"I've got a bad feeling about this."
Star Wars fans recognize those words as they're peppered throughout the initial trilogy and slathered all over the prequels. It's also a phrase that, fittingly, more harried Star Wars fans find themselves saying often. And yes, I use "harried" to describe the experience of those of us that... well, have less than favorable memories of the prequels. For that group of disenfranchised fans, last week's #ForceFriday event -- wherein a ton of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" toys jumped out of hyperspace and landed in our galaxy's big-box stores -- was filled with ominous echoes to disappointments past.
I remember where I was when the line of toys for "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" hit stores. I remember it clearly because going to Walmart on a weekday morning before school was not a regular occurrence. I was a high school freshman at the time, so -- this is about to get mad nerdy -- my mom went with me on my quest to get every figure in the "Phantom Menace" line as they were opened up in Walmart at 6 AM. Okay, mad nerdy and mad spoiled. #ForceMonday mania didn't hit Smyrna, Tennessee very hard as it was just me, my mom and a half dozen other Star Wars superfans; we had all somehow figured out the exact time and date that the "Phantom Menace" toys were hitting stores. Seriously, was that on the local news? My mind draws a blank as to how we all lived before we carried the Internet in our pockets.
We scooped up one of each figure, specifically the characters we knew were important like Anakin Skywalker, Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Queen Amidala and Padme (remember when we thought those last two were different characters? We were fools!). I bought that clunky CommTech reader thing so that, I don't know, I could make my figures say one of a few phrases if I put them in a very specific place? I bought figures for characters I thought would see a lot of action in the film (Mace Windu, Captain Panaka, Ric Olie), not knowing I was buying action figures for "Jedi Who Sits In Chair" and "Pilot In That One Scene." Anyway, they're all unopened at my parents' place if anyone wants to fork over stacks of cash for an unopened Boss Nass.
So when I see a mob of people at the Times Square Toys "R" Us lining up to buy action figures for characters they have only seen in action for a cumulative three and a half minutes, I get flashbacks. Are we jumping the gun? Are we getting fooled again? Some of these characters' last names are still shrouded in secrecy; "Phantom Menace" at least tossed on "Naberrie" to help sell their Padme/Amidala fake-out. We definitely do not yet know enough about this movie to be committing money dollars and hysteria energy to it! What if something really important comes along and we just have no more hysteria energy left? Just kidding -- the Internet has taught me that there's always hysteria energy.
I was worried that people were wasting their money on something that could go very wrong, as many (me included) think it did before. It possibly helps to view Star Wars fandom as being separate from "Star Wars" itself; like, separate from the movies, there's a whole other joy some people experience from standing in lines, fighting through crowds, screaming "There's a Rey over here!" and dropping lots of money at midnight on a weeknight. That's totally cool!
But I'd be lying if I said #ForceFriday didn't get to me. I didn't scoop up the whole line of 3.75" figures, but I did... well, I did indulge myself just a little bit.
I couldn't help it! BB-8 is amazing and I don't care if my opinion of him is based on, what, I dunno, twelve seconds of screentime?! He rolls around in the desert and peeks around a corner in the Millennium Falcon and hangs out with the film's female protagonist for at least one scene -- that is enough info for me to base a hefty, hefty purchase on!
It was just after I made that purchase, which involved sweat-drenched me frantically speed-walking from Target to the Disney Store on one of the hotter days of the summer, that I realized that I'm... I'm kinda all in on Star Wars again. The prequels dented my love, leading to 2005-2012 being a relatively dormant period for my Star Wars fandom, but "Force Awakens" mania and the birth of a whole new expanded universe has me excited again.
The first teaser, which dropped last Thanksgiving, kicked this all off in earnest. I'll say it right now: I'm unapologetic about my absolute adoration of J.J. Abrams. There are a few directors that really speak to me, that seemingly get inside my head and visualize fluid movements and action sequences the way I do when I write or read; Abrams, Joss Whedon and Edgar Wright get to me in that way, and that synergistic feeling I have when watching their films, like they're telling stories in a visual way that plugs right into my brain-USB, tends to override any shortcomings -- and I know their films have shortcomings. But I loved "Alias," I loved "Mission: Impossible III" and I especially loved both "Star Trek" films (because they both had healthy doses of "Star Wars" in them). Understand that I do understand all the failings of those films; we don't need to talk about them, ever, because I've done that plenty.
So unlike a lot of my peers, I trust Abrams. But that one teaser wasn't enough, and Marvel's "Star Wars" line -- which launched just a month after our first look at "Episode VII -- capitalized on my re-budding fandom. These books are great. The ones I read -- "Star Wars," "Darth Vader," "Princess Leia" and "Lando" -- are all my first-read books every week they come out. They have all grabbed my attention and actually kept it, mainly because they feel so Star Wars-y.
Jason Aaron and John Cassaday (and now Stuart Immonen, a favorite artist of mine that took over from another fave) bring flagship feels to the flagship book. "Star Wars" is a series that has featured rampaging Imperial Walkers, Luke fighting Darth Vader and Boba Fett, the reveal of a possible Mrs. Solo, a glimpse of a crazy old hermit named Ben Kenobi and more in just eight gorgeous issues. "Darth Vader" features Salvador Larroca turning in the best work of his career illustrating some of the most morally complex and compelling character work I've seen Kieron Gillen write. Honestly, this book is giving me the cruel but sympathetic version of Anakin Skywalker that the prequels promised but failed to deliver. And I love that the line is rounded out by miniseries focusing on a rotating lead; Mark Waid's "Princess Leia" featured breathtaking art from Terry Dodson and carried the emotional weight of Alderaan's destruction and now Charles Soule and Alex Maleev have sent Lando Calrissian on a charmingly noir heist adventure. We're not getting new footage from "The Force Awakens" every month -- and for that I am glad -- so these comics are doing a lot to keep my fandom fire burning bright.
But after buying BB-8 last Friday, I didn't stop there. After all, I've seen all the movies and read all these new comics and, well, there isn't that much expanded universe material out there now that Disney/Lucasfilm hit the reset button. "You know," I thought to myself in my weakest hour, "I could conceivably catch up... pretty quickly."
Fast forward through Labor Day weekend and I've now watched the entirety of "Star Wars Rebels" and started in on Chuck Wendig's "Star Wars: Aftermath" novel. It's not an exaggeration to say that I just don't read fiction novels; I've spent the last few years reading comedian memoirs and Scientology exposes almost exclusively. The last Star Wars novels I read were the "Corellian Trilogy" books when I was in the sixth grade. Just the fact that I bought "Aftermath" is a feat (hearing Wendig's comments about including a gay lead didn't hurt). "Rebels" was absolutely outstanding (I need a toy of Sabine's TIE Fighter ASAP) and I'm actually reading a novel. This is huge!
Over the course of #ForceFriday and Labor Day weekend, I went from being a guy haunted by the memory of that unopened Watto figure to one gleefully playing with a BB-8 droid and swooning over one of the franchise's first gay characters (Sinjir Rath Velus, as portrayed by Kristian Bruun in my head -- novels are great!). I may be disappointed when "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opens in 100 days, but I'm having fun right now -- and it's the most fun I've had with Star Wars since I was a kid.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).