Black Friday of 2014 feels just like yesterday. On that day, I was in Hollywood Boulevard at The El Capitan to see Big Hero 6 in theaters for the third time. The reason? It was announced earlier in the week that a teaser for the much-anticipated and long-awaited Star Wars Episode VII, recently titled The Force Awakens, would be released in a select group of theaters (only to be posted online just a couple minutes afterward). With El Capitan being on the small list of theaters showing it, I jumped at the chance. While that much-viewed teaser was only a mere 88 seconds long, I enjoyed every moment of it and was very happy to stay all the way through Big Hero 6 a third time just to see the teaser a third time in 3D.
That gives you an idea of how big of a Star Wars fan I am. No, I’m not quite dressing up as Darth Vader big or want to name my future son Luke Skywalker big or anything that drastic, but I’m a pretty big fan. Seen all the movies, always quoting the movies, consider Star Tours one of my favorite Disney attractions (went to 2.0 opening day) and know lots of trivia of the Star Wars the universe itself and the behind-the-scenes making of the movies. I even played several of video-games, have read an occasional comic and I’ve been following the development of this seventh installment from the beginning when Disney purchased Lucasfilm in October 2012 (and really even before that when news of Episode VII was nothing but rumors and speculation). I also remember seeing the teaser at the El Capitan that day thinking “I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now, but I have this film here on opening day.”
Thankfully, that wish came true. LaughingPlace.com readers might recall my first article covering The Ultimate Marvel Marathon back in April. When the opportunity came to cover Star Wars: The Force Awakens Marathon Event on December 17th and see all seven Star Wars films — including the first public screening of The Force Awakens at The El Capitan — I immediately seized the moment.
The event started at Dec. 17th at 1:00 in the morning. Although I came at 10:30 p.m. on the 16th, a line had already started forming. Even though the seats were assigned, I still had the moment of “waiting in line with anticipation” that only Star Wars can really create. I even went through a security check that rivaled an airport, but, once I got in the theatre, the adventure began. Handed out upon entry was a BB8 pin only given out on opening day, two exclusive El Capitan comic books and $10 coupon for Hot Topic.
The night began with organist Rob Richards playing Classic movies score like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, Superman, Indiana Jones, and E.T. as opposed to the entire Disney catalog that he typically plays. Of course, when he epically concluded with the Star Wars theme, the audience was as enthusiastic as ever, ready for the marathon to start.
After that, a man came to the stage in a hood and brought out his Kylo Ren lightsaber, imitating the scene in the teaser. He then turned his head and asked if we were ready for the marathon, to which we cheered and he welcomed us as a representative of Nerdist.com. He encouraged everyone who brought a costume to come to the stage. Some of the more memorable ones were a little boy who was wearing a home-made BB-8 costume out of tin foil, a Christmas themed Darth Vader complete with a sweater (which made one yearn for the Holiday Special to be included in the Marathon) someone even came dressed as Captain Kirk (yes, really) to many people’s jeers.
Chances are you’re aware that the Prequel trilogy (which played first) have a rather mixed legacy, so when Phantom Menace was introduced, some people groaned, especially when characters such as young Anakin and Jar Jar were mentioned. The one character everyone applauded, though, was Darth Maul, which made the surprise that Darth Maul himself, Ray Park, was a guest particularly fitting. He came to the stage explaining how much the movie meant to him as he grew up loving Star Wars and that the movies inspired him to go into gymnastics. The skills he learned in gymnastics would then ultimately lead him to being cast in the movie, making his life come full circle. Before getting off stage, he was actually handed a Kylo Ren lightsaber to which he demonstrated his impressive swordsman skills to much applause.
After The Phantom Menace completed, Attack of The Clones was introduced by James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Young Obi-Wan from The Clone Wars show. He did various voices that he’s known for from Obi-Wan to Fred Flinstone to Ratchet of Ratchet and Clank. He even did his impersonation of a lightsaber which became a running gag through the rest of the night.
Revenge of the Sith was preceded by an appearance Bonnie Piesse, who play Aunt Beru in the Prequels. She explained the most exciting moment on set was seeing Anthony Daniels dressed as C3PO, as that was the first time it struck her that she was in a Star Wars movie. She also talked about her experience of going to the premiere of The Force Awakens on Monday on a closed down Hollywood Boulevard and the excitement that happened there.
Once the prequel trilogy ended, the theatre started to get fuller (there were several open seats for during the prequels) and that’s when the excitement really began to blossom. To introduce Star Wars, Academy Award Winning Special Effects Artist Richard Edlund came and explained how he brought many of his now iconic and infamous special effects to life. He was even asked to imitate a lightsaber sound and he graciously replied, “Nah, that’s Ben Burtt’s job.”
Hands down, though, the most exciting celebrity appearances (and probably the highlight of the entire 21 hours) was right before The Empire Strike Back: a visit from none other than Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams! He was asked by rumors of him being cast in Episode VIII and what Lando would probably be doing, to which he answered “Probably taking down time to spend time with his grandkids” which receive sentimental “awwwwws” from the crowd. He was also asked if there was a particular aspect to his character he liked most in which he replied, “The cape is pretty cool,” which got great laughter. The Nerdist.com columnist was as starstruck as we all were and asked if he could repeat the “Well what have we here?” to her. After a couple failed attempts from embarrassed laughter, Billy Dee obliged with great applause (even kissed her hand like he did with Leia in the movie).
There were raffle prizes given out, as expected from the El Capitan. Prizes ranged from an autographed poster from the cast, to The Force Awakens hats and shirts, to customized figures, to the much desired app-controlled BB-8 that’s been flying off the shelves since November. The most memorable “prize” though came right before Return Of The Jedi. After it seemed all the prizes ran out, they did state they had one more prize to give. They called up a seat number and a girl came to the stage and they said to he, “now we can give you something, or we have something special prize to offer you” in which her boyfriend came to the stage, got the microphone and just stated “So about three years ago…” the whole audience started to laugh and applause as we all could see what was to follow: he eventually got down on his knee and proposed to his girlfriend in front of the entire El Capitan Theatre. The fact this happened right across the street from a wedding held in front of the TCL Theatre as the first Star Wars showing was about to take place really shows just how much this movie series means to so many different people.
Voice actors Dee Bradley Baker and Sam Witwer came on the stage to introduce Return Of a The Jedi. Both men admitted it would be impossible to top a marriage proposal, but they tried their best, doing a “voice-over showdown” between The Emperor and Captain Rex, and yes, imitated lightsabers.
Before the big moment of screening The Force Awakens came, they raffled the last of the prizes (all of the audience booed when their seats weren’t picked, showcasing the passion Star Wars brings out of fans). Chris Hardwick came and stated that having seen the film at the premiere Monday night, he insisted we would not be disappointed at all in what we were about to experience. Then came a recorded introduction from J.J. Abrams, saying “If you're watching this, that means you’ve just seen Episodes I-VI and are among the very first people to see The Force Awakens”. He thanked us all for being hard-core fans and supporting the series and told us he hoped we would enjoy the movie then concluded with, “I was going to say ‘May The Force Be With You’ but that would be a little cheesy.”
So how was it to sit through all seven films in one continuous sitting? Well, the only one that was a chore to get through was the Phantom Menace to which I kept dosing off in. I’ll be generous and blame the 1:00 a.m start time for that, but, honestly, how awake and alert can you really be for a movie in which the main plot follows trade federations? Attack of The Clones and Revenge of the Sith were definite improvements: it really helped to be in a very receptive crowd that mockingly applauded all of the “awkward” moments in both. When in the presence of true die-hard fans, you can’t help but want to celebrate all of Star Wars, the bad with the good. Both have enough fun action and “fan moments” that I was able to overlook that the potentially fascinating story of how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader was ultimately a missed opportunity. What struck me most about rewatching the Prequel trilogy was just how completely different in tone and structure the prequels are from the originals, despite a number of the classic characters featured. They just don’t really “feel like Star Wars” which makes it easy for the haters to ignore them if they so choose.
Seeing the original trilogy on the big screen (something I have never done) was probably the highlight of the whole night — even more than Episode VII. Unfortunately, they were the most recent “Special Editions” featured on the latest Blu-Ray released, but that was almost worth it when the entire audience booed during the “the showdown” at the Cantina Bar with at least three people shouting “Han Shot First!” I hope I can see “the originals” in theaters at some point in my life, but really the fact that I saw any version of one of the all-time great movies, Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope) will always be a very satisfying experience in my life. The same can be said of seeing Empire and Jedi on the big screen. I even found myself applauding with the fans at most of the classic moments from all the introduction of the main characters, to the Death Star getting blown up and even at all the classic lines from “Do or do not, there is no try,” to, “It’s A Trap!” to of course, “No, I am your father!”
I probably can’t finish this article without giving of my thoughts on The Force Awakens. To put bluntly, I liked it, but wasn’t blown away by it. The script was a definite improvement over the prequels. I’ll also give huge credit to J.J. Abrams for his insistence on shooting on 35mm film and using as many practical effects as possible. Seeing each film back to back to back, I can confirm without question that it fits alongside with the original trilogy a lot better than the prequels ever did. Of course, it's great to see Harrison Ford and the rest of the “old gang” back together. However, that was also probably the weakest part for me. BB-8 aside, all of my favorite moments were the callbacks to the original trilogy. Yes, there were some clever new takes on Star Wars mythology such as “The Force” and stormtroopers and there were some cool new camera angles of X-wing fighters that we’ve never seen before that helped make this already vast universe feel even bigger. But overall, a lot of the story felt “been there and done that” with a structure a little too similar to Star Wars, but with not quite the same level of freshness and excitement and with a lot more cliffhangers and setting up sequels. While I am interested it giving this film another go as well as seeing future of the franchise (I am particularly intrigued where Rian Johnson goes for Episode VIII), at this point in my life I’ve come to learn and accept that nothing in the franchise’s future will ever quite top the simple thrill of seeing Luke blowing up the Death Star.
The Marathon was a fun experience. It wasn’t nearly as long as The Ultimate Marvel Marathon which meant it came with a few less surprises. No exclusive poster just for complete all the films, less raffle prizes, the giveaways didn’t include sunglasses nor did it include the giant popcorn bucket or giant soda cup which was the biggest disappointment of the night (they did have them, but charged $15 and $8 for them respectively, while they were complimentary for the Marvel one), no one quite as famous as Stan Lee showed up (though Billy Dee came really close) and no character meet-and-greets (although they did have giant Lego figures of Rey, BB-8 and Kylo Ren). Still, the staff was as hard-working as ever with El Capitan putting that same amount of class and professionalism that they’re usually known for, including a lightsaber at the beginning of the movie in addition to the prop and costume display downstairs really helps make the pricey admission of The El Capitan worth it overall. I doubt I’ll ever brag about having spent 21 hours in a movie theatre the same way I’ve bragged about spending 29 hours in a movie theatre to pretty much everyone I’ve met. As a bigger fan of Star Wars than Marvel though, I was a little more invested in all the movies here, which of course was a plus.
— LaughingPlace.com (@laughing_place) December 18, 2015
All I know is that May 25th, 1977 is up there with July 17th, 1955 and July 20th, 1969 as historical dates I wish I could’ve been alive to experience. It's probably safe to say that December 17th, 2015 is the closest I’ll ever get to ever being able experience the manic energy of what it was like opening day of that world-altering motion picture, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every moment of it.