By John Murphy
I am not a religious man, nor was I a religious child for that matter. My life was not shaped on cold, hard pews with even colder, harder men delivering their master’s designs on morality to me through stories of the miraculous acts of God’s own son sent to die on Earth for my sins.
There was nothing profound or sacred to me about the Gideon’s New Testament I was given in high school. It has long since been confined to a cupboard; its spine intact, and its pages unturned. The first truly religious experience of my life began with the immortal words,
‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’
I cannot recall precisely what age I was when I first watched Star Wars for the first time, but I remember the setting vividly. I was sitting on my Granda’s lap in the study of my parent’s house in a reclining chair in front of an absurdly small television watching a well-worn VHS copy from my local Global Video (yes, this was a time before the much maligned Special Editions). There was an energy which resonated from that small screen and in my memory it exists as an ethereal light. It stirred something in me, and the elegance and simplicity of the ‘Force’; light versus dark; good versus evil, stayed with me through Empire and Jedi, and despite the failures of the later prequel films (see link to Red Letter Media’s Mr Plinkett’s series on this below, whose views I agree with completely) those films have remained a part of me forever. However, now in 2015……..there is another……
I am of course referring to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I was, as many of you no doubt were, both excited and apprehensive when Disney acquired Lucasfilm in October of 2012 and promptly announced a sequel trilogy of films to follow the iconic original trilogy. I did not think that there was still a story to tell in this universe. My stomach turned at the thought of the awkward shoehorning in of faded and aged caricatures of what the original characters I knew and loved had become. It would be done to try and give a sense of legitimacy to this sequel which, in a post Phantom Menace world, seemed like an attempt to cash in on a beloved mythology, with quality being of lesser importance than merchandising. I feared a return to the lazy, flat CG heavy production that was so disappointing in the prequel films.
All of that changed for me when I heard that J.J. Abrams had signed on to direct the film. The fact he would be rewriting the draft of George Lucas’ outlines, which had been created by Michael Arndt with the legendary Lawrence Kasdan (who had written Empire and Jedi), was the icing on the cake…….I was ready to believe again.
The Force Has Awoken
Let’s fast forward to the 17th of December 2015, when The Force Awakens finally arrived on our screens and, of course, I was at the first available showing; did you even have to wonder at this point? There was palpable tension in the theatre despite the overwhelmingly positive response to the film after the premiere in Los Angeles. The beautiful glimpses we had been given into the film, which Abrams and Kasdan had crafted through the trailers being careful not to give any details of the plot away, still wasnt enough to convince everyone…….we’d been hurt before.
Eventually there was no more time for doubt, for expectations, speculation or anticipation, and the world around me disappeared. There in the darkness I was confronted by the immortal words which had started this journey for me….. So many years ago, in a study not so very far away….
There is a great deal of cynicism in this world and there are many cynics to go with it, and sometimes (most of the time) I am one of them. I have sneered at that which others hold most sacred, and if you were to search your feelings, I have no doubt that you have too. Nostalgia and longing can be a dangerous thing. It can make us prone to making emotional decisions that are not necessarily in our best interests; to try to recapture a lost love, or to return to a place you know in an attempt to recapture how it felt being there before.
In my experience, it is more often than not that you will come to regret trying to go back. In the darkness of that theatre, I was surrounded by people who were like me; they were trying to go back, and somehow, in the face of overwhelming odds, we went back.
Now, when I think back to that boy in the study, and the ethereal light of the television, I think of that knowing look that old Ben Kenobi gave Luke Skywalker as he closed his eyes and allowed Darth Vader to strike him down……and I wear that same crooked smile. I feel that Ben knew, as I know, that there are so many great things that boy has yet to see.