The Force has awakened

I saw it tonight. And my weekend may continue now, freely, without any worry of reading spoilers or anxiety about when I might work in a screening.

I’m referring, of course, to – what else – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The movie most* people are talking about and can’t wait to see. (*Crazy as it sounds, there are people in this world who have not seen “Star Wars” – like this guy. And my cohort, Brandon. I don’t understand.)

Until this afternoon I didn’t have a clue when I might see it. Let’s face it, as busy as Kates and I are these days with our work, the girls and our activities, it may premiere on TV before I’d see it.

But this afternoon, my friend Tye approached me after a board meeting and asked if I had any interesting in joining him and some or our other guy friends for a private screening of the movie. I could barely contain my excitement and answered with an emphatic yes!

So Kates and I did our usual teaming up to get the girls to bed – I with a little more urgency – and at about 9:30 I headed out to the local movie theater to meet the guys. …

On a sidenote: There were 10 of us and they are a collection of men who have come to be good trusted friends of mine. All of us work together at the university in varied roles – professors, as well as the vice president of student affairs, campus minister, grants coordinator, arboretum director and me, the communication manager. A few of them were classmates of mine in college decades ago. A few of us play softball together. Most of us attend church together, and our families play together, too. Looking around the circle and hanging out with them tonight sparked one of those reflective and surreal How-did-I-get-here!? moments I’ve had often since returning to The ‘Ville.

After getting popcorn and drinks, we headed into the theater. We laughed at the sign on the door that read, simply, “TRAVIS,” marking our territory with the name of the one who reserved it for us. Inside the theater, we arrived at the first row of the seats, looked up at the stadium seating and laughed again at having the entire theater to ourselves. We settled into the middle seats halfway up the aisle.

Two previews showed first, including this one, which drew several laugh-out-louds from our group.

Then, the moment arrived.

The “Star Wars” theme began. Giddy chuckles were heard and fists pumped as it played and we settled into reading the opening scroll.

And yet, from On Milwaukee’s Matt Mueller
Sitting down in a packed theater, awaiting the most anticipated movie in years, there was an odd and unexpected sensation in the air: restraint.

Certainly there was excitement – the trailers could’ve showed a preview for the second coming of Christ, and fans still would’ve been annoyed the movie hadn’t started yet – but actual expectations felt subdued. After all, “Star Wars” fans have been down this road before, only to be greeted by plank-like performances, midi-chlorians and Jar Jar Binks. After hoping for the world before, this time, audiences just wanted a movie that wouldn’t embarrass them. This time, they just wanted a “Star Wars” they could be proud of.

Thankfully, “The Force Awakens” clears that bar. Episode VII may not the completely new, fresh “Star Wars” we want – it plays a little more like the rock band reunion tour where it’s just fun and nice to see familiar faces play the old hits well – but at least it’s a good “Star Wars.”

It’s better than good. It’s a thrilling ride that introduces fans to a new generation of “Star Wars” heroes and villains while pulling on all sorts of nostalgic threads to the original trilogy.

Reading the comments on reviews now, some are blasting “The Force” for being a reboot of “A New Hope.” I disagree. There are a lot of parallels between the two films, and I would say “The Force” draws inspiration from “New Hope.” But they are not the same. Without its homages to “New Hope,” “The Force” is a completely different movie, and fans may come away from theaters feeling the same sort of emptiness we did after seeing the maligned prequels.

Without spoiling too much, a couple other thoughts …

Daisy Ridley is the real deal. It was a joy to watch her. ...

Despite their age and other work, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher played Han Solo and Princess Leia as if they had stayed in the galaxy far, far away all their lives. I was especially taken by Fisher’s ability to step right back into the feisty character of Leia. When she appeared on screen, it was totally Leia....

I caught myself laughing more to lines and hijinks in this film than I can recalling laughing with others. … That, I think, is a tribute to J.J. Abrams’ hands on the film, which also, at times, conjured up memories of “Lost.” ...

Speaking of “Lost,” it was fun to see Ken Leung -- Miles from “Lost” -- pop up in the film  as well as Greg Grunberg of “Heroes.” ...
From the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune:
Let's skip past the prequel trilogy "The Phantom Menace," "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith," apparently written and directed by droids. In chronological story terms we last saw Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, princess-turned-queen Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO whooping it up at the Ewok luau back in 1983, in "Return of the Jedi," celebrating the massive global popularity and merchandising sales of George Lucas' bright idea.
The idea was simple, and quaintly retro: The world, Lucas figured, might enjoy a whiz-bang riff on the old "Flash Gordon" serials. Good guess! Now, minus the Ewoks, the gang's back. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens to the American public Thursday evening.
And it is good.

 Time provides a wonderful collection of reviews here. Here are some of my favorite passages:
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post: “Abrams has done stellar work by casting actors who will be unknown to most filmgoers but who shoulder their responsibilities with skill and confidence. Daisy Ridley resembles the plucky younger sister of Emma Watson and Keira Knightley as Rey, a scrappy, steampunk-ish scavenger who befriends a wandering soldier named Finn (John Boyega). Oscar Isaac brings just the right amount of cocksure street smarts to his role as Poe Dameron, and Adam Driver is similarly right-on as a shadowy, somewhat simian figure named Kylo Ren.”

Brian Truitt, USA Today: “The Force Awakens leans heavily into shades of Star Wars past and isn’t shy about that in the least. There are visually spectacular dogfights between X-wings and TIE Fighters set to John Williams’ sparkling score; another overarching bad guy who uses holograms, Supreme Leader Snoke (played via motion capture by Andy Serkis), a nasty figure along the lines of the late Emperor; and Starkiller Base, which makes the Death Star look like a Fisher-Price My First Space Battle Station.”
Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “The action is nearly non-stop, as is the humor, which kicks into gear when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) finally shows up. Ford is in his element – delightful, energetic, funny, brash and fully Han, bantering with Chewie and everyone with the same verve he showed nearly 40 years ago. … As for the new characters, Ridley’s Rey is a dream. She is feisty, endearingly awe-filled, capable and magnetic. She is the new anchor.
Alynda Wheat, PEOPLE: “If watching Hamill, Fisher and Ford onscreen again doesn’t bring back a flood of terrific memories, then you should check your pulse. You are likely dead. The three have the same heart and soul they ever did, with years adding lines and wisdom. The shorthand is easy, the gaps fill in—they’ve never left popular culture, and therefore never really left us. We just needed to see them again. Granted, director J.J. Abrams leans a little heavily on the nostalgia, but given all he had to accomplish in this massive franchise reboot, can you blame him?”
Drew McWeeny, HitFix: “It’s a very good movie, I’d say, and should entertain audiences both deeply and casually invested in the ongoing saga of the Skywalker family. Made with a profound sense of passion and respect by an entire generation of filmmakers and performers who were influenced by the original films, this is a deeply affectionate film, and that affection, that honestly felt love, is what is going to make all the difference for viewers.”

Good reads & stuff … 

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