My work for the educational game company has been delayed for a day by minor pipeline issues, and I'm fielding additional emails before penning a Weekly Volcano Gift Guide story. That leaves me with unexpected time on my hands. I decided to use this time to write about something I love. This has been a month of things I hate, frankly, with school shootings and Russian Metrojet Airbus bombings and a series of attacks on the city I love most in the world, Paris. On the other hand, it's also been a time of promising changes for my wife and me, as she starts an amazing new job and I extend my daytime contract into game testing and final revisions. We've had our first read-through on The Credeaux Canvas, a play I'm directing as a labor of love for next March, and we'll block the show tonight and next Monday so our actors can memorize their roles over the holidays. Some nights my wife and I are tired and upset beyond words, not at each other, but at a world where bullets tear through French restaurants and our "leaders" are actually, can you freaking believe this, debating whether or not to take in Syrians fleeing for their very lives from our mutual murderers, Daesh. (Daesh, in case you haven't heard, is the Arabic acronym for ISIS. Apparently Daesh members find acronyms dismissive. Also, if you say it just right, da'esh sounds like the Arabic word for "trampler," which is PERFECT. I intend to use it exclusively from now on and encourage you to do the same.)
[P.S.: in the first draft of this blog post, I quoted from mainstream news sources who said da'esh sounds like the Arabic word for "bully." From sources I'm reading today, it appears that may have been false. I don't speak Arabic at all, so I rely on people who do when I say da'esh sounds like (but isn't, quite) the word for "trampler." I hope I'm right now.]
We've shed a lot of tears over the state of the world, and now, more than ever, we need something to cheer us up. That something, for me, is a goofy 1977 kids' fantasy, the British-American space opera commonly referred to as Star Wars. I saw it with my family at the Ventura Drive-In when I was nine, then again I-don't-know-how-many times with my mom on Saturday afternoons, usually at the late, lamented Old Towne Mall  in Torrance, CA. It became our thing. First we'd eat lunch at Denny's, which offered kids' menus with built-in, perforated robot masks, then hit a Star Wars matinée and thrill to the adventures of Han Solo and Company. (Han was driving the boat, after all. Luke and Leia were basically luggage.) In the late '70s and early '80s, if you were a boy who wasn't good at sports, chances are you lived for Star Wars. I could probably recite the Holy Trilogy from memory. I won't. But I could.
I probably won't. Probably. Don't push your luck.
Anyway, I'm not a prequel hater. I dig Watto and Darth Maul and Boss Nass and kendo Yoda and that ominous scene at the Coruscant Cirque du Soleil. Episodes I through III were beautifully designed and boasted at least as many interesting moments as most summer popcorn extravaganzas. Were they Star Wars, though? No. Not the Star Wars I knew. They were shiny, not lived-in. They offered wooden performances of terrible dialogue in front of greenscreens, not wooden performances of occasionally terrible dialogue in front of actual sets. They gave us a lead couple, Anakin and Padmé, with all the sexual chemistry of day-old peanut butter and jelly, a Gungan doofus who somehow made baby talk sound racist, and the backstories of characters whose later-stories were far more interesting. About the best one could say about the prequels was they tided us over. Were they as good as the original Matrix or Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films? Of course not. And that rankled. As I entered my forties, Star Wars became something I had mixed feelings about. We all did, I guess.
I greeted the news that George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and his rights to all things Star Wars to Disney with mixed emotions. It made me feel old, I think, seeing the Flanneled One fade into the double Tattooine sunset of retirement, but I respected Disney's oversight of recent acquisitions Pixar and Marvel. Could they do the same with Star Wars? I dreamt of a Return of the Jedi sequel directed by Brad Bird (who passed on it to finish the just-okay Tomorrowland) or Jon Favreau (whose live-action reboot of The Jungle Book, due next April, looks fantastic). The reins were handed to J. J. Abrams instead, but I was fine with that, as I loved Abrams' jump-starts of Mission: Impossible (III) and Star Trek. J. J. Abrams is good at restarting things. He's less good at continuing them, sure, but that was producer Kathleen Kennedy's job. The franchise was in capable hands.
When Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt dropped out due to accelerated production timetables, Larry Kasdan took over as screenwriter-in-chief. That was excellent news, because Kasdan is the guy who wrote The Big Chill, Silverado, Body Heat, and oh yeah, Raiders of the Lost Ark and...wait for it...The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Yeah. That guy. Writing a direct sequel to Empire and Jedi. With the original trilogy cast. Shooting in actual locations. With working robots. On the Millennium Falcon. So when Han Solo growls, "Chewie, we're home," yes, it does feel exactly like that. There's a reason why grown people cried when they saw that early trailer. It took them, and me, back to being nine years old again. It's Christmas morning. The gifts have been placed beneath the tree. All that remains now is to sip eggnog and let the kids open them.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens one month from tonight. It is not just a movie. I mean yes, it will take exactly two hours and fifteen minutes to see the thing, a longish movie length, in movie theaters as we plow through buckets of movie popcorn and pay inflated 3-D IMAX movie prices. But it's also an international holiday. Call it Life Day, assuming that doesn't make you, my fellow Star Wars nerds, cringe. It's a day when America gives the world something magical. We Americans know we can be childish. We can also be childlike, in the sweetest possible way. A new Star Wars movie is one of those rare times we come together to share something earnest, exciting, and wonderful. It's an event packed with all our goofy optimism and humor, a John Williams-backed binary sunrise heralding grander adventures to come.