The Force Awakens: Now We're Here

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Dear Star Wars fan community –

20 months ago, I barely knew you existed. I’ve always been a Star Wars “fan,” but in the years between the release of Revenge of the Sith in 2005 and the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012, I lapsed in my fandom. Star Wars had become something that occupied only the tucked-away corners of my brain, and then only when I would periodically watch one of the films.

Fast forward to a snowy weekend in March 2014. My wife was out of town for the weekend, and I hunkered down with my Star Wars Blu-Rays and watched all six movies over the course of two days. It had been a while since I’d watched them – a couple of years at least – and that elapsed time made it feel almost as if I were watching them again for the first time.

I say almost because of course every line of dialogue came back to me, every cue in John Williams’ masterful score. Every wave of a lightsaber and blaster bolt. But there was a magic to the films that I’d not felt since, oh, 1997 when I, as a wide-eyed 9-year-old, first saw A New Hope on the big screen.

I dove headfirst back into fandom. I, on a whim, downloaded an episode of Far Far Away Radio, a podcast that appeared in searches as I was looking for all of the Star Wars content I could get my hands on at the end of that weekend. Over the course of the next week, I listened to every episode and started to immerse myself in the wild world known as Star Wars Twitter.

Fast forward again to more than a year later, April 2015. I’m alone, on a cross-country flight from New York City to Los Angeles. My plane lands at 1am and I head to my hotel for a quick hour of sleep before heading to the Anaheim Convention Center to line up for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel to kickoff Star Wars Celebration.

During that flight and in the brief hours before that panel, I marveled at what I, an intensely introverted and shy person, was doing. I’d never met anyone else attending the convention, and I had come alone. Would I be able to bring myself to actually talk in person to people with whom I’d only interacted online? Would I enjoy myself? Would people like me?

Celebration was easily one of the best experiences of my entire life. I was surrounded by other fans for four days in the Southern California sun (well, less the sun than the air-conditioned, questionably-carpeted Convention Center). We squealed at the new trailer and watched it again and again. We talked about our favorite characters and our favorite moments from the films. We watched Revenge of the Sith in 3D and laughed when Anakin said “No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.” We ate too many $2 tacos and drank too many drinks at the Hilton bar.

I won’t lie, I was afraid that after leaving Celebration, that camaraderie I found there was going to fade once everyone left California for their “real lives.” I wasn’t expecting this fandom – and the people in it – to become an integral part of my “real life.”

In the months since, I’ve spent more hours on Twitter than I’d care to admit as we continued to count down to the big one, the release of The Force Awakens. We talked too much about when we’d get a new trailer, freaked out over behind-the-scenes footage, squealed with delight when we saw Finn with a lightsaber via that Instagram teaser. We over-analyzed the poster, shared our Force Friday bounties, dug for clues in the Journey to the Force Awakens books. I became co-host of a podcast that has been the source of some of my biggest laughs, greatest memories, and best friends this year.

And now we’re here. This week we get to watch a brand new Star Wars film. A little more than three years ago, before Disney bought Lucasfilm, it was literally unimaginable that we’d see this happen.

Thank you all for being a part of the journey. I’m glad Disney made that purchase in 2012. I’m glad I decided to watch some Star Wars in March 2014. I’m glad I worked up the courage to fly across the country by myself to spend a long weekend with you all in April. I’m glad I met a lot of you in person and I’m glad I’ve met even more of you on the wondrous world of Star Wars Twitter. I can’t imagine a world where I read news about this movie or watched trailers for this movie without sharing those experiences with this community.

Of course I’ll be ecstatic when the lights dim on Thursday night, but there will also be a part of me that wishes we were all in the same theater – perhaps an arena in the Anaheim Convention Center – to watch the movie together.

That’ll have to wait for the next Celebration, I guess. Don’t be strangers until then.

Love always, and may the Force be with you,

Heath