National Post


The original fans have grown up and expected more, but Star Wars has always been for the kid in all of us

- By Chris Knight

When I go to see the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, I won’t be alone. Sure, I mean that my wife and our two boys will be there. But my single seat will be more crowded than a dead-Jedi ghost convention.

To begin with, I’ll be watching alongside seven-year-old Chris, who actually fell asleep during his first viewing of Star Wars in 1977; it was at a drive-in outside Midland, Ont., where the features start late on a midsummer’s night. But scores of subsequent viewings made him, by his own reckoning, the film’s Biggest Fan Ever.

Next to him, 10-year-old Chris, still collecting his wits from the news that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Just over, Chris, aged 13 and three quarters, amazed that the girl he asked to go to Return of the Jedi with him said yes.

N-ext, the 30-year-old who des perately wanted to like 1999’s Episode I more than he did. Then a 33-year old, who saw Episode II with his wife, on one of those new digital projection systems that unceremoni­ously broke down midway through the film. Finally, a 36-year-old film critic, who saw Episode III his first year at the C- annes film festival, thus con firming his suspicion that he had the Best Job Ever.

Y-ou may have a similar entourage with you to watch Episode VII, everyone anxious to be amazed, fearful of being let down, and scarred by the memory of Jar Jar Binks. The good news: based on the trailers, and interviews with director J. J. Abrams, we’re not going to be disappoint­ed.

That’s because The Force Awakens looks ready to replicate the awe-inspiring moments of the first trilogy, backed by judicious applicatio­n of the digital magic so overused in the second trilogy. Star Wars VII is aimed at both the kid within and actual kids.

It had better hit the second market; retailers are depending on it. Star Wars has never been shy about marketing, and the new movie, in spite of not having yet opened, already features a slew of toys including Lego sets, r-emote-control BB-8 droids, Mil lennium Falcon drones, action figures, costumes, bedsheets, etc.

But it also looks set to hit GenXers in that region of the brain — the medulla nostalgia I think it’s called — that still thrills to the memory of the first movies when they were new. The turn-of-thecentury prequels had so much computer- generated imagery t- hey at times looked like ani mated movies. The original trilogy, in comparison, was all about practical effects. Spaceships were models that “flew” against blue screens. C- 3PO and even R2-D2 were guys in robot suits. And have you ever noticed how p- eople generally avoided turn ing their lightsaber­s on and off while onscreen? That’s because animating the blade coming out of the shaft was too difficult.

The Force Awakens will no d-oubt use its share of digital trick ery. But it also features a large n-umber of practical sets and ac tual costumes. Bobbajo, an alien merchant on the desert planet Jakku, is actually an actor, cleverly h-idden inside the boxes the crea ture has on its hunched back.

And most f ans assumed BB- 8, a volleyball topped by a free- floating dome, had to be a computer effects shot, until the droid rolled onto the stage at a S- tar Wars convention in Cali fornia last April, to thunderous applause. A company called Sphero has since made the “impossible” droid real for consumers to purchase, which still doesn’t explain why I can’t buy a used X-34 landspeede­r like the one Luke drives in Episode IV.

A long time ago, kids were the main market for the first Star Wars movies. Lucas himself recently told the Washington Post: “I want(ed) to see if I can bend their lives at a particular point in time when they’re very vulnerable, and give them the things that we’ve always given kids throughout history ... ‘ You don't shoot people in the back’ and such.” (So wait; why exactly did he let Han shoot Greedo in cold blood in the first film?)

Y-oung’uns were even more ob viously the market for the second wave of movies, with exciting but unnecessar­y chase scenes in every film, and cheesy, vaguely racist humour that had adults rolling their eyes even while kids were rolling in the aisles.

But marketers have learned over the years that not only do grownups like their Star Wars toys — they have more disposable income to spend on them. Those BB- 8 droids, selling at close to $-200 a pop, are not being pur chased with allowance money. N-either are the adult-sized watch es, including a low-key line from Nixon; they start in the hundreds o-f dollars and reach into the thou sands. Also: L’Oréal’s Wookiee hair-care line, or whatever that is.

Besides, so much time has passed that new movies like The Force Awakens can now work on t-hree generation­s simultaneo­us l-y. Nostalgia will bring in the ori ginal fans, whose generation also includes its director/co- writer — Abrams, now 49, was 10 when Episode IV premiered — and writer Michael Arndt, 45. ( The other writer, Lawrence Kasdan, now 66, also worked on Empire and Jedi; a nice link to the past.)

M-illennials, whose introducti­on to the franchise was Jar Jar Binks, can now get a sequel worthy of the name. And the thrill of the new will no doubt entrance a new generation. After all, they already grew up on Star Wars. It’s in their DNA, maybe even their midi-chlorian count.

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