Sometimes, memory and reality get all tossed around in our noggins. In my mind, it was a cold December evening in 1981 when my dad came bursting into our small row house in Baltimore County, urgently telling me to come with him. There was a movie. A movie he had just seen. And now-- he couldn’t wait to take me.
I had the year right: ‘81, but according to imdb, Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in June, so there wasn’t a chill in the air when I followed my dad out to our station wagon and onto the theater. We probably went to The Senator: a grand, one screen palace that recalled celluloid glories from the past, with ushers and a balcony. I want to say we went there because the experience of seeing Raiders felt so BIG. Like a gigantic roller coaster and haunted house rolled into one.
The movie had captivated my dad. It completely floored me. And over the 115 minute run time, a new bond formed. My dad and I became movie buddies.
To this day, I have very clear memories of many movies I saw in the theater, particularly ones that I saw with my dad. The sharpest recollections are of the R rated films he took me to, because I felt I was gaining admission to something forbidden.
Trading Places. Gorky Park. Stir Crazy. Silkwood. Witness. Rambo First Blood Part 2.
Well. I never said they were all good, right?
Raiders was so indelible that it transformed me into a junkie-- always chasing a new cinematic high. Spielberg. Bob Zemeckis. Ivan Reitman. John Hughes. Each of these guys left a thumbprint on my brain. Sometimes it was adventure and thrills. Sometimes it was more philosophical. I’m not joking when I say that Ferris Bueller changed my life. I pay attention to directing and screenwriting credits because it’s a pretty good barometer for whether a movie is going to be worth seeing. Plus, I can torture my wife with a bottomless barrel of trivia that she has absolutely no interest in. (Her go-to response to one of my questions is often: “Why do you ask me this stuff??”)
Even at this stage of life, when I sit down to watch a movie, I harbor hopes of being transported, amazed and awed. But, the more movies you see, the more you realize how few and far between the gems are. You get jaded. I had a friend once say to me that by the time you’re 30, you’ve seen all the movies there are to see. I hated to hear that, even though at a gut level, I knew he was right. With only 7 basic types of stories, how many different ways can they be told?
I still get surprised and dazzled occasionally, though. And one of the big perks for me as a father is sharing movies with my kids, because if you can’t exactly relive the buzz of seeing a flick for the very first time, the next best thing is showing it to someone who hasn’t gone on the ride yet. In this respect, the new Star Wars was poised to be a double treat.
Though I don’t want to sound like one of those ‘too-cool-for-school’ types who claim they had zero interest in The Force Awakens (oh, what are you waiting for, a sequel to Remains of the Day??), I was never a Star Wars fanatic. Of course, I saw the movies and knew all the references that any Gen Xer is required to know, but did I continue to geek out about Luke, Han and Leia into adulthood? No. In fact, despite giving The Phantom Menace two viewings, I came away with the same impression both times: thumbs down. For me, at least, there was no way around how bad it was, and thus, I’ve never even seen episodes 2 and 3.
And yet… JJ Abrams. He was my primary motivator to see The Force Awakens, because he’s been one of the few directors to give me goosebump thrills and fun like Spielberg. I know people love to rip on Tom Cruise, but have you seen Mission Impossible 3? A total blast. Have you seen Super 8, Abrams’ homage to childhood adventure films like E.T. and The Goonies? Near perfect. And have you seen that other towering interstellar franchise that Abrams revived? Sorry, but you’re out of your Vulcan mind if you didn’t have a good time watching the Star Trek reboot.
So the new Star Wars offered the perfect opportunity for me and my son to be taken to a galaxy far, far away for an unforgettable cinematic journey.
However... there was a disturbance in the force.
Well, actually, there was a shitty movie theater in Maui. And the disturbance hit me when my son and I had to settle for seats in the far left of the 2nd row, craning our necks to see the screen.
This is how I’m going to see the new Star Wars? My heart was beginning to break, even as I tried to calm myself down. It’s okay. It’s only a movie, Jonathan.
But. It was more than that. It was a chance for my son and I to be simultaneously blown away by a film, similar to me and my dad at Raiders, 35 years ago. On top of the terrible seats, I had begrudgingly settled for a 3D showing, based on the movie times. I hate 3D. It’s bad enough that it detracts from the movie, but the ticket surcharge just adds insult to injury.
So there I was, crammed into a crummy seat, flimsy 3D glasses perched in front of my real specs, holding a flickering candle of hope that-- despite the circumstances-- I would still feel enchanted.
To JJ Abrams’ credit-- I did. Even though the blurry screen made the action sequences a jumbled mess, I still laughed at the one liners, felt a rush of giddiness when Han and Chewie appeared, and might have even gotten a little misty when Leia dropped the old classic: “May the Force be with You.”
A few weeks later, keeping a promise to myself, I saw the movie again with both kids. In better seats, and in 2D, the movie provided even more fun. As the credits rolled, I smiled to myself. It seemed that even with 44 years and hundreds of flicks under my belt-- I could still find magic at the movies.