But then I walked out of the theatre, and as I was getting into my car, I remembered walking out after seeing the first Star Wars, in 1977. I was just a kid then, but I remember walking out of the theatre and looking up at the sky, thinking "they're out there! That's where I'm going!" I was excited, optimistic that that "future" (even though I knew it was "a long time ago") was possible, was going to be mine.
But today I walked out of the theatre and didn't look up. And I've been mulling over the movie for the past several hours, wondering why I didn't want to turn around and go right back to see it again. And I've figured it out: optimism.
There's no optimism in this movie, and that's a break from the previous Star Wars movies, a bad break.
Picture the first movie, the thing I'm talking about is neatly summed up in one line: when Leia says, "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" And Luke takes off his helmet and says, "I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you." (https://youtu.be/VgHdyaBMMhc) The epitome of optimism; the reason we love that first movie so much.
He's standing there, in a detention block, in the middle of a massive enemy battle station, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of enemy troops who would kill him without a thought, and he's there with his rescue team of six -- including two droids, two smugglers, and an old man who will soon be dead -- but he doesn't hedge, doesn't consider, doesn't fear anything: "I'm here to rescue you."
Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, picks up the optimism right at the start. Luke is late returning to base on Hoth, so Han is going out to find his friend. There's no question in his mind that he can find Luke, that he and Luke will survive, even though C-3P0 knows the odds are long against them. Han rides his tauntaun out into the gathering gloom on the icy planet, and finds Luke, and improvises a way to save his life. And in the morning, when the search craft flies overhead, how does Han greet them? Not "It's about time," not "thank the gods," not "we were worried." It's just the ever-optimistic "Good morning!"
And while the ewoks of Episode VI were lame fighting teddy bears, there was nothing in them but optimism. Little barely civilized woodland creatures going out to fight the newest of new technology, armor, weaponry, but they knew they were going to win, and they did.
The prequel trilogy were darker movies, telling a darker story, but even within that bleak tale of political intrigue, there was enough optimism to keep the feeling alive. From little Anakin in the first movie, who knows he can win the pod race, even though he's never finished a race before, he's up for anything; to Senator Padme in episode II, who learns Obi-wan is in trouble, and rushes off to save him, optimistically ignoring orders and safety to do what needs to be done.
Episode III is bleak and grim, so I'm reaching here looking for optimism, but there is Owen and Beru holding baby Luke, looking at the rising suns on Tatooine at the end. And Senator Organa holding baby Leia at his home. There are hints of the missing optimism.
But all that leads me to Episode VII, The Force Awakens, and I've realized there wasn't a hint of optimism anywhere in the movie. We've got Finn, who's on the run from the military he deserted, just trying to survive (to the point that he's willing to go off and lose himself somewhere in the outer rim). We've got Rey, who's scavenging just to survive, and all she wants to do is go back to the desert planet to wait for whoever abandoned here there. And there's the most insouciant of the bunch, pilot Poe (who is supposed to be channeling Han Solo's devil-may-care attitude from the original films), but even he hasn't a bit of optimism in him. He's egotistical and talented, but he's just in the war to get the job done.
So what about the older cast: Han Solo? Naw, he's been beaten down by thirty years, and now he's just trying to survive, trying to get through the next day. Leia? Battle-weary and experienced, but she's just going on to go on. Luke? Hiding from the universe, nary a hint of optimism to be found.
I'm trying to decide if the death of optimism is a symptom of the modern world, or something else. We're living in the world of the never-ending war on terror, the daily pronouncements by our government that we need to be afraid, the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. But was the world so different in 1977? We were still living in the Cold War; Ronald Reagan had not yet declared morning in America once again, we'd just survived the oil embargo... I'm not so sure the world of 38 years ago was that much more optimistic than the world of today.
Is it simply the new film maker? J.J. Abrams does make big-screen spectacles, but I can't recall much optimism in any of his other movies. Is it that the viewing public is assumed to be more critical, more thoughtful, and that optimism is just too childish?
I don't know what it is. But I do know that I found that optimism lacking, and I'm disappointed.