I did not grow up with Star Wars. My first exposure to it came indirectly through different sources. The worst of these was a Full House episode in which Steve gave a Darth Vader impression and quoted the most iconic revelation in cinematic history, essentially ruining my eventual viewing experience. I never experienced the shock of learning the characters’ secret identities and relationships.
I did not watch the films until I was well into my teen years. My dad found the original trilogy on videocassettes at a yard sale. I sat through them, but didn’t see much to like. I couldn’t relate to Luke the farmboy, or Han the smuggler, or Leia the princess. I did not particularly like Leia, as she seemed to have a bad attitude around allies and enemies alike, and did not go through any noticeable development, even regarding the loss of her home planet (on this last point I think Princess Allura has much better characterization). I also disliked Leia’s trademark cinnamon-roll buns and detested her fetishized metal bikini. And I did not see why Luke and Leia had to turn out to be siblings, a circumstance that had virtually no effect on the plot except to anger Luke after Darth Vader mentions it and rule out the possibility of a romantic relationship between them.
I found the prequels at a library and brought them home for my brother to watch (again and again), but I found the plots confusing and the scenes sometimes painful to watch. The dialogue seemed to be of the same wooden style and poor quality as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. There was a sense of inevitability that I did not like, because I knew the war with the Separatists was all pointless, just building up to downfalls of characters and governments. The Clone Wars cartoon was more bearable because it had Ahsoka, but it continued the trend I saw of Jedi disobeying their masters while expecting their apprentices to obey them.
I suppose I wanted to like the saga because I knew it to be a cultural cornerstone. There was also the fact that I like multi-generational stories, like Les Miserables and Avatar: The Last Airbender. So I liked that aspect of the saga, with multiple generations of teachers and apprentices, and children reckoning with their parents’ legacies. But the movie plots seemed convoluted, too drawn out, with too many unnecessary subplots that distracted from the heroes’ overall goal. It also irked me that so many spin-offs existed, with one layer of story being shoehorned in after another, yet having no effect on the movies. I didn’t understand the way the villains were mass marketed, particularly to children. I also didn’t like the heavy reliance on special effects. I’ve always been drawn more by characters and relationships than special effects and complicated plots. Over-the-top spectacles don’t impact me as much as interactions and emotions. Still, I kept rubbing up against it. My younger brother was, and still is, growing up immersed in Star Wars media and merchandise. I have enjoyed helping him put together Lego sets corresponding to certain scenes or vehicles from the movies.
I was in high school when I heard there was going to be a seventh Star Wars film. I thought this a by now typical case of producers making more content for a franchise because they knew it would generate more money from an already-existing fan base. I wondered when film companies would learn to “leave well enough alone.”
It goes without saying that I did not see Episode VI, The Force Awakens, in theaters. But in the spring of 2016, my college held one of its free movie nights in an auditorium with a projector and screen, and that happened to be the movie they selected. Since it was free, I decided to go just to see what it was like.
Watching The Force Awakens was nothing like watching the previous episodes. For the first time, I experienced suspense while watching the action. Maybe the cinematography was more like what I was used to, making it easier to follow. Maybe I was simply older and more attentive. But the most overwhelming factor was probably the characters. For the first time, I sympathized with them, rooted for them, and wanted to know what happened to them.
It was not perfect. I could see many tropes being recycled from the original trilogy—a droid carrying vital information, a rebel in need of rescue, a Force-sensitive desert dweller getting caught up in the chase, a weapon of mass destruction needing to be destroyed. I spotted several plot holes, such as Maz’s possession of the legacy light saber, and Poe’s unexplained survival and return to the Resistance. But these unanswered questions did not detract from the excitement of the rest of the story. I loved Rey most of all. Unlike Leia, Rey was immediately given several “save the cat” beats. Instead of introducing her in the middle of an action sequence, the movie showed her “daily grind,” which revealed established much about her character: sweetness, playfulness, loneliness, resilience, loyalty. I did not consciously identify with her at first, but later I realized we share some qualities.
I had moved from ignorance to indifference to interest, which was enough to convince me to see Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, in a movie theater. I figured seeing a Star Wars movie in a theater was an experience worth having. That movie blew me away, surprising me again and again. It was immensely satisfying, and yet left me hungry for more. I started to reconsider the series as a whole, and decided to look into the most recent canon material. My family had gotten me a copy of Shakespeare’s Star Wars some time ago, and I finally gave that series a try. I found it delightful, and it made me decide to re-watch the original trilogy for the first time in years. I understood the plots and dialogue much better after reading the Shakespearean adaptations! I also tried out Claudia Gray’s novels about Leia’s coming-of-age and adult career. Both Leia: Princess of Alderaan (about her coming-of-age) and Bloodline (about her post-Rebellion career) were wonderfully written, and I found myself liking Leia more than ever before! And the more I browsed Tumblr, the more I realized that The Last Jedi has as much to examine and unpack as any great work of literature, with amazing symbolism.
I am grateful to the writers, actors, and other talents behind the sequel trilogy for finally turning me into a genuine, wholehearted fan of the Star Wars franchise. I never expected to experience so much joy and have my imagination so stimulated by this story.