Friday, 1 April 2016


It is April 1st as I write this. The Force Awakens has been out for about three and a half months and it was released digitally at midnight. I have seen the movie nine times in theaters. The hype has began to lessen. My wife and I go to stores and she'll point to a display area and say "this used to be all Star Wars." We shake our heads and say "the end of the era." The hype leading up to and during the Force Awakens' run was pretty monumental. You could not go anywhere without being inundated with Star Wars items. This is hardly a new experience, as the hype leading up to the Phantom Menace (which was even larger with good reason, it being the first Star Wars film in sixteen years) is well documented. But this time Disney was leading the parade and that is a clear difference maker. The marketing campaign was overwhelming for some, especially non-enthusiasts, but never got to me too much. Mostly I was simply over the moon about a new Star Wars movie. I still am.

After seeing it so many times in theaters I figured it may be time to collect my thoughts and share my enthusiasm. Last night, after the clock struck midnight, I settled into bed and began to watch the special features included in the release. I'd like to point out how rad it is that we live in the future and can download movies the moment they are released. I remember going to Media Play at midnight to get others. Who remembers Media Play? That place was my jam. My parents would take me and we'd spend hours wandering around. But I digress...

The Force Awakens, as an experience, was unique for me. This begins to quantify itself with the first special feature I settled in to watch was The Story Awakens: the Table Read. This is such an unique insight into a part of the process you normally do not get to see much of. While I wish it was longer than four minutes, they certainly pack in feelings during those four minutes.
You watch the young cast and the old cast mixed in together. The past and the future coming to life in front of your eyes. And then Mark Hamill's smooth voice speaks up "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." Chills wreck your body. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like in that room. To end the four minutes Mark finishes the reading "As our music builds, the promise of an adventure, just beginning. The End." I teared up. My wife said "are you crying?" She knows me all too well. The truth to it weighs on me though, this is only the beginning.

The special features are mostly small making of featurettes, subjects ranging from John Williams to ILM to building BB-8 to crafting creatures. Besides the Table Read, my favorite of these has to be Blueprint of a Battle: the Snow Fight. This is a seven minute behind the scenes look at the Kylo/Finn/Rey battle. They showed in detail how they built the snow forest set, which is incredibly beautiful and intricate.  It also features clips of the three cast members training for the lightsaber battle. Hearing them discuss the passion they brought to the scene is tremendous. Beyond the featurettes, there are also a handful of short deleted scenes.

The crown jewel of the collection is Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. Lasting just over an hour, it covers every bit of the production from the sale of Lucasfilm to the very end of the production on the Force Awakens. My excitement for this was pretty unreal, I couldn't wait to see all of the behind the scenes bits. The documentary delivers, but in a way I wasn't fully anticipating. The best thing about it is watching how others react to being a part of Star Wars. Watching John Boyega and Daisy Ridley discuss being cast, they're beaming from ear to ear. It is contagious! I found my eyes tearing up and my cheeks beginning to hurt at times from all of the smiling. Lupita is shown humming famous Star Wars tunes while being set up in her motion capture suit. There is a sweet moment where they captured John Boyega walking out, in his robe still, to the larger than life build Millennium Falcon. His hands begin to shake and his mouth lays open. JJ simply says "I told you you were in Star Wars." (Watch the clip below.) The cast knows the passion the fans are feeling, they get it. It isn't reserved for merely the cast.



In the table read section of the documentary, which includes some different clips than the four minute aforementioned piece, there is a moment right after Mark reads the infamous line "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." that the camera moves to JJ. His face is priceless. He smiles with childlike wonderment, an astonished look on his face. It is as if he can't believe he is in that moment.
It is well documented how big of a Star Wars fan JJ Abrams, the director of the Force Awakens, is. To see his reactions to things while making this movie, you knew it was in good hands. It shows the filming of the "Chewie, we're home" moment as they board the Millennium Falcon. They finish the shot and you see JJ mouth "oh my god." That's why the Force Awakens is so incredible because JJ understands what it is to be a fan of this universe. When they show Harrison Ford wrapping his final day of shooting, his final day in a Star Wars film forever, you can feel the swelling of emotion in the room. Everyone is gathered, they're clapping and hugging each other. JJ calls him a hero and you can't help but know that it is the truth. That is what he's been to me my entire life.

I've always been a Star Wars fan. I was born into it. There was never an introduction that I, or my dad, can remember. It has simply always been there. JJ talks about the young new cast "these kids knew about and understood Star Wars in a way we all do; they just were born into it as opposed to it happening during their lifetime." This speaks to me. I wasn't alive when the original trilogy was released but I watched them obsessively as a child. The prequels continued the passion and kept me immersed. But now after the last three months it is clear to me that The Force Awakens, in many ways, was for me like the originals were for my parents. It was a shock to my system. It woke me up and made me fall in love. A new love but an old love all at once. I'm a giant Red Sox fan but was only thirteen when they won their first World Series in eighty six years. While I was excited, I couldn't feel the true weight of the moment. In 2007 I was, again, excited because they were such a good team. But in 2013 when the Red Sox won the World Series, it felt like it was for me. This was my team. I was fully obsessed with the sport and the team and followed them every single day. They weren't a super star group (though there were a few studs on the team.) They were bearded guys who came together for one giant goal. That is kind of what the Force Awakens feels like to me. This one is my Star Wars. This is my time.

The Force Awakens is a renaissance of sorts for the franchise. It started with Disney buying Lucasfilm but as JJ says in the documentary, you can place a scene in the Millennium Falcon but the scene still has to be good even in such a monumental location. The same goes with this movie. Many felt that way with the prequels, just because it is Star Wars doesn't mean it is good. (Full disclosure: I like the prequels, but that is a discussion for another time.) Episode VII could've been crap but it isn't. It is a love letter to Star Wars fans and the universe itself. JJ Abrams, much like his work with the Spielberg love letter of a movie Super 8, is showing his gratitude. But despite all of that, it is still its own beast. That is never more apparent than with the character of Rey.

Rey is what makes the movie tick for me. While I find the whole cast to be incredible, Daisy Ridley really sells the sequel trilogy in this first installment. I'm a giant Anakin Skywalker fan, I like Luke just fine, but I adore Rey. Granted, there are two movies left, but the path they've started her on is one that will stay in my mind for a long time. And it is the beginning of a love affair for young children who are experiencing a lot of this universe for the first time. My six year old niece proclaimed that she loved the girl after we saw it. That is all it takes to create a generation of new fans. Harrison Ford says in the documentary, "These stories have been passed down in families from generation to generation... Like family history." Carrie Fisher echos that "Families do Star Wars together. It is a verb." This is something my dad passed on to me and I'll pass on to my kids. I have already began to do so with my two year old nephew. He loves Star Wars and sings the Main Title whenever he sees anything Star Wars related. It is right there in the original trilogy itself: I am a Jedi, like my father before me.


I know Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is not a perfect film. By no stretch of the imagination do I think it is. I hear the complaints of repetition, which I view as history repeating itself in a way that Star Wars mythology is famous for. That is fine though, to each their own. But to me, this movie will never be anything short of life changing for me. That may sound dramatic but it is true. This movie came to me at a perfect time. It made me utilize a little introspection, it brought me excitement and passion while I was wallowing in a little rut of depression, and it brought my wife and I even closer together. I've written about my experience leading up to seeing TFA for the first time, sitting in a theater for twenty hours marathoning the first six films. I'll never forget the feeling of excitement in the theater. We hung on every moment together, my favorite being the thunderous applause when they showed the Falcon for the first time. When the movie finished, everyone stayed completely still, awash in the moment. Walking out you heard grown men say they cried. Adults sounded like children giggling gleefully and discussing their favorite parts. I called my family and explained to them what I felt and how badly they needed to see it. I saw the movie three times within the first twenty four hours. I spent many afternoons and evenings pushing my total up to nine times before it came out today. I do not regret a cent spent or a moment exhausted on this. This movie means the world to me.

In Secrets of the Force Awakens, Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma) says "Star Wars seemed like the kind of universe that might accept me." Her voice is soft and genuine. These words immediately swelled my heart. They speaks to me as much as any words I've heard. As a child, I spent many afternoons at the church where my mom worked holed up watching the saga. Imagining myself right there in Cloud City with Han and Leia, imagining myself in a podracer zooming through cavernous paths, and imagining myself with a lightsaber in hand. The Force Awakens transported me back to that realm. As an adult, I spent time imagining myself in a snowy forest battling Kylo Ren, I imagined myself in Black One zooming in to take down Starkiller base, and imagining myself taking the steps up to find Luke Skywalker. I felt like I belonged somewhere, as I did back then. That is not something easily encapsulated.

BIO:
Kaitlyn Mason is an aspiring writer who is finishing work on her first novel. Beyond writing fiction, she loves to write essays and blog posts on wide spread cultural topics. The films of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have had an immense impact on her life and ambitions. She hopes to bring a critical and enthusiastic approach to her contributions on thebeardedtrio.com.  When she isn't writing she enjoys watching baseball and reading. 

Kaitlyn can be found on her blog (bb-k8.com) and twitter (twitter.com/kaityballgame.) Feel free to say hello!

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