WARNING. There are spoilers for The Force Awakens in here. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen the movie or don’t care about being spoiled big-time.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be the next George Lucas or Jim Henson. My puppetry skills were largely nonexistent, so that wasn’t really happening (although I have since made at least one fairly decent puppet featured in a short film!) and really, I was torn between wanting to make movies like Star Wars and THX 1138 and wanting to just be IN them. Han and Luke and Leia are part of our modern mythology. When I was in high school, Star Wars fandom was less of a thing. I mean, it was huge, but in the mid-90s, the Star Wars trilogy was something from the past and it was somewhat less likely of a thing for a girl to be into. I appreciated Leia as a tough, capable character, but the fact was that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were the characters with the meat on them. I wanted to fly an X-Wing and the Millennium Falcon. Yes, Harrison Ford is an attractive man and that certainly helps a character. But I wanted to BE Han Solo.
I’ll get back to that.
Star Wars was first re-released in 1997 and it’s ubiquity in pop culture started to resurface and being a Star Wars fan re-normalized. Around the same time, a show premiered on the good old WB called Felicity. Felicity Porter attended college around the same time I did and at first glance, this teen drama wouldn’t seem to be something that would appeal to a Star Wars fan, but it was smartly written and poignant and genuinely funny at times and very, very relatable. It’s actually one of my favorite shows and yes, I do own the DVD box set. Who knew at the time, while watching Javier needle Ben about wearing his hairnet, that the guy who created Felicity would be responsible for me having an emotional meltdown near the end of a Star Wars movie? Thanks, J.J. Abrams.
Like I said, I wanted to BE Han Solo. A little bit Luke too, but always Han Solo. The swagger, the humor, the blaster, the cameraderie with Chewie, and the fastest hunk of junk spaceship in the galaxy. It’s no wonder that I glommed onto Starbuck so hard when Battlestar Galactica was rebooted as she was, in many ways, the female Han Solo. So many of the same qualities in a package I could relate to! And even more so now that I have Starbuck-colored hair…
The disappointment of the prequels (which, I don’t even HATE as some do, but they weren’t great movies) and the overwhelming ubiquity of Star Wars of late wore me down and I really wasn’t sure that I even wanted to see The Force Awakens with any promptness. I crabbed about it a bit on Facebook on opening day and decided that I’d wait a few weeks until the crowds and hype wore down. It’s not that I didn’t want to be one of millions seeing the movie or a “I was a fan when it was uncool to be a fan” kind of thing. But as a fan of anything knows, there is your own personal connection to a story that is at the core of the fandom and it was hard for me to find that again amidst all of the merchandise and speculation and press junkets.
And then the next day, I decided that I was terribly wrong and I really did need to see it, over-hyping be damned. I went with my friend Alexis, from improv, on Thursday afternoon. Let me step back again for a moment. So, I’m a pretty privileged white lady. I see representations of myself everywhere. I am well-represented in media. I have seen people of color talk about seeing actors like John Boyega in a starring role in a Star Wars movie (and this is just one example for one movie) and how that makes little kids feel to see THEMSELVES on the screen. And that’s amazing. I didn’t realize I was going to have a bit of that experience, as an old white lady, walking into this movie.
I had stayed spoiler-free thanks to my blasé attitude prior to entering the theater. I’m not going to give you the blow-by-blow of what happens, but I, along with most of the rest of the theater, gasped when we realized what was happening to one of our favorite characters. I had an inkling that such things would happen. To reboot a franchise for a new generation – you’re going to have to do some stuff like that to move on. I get it. So that was upsetting, but I felt like it was done deftly. Han Solo got to come back and be, albeit older, everything he was and also to unknowingly lay the groundwork for someone that he trusted and liked to carry on that role. I do think the bit of berserker Chewbacca that we saw in that scene kind of captured all of our feelings.
Where I really choked up though was when Rey, heading out to search for Luke, sat down in the cockpit of the Falcon with Chewie, confident of the mission and how to handle the ship and with the approval of Chewbacca. I was suddenly silently crying and thinking “what is happening to me here?” And then I realized that J.J. Abrams was showing me what I always imagined myself doing, as a Star Wars fan. I was in that cockpit. I, through Rey, was Han Solo. And Han Solo would have been cool with that. And she’s Luke as well. That final sweeping scene and the conflict on Luke’s face was pretty stunning and left us wanting to just sit right there and keep watching the next installment.
J.J. Abrams didn’t make a perfect movie. There are at least 10 things I could pick apart right now in terms of pacing, MacGuffins, plausibility, etc. But hell if he didn’t bring this fan right back into her personal fandom and leave her scrambling for tissues at the end to contain her sad and happy feelings. That’s all I needed.
And Greg Grunberg from Felicity is an X-Wing pilot!