On Star Wars, Escapism, And The Magic Of Movie Theaters

The first time I saw Jurassic Park changed my entire perspective on movies forever*.

I was in high school, and the movie was being re-released in 3D. Yeah I know, I was just a tad late to the whole Jurassic Park trend. I’m not perfect, okay? I had caught glimpses of the film here and there on TV and knew the basic idea of the franchise (Someone finds a way to recreate dinosaurs, opens a theme park, spares no expense, everything goes horribly wrong, the kids are idiots, etc). I would tell people I’d seen it, because in my mind I had. I knew the story, I knew the characters, and I definitely knew the ending. I didn’t need to sit down and actually watch it, right?

jurassic-park-image-4Wrong. So incredibly wrong. Seeing that film in a packed movie theater was unlike anything I had experienced until that point. Sure, I knew what to expect, but something about experiencing the journey in that particular setting changed everything. Each joke landed with a huge laugh, every scare drew a raw, noticeable reaction from the crowd. People in the audience clapped after their favorite scenes and pretended to conduct orchestras as the iconic theme music played. There was an energy inside the theater that night that I will never be able to forget.

I wish I could come up with a profound description for that experience. One my old English teachers would read and think, “Wow, I guess he did learn vocab!” one that a professor would start an upper level film aesthetics class by writing on the board in barely legible handwriting, one an unemployed screenwriter would have written on a laptop sticker he displayed proudly on his computer at a local Starbucks. But I can’t. The only word that truly encapsulates my experience is fun.

So. Much. Fun.

I’ve done a lot of really fun things in my life. I’ve biked down a volcano (non-active, don’t worry), I’ve hit game-winning baskets, I’ve been in love, I stood on a literally shaking balcony at a Childish Gambino concert as thousands of fans jumped and belted out the lyrics to “3005”, I’ve watched the Clippers come back from a 20+ point deficit in the playoffsTwice. I could go on, but I hate bragging like that, and if it makes you feel better the moments in between those I described are almost uniformly mundane, but it was necessary to prove my point. Which is this:

Getting caught up in the journey, smiling from ear-to-ear, watching the story unfold was some of the most fun I’ve had in my entire life.

I was never the world’s biggest Star Wars fan. Outside of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, I can pretty much take or leave the rest of the Star Wars universe. If I’m being honest, I’m genetically predisposed toward being more of Star Trek guy, anyways. Nevertheless, as a self-described pop-culture aficionado, I was buzzing with excitement in the weeks leading up the the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

TFAMy family and I bought tickets nearly 10 days in advance. I had brushed up on the original trilogy to get ready. I took great care to avoid spoilers and other unwanted information online. I hadn’t been this excited for a movie since The Avengers. The anticipation reached a fever pitch a week away from opening day, when initial reviews came in overwhelmingly positive. I practically couldn’t contain my excitement. Then, everything came crashing down.

It was a Wednesday, two days before our family’s predetermined movie time, that I called my Mom. My girlfriend and I had just completed our first, and only, college semester as a long-distance couple. My Mom, like most people that know me, understood that I was desperately in love with her. Alone in my family’s house in LA, sitting in utter shock and disbelief, looking at a Skype request to rate the quality of the connection (I gave it 5 stars, if you were wondering, because I got the message loud and clear.), I called my Mom and said the hardest sentence I’ve ever had to say:

“She broke up with me.”

What happened over the next 48 hours isn’t important to this story. I’m not going to get into specifics out of respect for her privacy, but mostly, and mercifully, because this is a blog about TV and movies, not my feelings. If you are worried about me, don’t be, I’m fine. (Though, admittedly, that phrase has started to feel a bit hollow.) I can’t speak for her, but I think she is happy, which is what matters most in the end.

The point is that barely 48 hours removed from an unexpected break-up, my excitement was, to put it lightly, subdued as I walked into my Friday night screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I remember thinking to myself that this viewing shouldn’t even count, that I should withhold judgement until I was in a better place emotionally. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for Star Wars, I thought. The emptiness and sadness I felt about my reality at the moment was too profound for even Star Wars to make me forget, right?

Finn and poeWrong. So incredibly wrong. As soon as I heard the familiar music accompanying the opening crawl reality started to fade away little by little. By the time Finn and Poe had staged a daring rescue mission, there I was, getting caught up in the journey, smiling from ear-to-ear, watching the story unfold, having some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

Every time the crowd erupted at the sight of an old favorite, my smile grew wider. As we reached the middle of the second act and Finn yelled “That’s one hell of a pilot!” towards the sky, I was practically giddy with child-like wonder and excitement. After two days of being so down, seeing Star Wars in that movie theater picked me up in a way that I needed more desperately than I thought. It was cathartic, thrilling, much-needed, and fun.

So. Much. Fun.

A movie theater is a magical place, where the problems of the outside world can melt away instantly and be replaced in a moment by dinosaurs in amusement parks or intergalactic Jedi knights. Inside that black box, the audience can truly immerse themselves into stories and places too big and too wonderful to exist in our everyday, mundane reality. At the medium’s core, film can offer a form of escapism that is nearly impossible** to replicate. Sure, the genre has expanded to do other things, movies like The Big Short for example, help us better understand our world rather than escape it. But for the most part, the fundamental principle of movies has pretty much remained the same.

What going to the movies has symbolized for years, and what I hope it will continue to symbolize in the future, is the fantasy of sitting in a chair in a dark, crowded theater and leaving the troubles of our world behind in favor of a story, or world, bigger and better than our own.

So, I guess what I’m saying is Thank You, to JJ Abrams and everyone who was involved in The Force Awakens, for letting me escape into the amazing world you created for a few hours. I needed it more than you’ll ever know.

Empty comfortable red seats with numbers in cinema

*In my imaginary blog school, they told me I should start each post with something big and attention grabbing to get people to read. Not to sound overconfident, but I think I nailed it.

**Sure, a good book or TV show can do the trick quality wise, but there is nothing like the isolation from reality that a movie theater. No phones, no conversation, no distractions. Just you and the movie.

BLOG UPDATE: In 2016, I’m going to try my best to stick to a one post a month schedule. The posts will range from personal pop-culture narratives like this one, more straightforward reviews, lists, and maybe some other stuff if I can think of it. If I have time, I might sneak in something extra every once in awhile, but for right now one a month is all I can muster.


One thought on “On Star Wars, Escapism, And The Magic Of Movie Theaters

  1. Pingback: Before We Go: The Story Of How I Fell In Love With An Objectively Bad Movie | ME + TV

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