Studio to check it out. And who knows, I might even head back to the Celebration AMC Theater before "Revenge of the Sith" leaves town to see it one more time (or maybe two). I may be a lot older than I was when "Jedi" came out, but's fun to be excited about a movie again.

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