They’ve seen a glimpse of Leia looking forlorn. They’ve cheered when Han Solo said, “Chewie, we’re home.” And they’ve all debated why Luke Skywalker is so elusive in the trailers.
Unless you live in a galaxy far, far away, there has been no escape from the gargantuan level of excitement surrounding “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which officially opens on Dec. 18.
Fans are giddy that they will see their favorite characters from the original “Star Wars” trilogy again (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) while being introduced to a slew of newcomers (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) who will soon be household names.
Randall Aviks of Wichita likens the phenomenon to reuniting with old friends.
“We love these characters. We love Han Solo. We love Princess Leia. We love Chewie. We love Luke. And we want to see what happens to them.”
The first reaction
Aviks, 45, remembers the rush of seeing the original 1977 “Star Wars” film.
“Life changed. Bam! Right there!” he said. “The minute you see those spaceships come overhead. You see C-3PO and R2-D2 bumbling around and rebels scrambling. I had never seen anything like that before in my life.”
The Wichita comic book artist and actor was 7 years old when he first saw the movie.
“I literally jumped out of my chair,” he said. “I could not believe what I saw, and I’ve never been the same since.”
I literally jumped out out of my chair, I could not believe what I saw, and I’ve never been the same since.
Curt Caster, 51, had a similar experience.
“It was the first time that I felt awe at a movie theater,” said Caster, a Wichita engineer. “I knew that this was something that was really going to mean something to me.”
Wichitan Jodi Goff loved “Star Wars,” but it was “The Empire Strikes Back” that really made an impression with her.
“When Darth Vader said, ‘I am your father,’ we all stood up and screamed ‘nooooo!’ And then cried our eyes out. Saw it five more times and still couldn’t believe it each time.”
For Derek Richardson, owner of Hero Complex Games and Entertainment in Wichita, it all started even before he saw “Star Wars.”
“The summer when I was 5,” he said, “I went to the Crest Theatre and saw the poster for ‘Star Wars.’ I begged my mother to see it.”
And that set the course for his life, in a way.
It got him to read as a child, first with the “Star Wars” comics. Those led to actual “Star Wars” books, and those led to similar material.
“My parents were like, ‘Well, Jedi knights are like knights of the round table,’ ” Richardson said. “So they got me stuff like ‘King Arthur’ and ‘Ivanhoe.’ ”
It fueled his thirst for knowledge. So much so that he went on to get a degree in ancient medieval history with a specialization in dark-ages Britain.
“And that all started with ‘Star Wars,’ ” he said.
The scope of the Force
The fandom of “Star Wars” is far-reaching, across the globe, across generations. It’s like the world’s biggest club without a secret handshake.
But then again, it doesn’t need one. “Star Wars” fans stick together.
Aviks tells a story of pulling over on the road once when he had a flat tire. He is such a die-hard collector of all things “Star Wars” that he was “on my fifth or sixth Millennium Falcon, so I kept one in my trunk.”
But when he had the flat tire, he had to get to his jack, so he pulled the Millennium Falcon toy out and set it on his car. Pretty soon, someone stopped and helped him change his tire. Aviks thanked him profusely.
“And he said, ‘Well, I gotta admit, the reason why I stopped is you have a Millennium Falcon on the side of your car, and it caught my eye.’ ”
Aviks points to a Millennium Falcon toy on a shelf in his memorabilia-filled room.
“That’s what ‘Star Wars’ does,” Aviks said. “It unites. You know, in politics, even religion, nobody can get along, but ‘Star Wars’ is the one thing everyone can connect on.”
Caster said it was his first glimpse of an international phenomenon.
“I would see pictures in Time magazine of lines at the Chinese theater in Hollywood,” he said. “Just a mile long, people waiting to see this movie, and I just realized how big it was everywhere. That people all over the world were as excited as I was. So that was a cool feeling.”
I just realized how big it was everywhere. That people all over the world were as excited as I was. So that was a cool feeling.
Richardson points out that the scope of “Star Wars” is still ever-reaching. He mentions a society called the 501st (read fifty-first) Legion, which is made up of “Star Wars” costume enthusiasts. It’s a national group with a local chapter. And a group out of Kansas City that he recently connected with builds full-scale, working R2-D2 replicas.
The website www.starwars.com documents and informs the global “Star Wars” community, with information about the vast “Star Wars” universe: the first six films, video games, TV shows and more. But it also fosters fellowship through its “Force for Change” program, which aims to “inspire people to make a positive impact on the world around them.”
Passing the legacy
What does “Star Wars” ultimately mean to Caster?
“It’s now something I can share with my kids,” he said. “They may not really nearly care about it as much as me, in fact I know they don’t, but it’s still something fun.”
He said there are lessons to be learned from the film’s mythology, particularly the Force.
“The meditation part of it,” he said. “Allow yourself to focus on the good thoughts versus letting yourself be swayed by evil and hatred.”
Aviks said it’s “the ultimate way to connect with your kids. It keeps you young when it needs to and makes you seem like a cool grown-up. And that’s pretty important because there’s not too much that you can connect with your kids. You have 40-year-olds and 10-year-olds that have a common love.”
Goff, a Wichita accountant who will soon be 50, said it’s been fun watching her sons grow up with “Star Wars.”
“I think what’s really neat is that it’s something that my generation and my sons’ generation can all get together and talk about. We’re interested in their perspective, and they’re interested in ours.”
Wichitan Corey Ratzlaff, 39, connected his son with “Star Wars” in the ultimate way: He named him Luke.
“Before he was born,” Ratzlaff said, “my wife and I saw episode three (“Revenge of the Sith”) at the Warren, which fans will recall was the episode Luke was born in, and we knew that that was the name we wanted. Plus the name had some Biblical significance for us, so it was an all-around good choice.”
He passed on his love of the films to both of his kids.
“Right now my boys are at the age where their imaginations are running wild,” Ratzlaff said. “And they think Dad is cool, and they want to know the things that Dad likes. And I think Luke gets a thrill knowing that he’s named after the hero of the story – and something he knows Dad is excited about.”
Ready to be awakened
Many die-hard “Star Wars” fans are not fans of the prequels – “The Phantom Menace” in 1999, “Attack of the Clones” in 2002 and “Revenge of the Sith” in 2005. The films were box office hits, but not critical ones. And they caused fan furor over the handling of the precious “Star Wars” origins story.
So some are understandably leery about “The Force Awakens,” even as they’re excited about it.
Aviks said he’s going into the new movies (episodes VIII and IX are already being planned after “The Force Awakens”) with “lowered expectations.”
“I’m one of the many that was just completely burned (by the prequels). They had little bright spots to them, but overall, you expected them to be so much more.”
He said he just doesn’t want to be disappointed in the new film. It certainly does have a lot to live up to: months and months of speculation followed by years of hype. It has some pretty big Darth Vader boots to fill, as well.
But Caster remains optimistic.
“I’m very happy that Disney brought the franchise,” he said. “Obviously it’s breathing new life into it. If they hadn’t done this, ‘Star Wars’ probably would have stagnated. I don’t think the movies ever would have been revitalized like this.”
He said he’s looking forward to “The Force Awakens,” naturally. So is Richardson, who is attending the sold-out “Star Wars” marathon that will show all seven films in a row starting at 4 a.m. Thursday at the Warren east. He said he sees the excitement for the film all around him.
Everybody’s talking about how they’re going to get off work, who’s going to go hold a place in line, how early are they gonna let people out there.
“A friend of mine has been running a countdown clock on his phone from 100 days out,” he said. “Everybody’s talking about how they’re going to get off work, who’s going to go hold a place in line, how early are they gonna let people out there, what the temperatures are going to be like. And every day as I get dressed I think, one less day.”
In a Facebook post, we asked people how they felt after the first time they saw “Star Wars” (responses are edited):
▪ “Durango, Colorado, summer of ’77 with my grandmother and little sister. I was 13 and totally blown away. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over. I probably saw it 20 times that summer.” – Brian Curtis
▪ “Like anything was possible.” – Joshua Cates
▪ “I was excited. I came out making light saber sounds and running around like an X-Wing fighter. My father was cool enough to take me back to see it six more times at the Wichita mall on Harry. My two boys are in the living room playing ‘Star Wars’ right now.” – Erick Riedell
▪ “Amazed! Especially because it was the first movie I had ever seen in a movie theater. My twin brother was a huge fan from then on. It’s a major childhood memory.” – Trish Dool
▪ “‘Empire’ was the first movie I saw that I can remember thinking about for days afterward. I wanted to know what happened next, and I was very worried about the safety of the characters. It was heavy.” – Allen Wilkie
▪ “Enthralled. I was born the year it came out, but I do remember seeing ‘Return of the Jedi’ in theaters. I wanted to marry Princess Leia, be Han Solo and turn my dog into a Wookie. Many sticks in the yard served as blasters and light sabers.” – Joshua Sanders
▪ “I felt like that was the coolest school field trip I ever got to go on. That’s right, they loaded our entire 4th grade class up on buses and took us to the movie theater.” – Gar Chandler
▪ “That another galaxy existed far far away.” – Danny Yoger
▪ “Ready to find Han Solo and profess my undying love.” – Becky Gard
▪ “I thought it meant all my ideas about God were true and everything my Christian parents had told me were lies proven false. And I told my mom I was going to become a Jedi and prove her wrong.” – Bradley Dean Sommerfeld
▪ “Like I could conquer the world … and I was 7.” – Tim Hudson
▪ “The same way I do now. It was the first movie I went to with my father. This year I take my 7-year-old daughter to the new one.” – Tye Pameticky
▪ “Loved it enough to see it about 14 times in the theater.” – Lee Ann Mulford
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’
As of Friday afternoon, these theaters still had available tickets for sneak preview screenings on Thursday:
Warren Theatre west: In 2D at 11:15 p.m. and midnight; in IMAX 3D at 1:30 a.m.
Warren Old Town: In 3D at 10:10 p.m.
In a Facebook post, we asked how people felt after the first time they saw “Star Wars” (responses are edited):
▪ “When I was 7 years old, for my brother Joey’s birthday, we went to the Crest Theatre and saw “Return of the Jedi.” I remember the overwhelming excitement I felt and that I could barely sit still seeing Star Wars at the theater ...” – Kelly Capadona
▪ “Like I took a small step into a larger world.” – James Rhiley
▪ “Saw it with my mom and my younger brother at age 12. We always watched ‘Star Trek’ but this was, well, earth-shattering. I wish she was here with me to see this last one!” – Kerry Johnston
▪ “I was captured from the opening crawl which pulled me along into space. Love at first sight.” – Lana Johnson
▪ “Crest theater ... ‘Return of the Jedi’... changed my life! And it will be the first theater movie my son has ever been to.” – Brent Setchell