Advent is a time of waiting and wonder. While I doubt that J.J. Abrams had Advent in mind, I’ve felt an old sense of wonder return recently as I’ve watched all the last posters go up for his film Star Wars: The Force Awakens which opens this final week before Christmas.
Advent aside, I can hardly wait to see it. I have not one but two friends starring in the movie, so you might think this would give me twice the opportunity for learning some inside scoop about this eagerly anticipated film. But when I wrote Adam to ask how that new crossguard light saber is meant to work without burning off a careless Jedi’s fingers, he never responded. When I called Oscar to ask what it’s like to fly around in the latest generation of X-Wing fighter, it was a chorus of crickets with him too. I could’ve gone on bothering them, but I hate badgering a barista who confuses my order at Starbucks, much less harassing old friends to break their non-disclosure agreements with Disney.
In any event, the new movie has finally arrived, to the crazy delight of fans around the world. For many of us, Star Wars is a seminal film that hurtled, like a comet out of nowhere, burning bright over the summer skies of our youth. It had a huge impact on the movie business when it became an unexpected, runaway hit, mostly with impressionable kids like me. (I should probably make it clear I’m talking about the first in the original trilogy of films—the one released in May of 1977—which now goes by the slightly less magical title Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.)
Certain films we see as children can alter—for better or worse—the way we look at the world. (I know to this day I would never swim naked in the ocean, laugh at a girl with telekinesis or adopt the devil’s child, however cute he might seem at first.) How is it Star Wars hit all my buttons as a kid? Nearly forty years have passed since this iconic film was released and I could still talk you through it scene-by-scene, right down to the way actors said their lines. (“The more you tighten your grip the more star systems will slip through your fingers!”) I should probably confess that my brother and I saw the movie more times than I could ever count. I also think there are just some movies that can yank on our heartstrings, blow open our thinking and move around the furniture in our heads.
My brother and I drove our dad crazy about seeing Star Wars, since our getting to go was hardly a done deal. We hadn’t seen many movies that were rated “PG” in our short lives, but the fact that the film was becoming a box office and cultural phenomenon worked in our favor—“Everyone has seen it but us!” I suspect that once children’s whining finds a refrain, a sane parent will do anything to make it stop. But how could we not whine? Even now, I can still see myself on a Saturday morning in June, sitting with my brother in a waiting room at the dentist’s office, pouring over a Time magazine article about the movie. We stared at the picture of Luke Skywalker and the two suns in the sky over Tatooine. A double sunset on another planet! Space ships! Storm troopers! Wookies! A bad guy in a black helmet! The Death Star. Who on earth had made all this stuff up?
In the end, our father relented. I remember standing in the crowded ticket line of the theater, glued to the movie poster on the wall: a beautiful woman with an exposed leg and a laser gun stood next to a man with an exposed chest holding a light sword over his head while two robots looked on with all the wonder I felt: no one carried weapons or exposed their bodies like that in Richmond, Indiana! When we found our seats and the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared silently on the screen, and then that John Williams score exploded in our ears, we were transported– taken light years away from our small town where nothing ever happened to places where everything did. (To think there was ever a time when special effects were a completely new thing!)
The power of Star Wars to stir up so many feelings—curiosity and longing, thrills and suspense—must have been my first taste of what Hollywood means when it talks about “movie magic.” And when I consider Star Wars after all these years, I can almost return to the original nine-year-old wellspring of wonder it tapped for me. That takes more effort the older you get: recapturing the experiences of a young mind expanding joyfully into new worlds. That there could be planets out there in the universe like ours and heroic battles might be getting fought on them! Even more profoundly, the film moved me on a spiritual level. When the Jedi master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, spoke to Luke Skywalker about serving a power called the Force—an all-powerful energy that surrounds every living thing– it put words to a call I’d begun to feel but couldn’t explain.
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It’s that child-like sense of wonderment that is fitting for Advent and the Christmas season this year; that charge my brother and I felt leaving the State Theater on a summer afternoon, talking over each other as we walked down Main Street to Veaches, our local toy store, where in the months to come we would buy up all the Star Wars action figures that came out and collect every last trading cards. What I would’ve given back in 1977 to know an actor in Star Wars! I couldn’t think or talk about the movie enough. That’s the kind of crazy kids get. Memories hold on to that excitement and God invites us into it again. It’s the fuel from which we can draw inspiration as we await His coming into the world.
Even as these loud, pre-Christmas days push in at us, we might take time to relocate those big-hearted emotional places we knew as kids and wait there for that star of wonder to rise on our horizons. Childhood is rife with the stuff we need for lively wonder and prayer—the little jewels we carry with us into the present after the magic of youth has worn away.
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I never had another movie experience quite like I did with Star Wars; at least, not until 1980, when its even better sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, was released. But remembering what waiting for that film was like speaks more to that waiting part of Advent, and I’m not sure I’m any better at that now than I was at twelve, numbering the days, sleepless with anticipation, desperate to return to a galaxy far, far away.
Title Image by Kristina Alexanderson, “Star Wars play in the morning light,” is available here in Flickr.
“Star Wars Weekend 2015” by Scott Smitt, is available here on Flickr.