12/18/2015

The fan awakens

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Fun fact: I haven’t seen a single Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer since they were released around 10 months ago. In fact, I didn’t even know the new Star Wars was called The Force Awakens until the posters started popping up everywhere. I avoided teasers, leaks and friends that were going to spoil the new Star Wars for me. This would come as a surprise to my friends who know that I’m a fan of the original trilogy and an even bigger surprise to my friends that know that I once stopped dating a girl because she said her favorite films from the series were the ones with Natalie Portman.

If I had the power to turn back time I would go back to the times when I watched my favorite films for the first time, and this is what The Force Awakens is for me — a chance to experience an unknown journey with friends new and old for the very first time. I wanted to replicate the feeling I had when I watched the original trilogy for the first time in theaters when it was re-released in 1997 — a time before robotic BB-8’s, Billie Lourd, smartphones and social media. A time when my 10-year-old self struggled to get through the scrolling narrative at the beginning of the movie. A time when I had to hide under my father’s arm when Luke’s hand got chopped off. A time when I wept — yes, I actually cried — when I thought that my first love, Han Solo, was frozen forever. A time when my father forced me to watch this film called Star Wars because my favorite movie at that time was Spaceballs and he said this was going to be so much better.

Despite my best efforts to block out everything about the new Star Wars, I randomly saw parts of the trailer on a stranger’s phone on the way home from work. I caught a glimpse of some lightsabers, X-Wing fighters and a really hot girl. I was really pissed because a) this random guy kind of ruined my plan and b) there was a really hot girl in the new Star Wars and no one told me about it! (I’m looking at you, Jonty Cruz). So I did what anyone with a new crush would do: I Googled her to try to find out what her name is, and after several failed attempts because the search terms “Star Wars babe” “Star Wars cutie” yielded a lot of #NSFW results, I finally found out what her name was and tracked down her Instagram.

Grrrl power: Daisy Ridley reenergizes the franchise as the character Rey.

I figured that stalking her Instagram didn’t really count as going against my plan because I was insta-stalking Daisy Ridley the girl, not Daisy Ridley as whatever her name is in the new movie.  But as I scrolled through her posts about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Gwen Stefani and bananas served on plates, I realized that what I was doing was screwing things up for me even worse than if I had seen the trailers and read through the spoilers — I was getting to know Daisy Ridley as a person!!!! A person who uses the hashtag #poshhotelzzzz!!!

After watching Star Wars for the first time, I could go home and continue the adventure by playing with my Han and Chewy action figures. There was a suspension of reality — I could tell young self that the only reason they weren’t around was because they were, in fact, living in a galaxy far away.

The original trilogy was marketed as something from the future. The Force Awakens seems to angle itself as a nostalgia film, something that brings back all those fond memories from the past. But what social media does is that it brings this entire galaxy into the present. These days, all you have to do is to open YouTube to watch the video of Han Solo destroying his own action figure. Suddenly, my heroes from a galaxy far away are attending a premiere in Japan and doing really weird segments on the late night talk show circuit. Why is Han Solo old? Why is Princess Leia wearing shades indoors? Where is Luke Skywalker???

In a recent interview with Vulture, The Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan talks about the challenge of having to cast a young Han Solo by saying that they weren’t looking to cast someone like Harrison Ford; instead, they wanted his essence to come through. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters; we all just need that essence of awesomeness to come through. The pervasiveness of the cast on social media allows us to explore a new universe altogether: the badly-filtered Instagram posts and awkward TV guestings remind us about their humanity. It’s a reminder that maybe the magic is in the fact that our heroes are just like us but we love them despite that anyway.

Maybe my plan was doomed from the start because it was absurd of me to project an almost mythical status onto these characters — to believe that they were too good to be true — when, in fact, they are here and they are present. Maybe that’s where the force really lies.

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