Two Rounds of Applause for The Last Jedi The first one made me cheer; the second made me cry

For the geeky faithful, seeing a Star Wars film for the first time is a tran­scen­dent expe­ri­ence. We, the Forceful Flock (be it from the first, second or third gener­a­tion) know these movies so well by now that many can recite whole scenes from memory—dialog, sound effects and all. It’s delightful, it’s comforting, it’s familiar.

That’s why the nerd-baptism of watching a new Star Wars movie is, to quote a certain Supreme Leader, “some­thing truly special.” The cinema quiets down, the hallowed words A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away appear on screen, the words “Star Wars” explode onto the screen accom­pa­nied by that rousing musical theme—and, crucially, you have no idea what’s going to happen next.

The antic­i­pa­tion, the chills, that stir­ring feeling in your gut… there’s nothing else like it.

It Never Grows Old

I felt it as a kid going to see Star Wars in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. And that was the end of it, I thought, at age 15.

Then I expe­ri­enced it again in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, in 2002 with Attack of the Clones and in 2005 with Revenge of the Sith. (Side note: I’m not going to debate the merits, or lack thereof, of this much-maligned second batch of “prequel” films; what I’m talking about is simply that initial rush of eager hope and expec­ta­tion at seeing them for the first time.)

And then, after Disney grew strong with the Force, The Force Awakens opened a new round of Star Wars “first times”, with The Last Jedi following suit this December.

Opening Night

Among the different versions of a first-time Star Wars cinema visit, the ones on opening night are a class unto them­selves. I was reminded of this last week, when I took my sons to the sold-out opening-night showing of The Last Jedi at our local multi­plex.

There we were, popcorn and sodas in hand, feeling the buzz of kindred spirits all around us. One row down from us, a man had donned his Jedi robe for the occa­sion. The lights went down, the silence grew, and when that famous logo hit the screen, the theater erupted in cheers and applause. Chills down my spine. I’m a secular humanist and an intro­verted ratio­nalist, so I guess this is as close as I’ll ever come to a euphoric communal reli­gious expe­ri­ence.

A Kind of Mourning

Fast forward two and a half hours, and the end credits are rolling. Together with the several hundred other fans in the room, I’d shared laughs and thrills, cliffhangers and narrow escapes.

What we also shared, of course, was the knowl­edge that one year before, Carrie Fisher had died.

It had been made public before­hand that there would be some acknowl­edge­ment in the film to honor her, but no one knew what or how or when. So I knew some­thing was coming. And then, during the end credits, after a slight pause showing only that familiar starry back­drop, the words appeared on screen: In Loving Memory of our Princess, Carrie Fisher.

The room, which had already filled up with the chatter of excited fans exchanging their first impres­sions and ideas, went quiet once again. As a tear rolled down my cheek, I started clap­ping. So did my boys, and so did everyone else. She had, after all, been our princess too.

Loss and Hope

It’s a strange feeling, to mourn the loss of someone you never knew. But then again, we did know her—we knew all too well what she had given us in her portrayal of Princess Leia across five movies, and in her fierce dedi­ca­tion to living life on her own terms off screen.

Carrie Fisher’s pluck, sagacity and spirit will be missed in Episode VIII. But I’m sure that in two years’ time, when we all sit down for the next (and possibly final) round in this Star Wars saga that’s been enthralling fans for more than 40 years, cheers will again resound when the opening crawl begins.

It’ll be bitter­sweet, but I have a feeling that Carrie Fisher’s Force ghost will be around to tell us to stop whining and pass the popcorn.

• • •

Image credit: starwars.com (adapted from source)

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