Movie News & Reviews

‘Star Wars’ fans bring new hope to ‘Force Awakens’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Trailer

The third trailer for the upcoming seventh Star Wars film, directed by J.J. Abrams.
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The third trailer for the upcoming seventh Star Wars film, directed by J.J. Abrams.

When Matt Joyce noticed a suit of Stormtrooper armor in a box at his work, he jokingly asked if he could wear it during the Thursday night premiere. No way, thought the concierge at Chapel Hill’s Silverspot Cinema: Certainly the theater already has someone else picked out. Before Joyce knew it, though, he was trying it on. That part, it turned out, was even harder than getting the OK to wear the suit.

“When you’re trying to suit up, it seems like parts are going to be too big, parts are going to be too small,” Joyce says. It gets easier with practice, though the helmet presents its own set of challenges. “The vision is interesting. I would equate it to about 20/80 vision. It’s kind of like looking through sunglasses made of fishbowls.”

No wonder Stormtroopers can’t aim.

Joyce, like many of the “Star Wars” faithful, is excited about “The Force Awakens,” which officially opens Friday. Fans like him are writing books, buying collectibles and getting into character, or cosplaying. There are even statewide cosplayer organizations, the largest being North Carolina’s 501st Stormtrooper Battalion (unfortunately, Disney is prohibiting members of the 501st from speaking to the media ahead of the new film, a member of the 501st told us).

Their excitement is realistic – they don’t want to set themselves up for disappointment, as they’ve been let down before – but it’s still strong. They have their tickets, and the wait is nearly over.

“If it’s even remotely close to how I feel about the original three, I’m going to be very pleased,” says Jeremy Tarney, one of the main organizers of NC Comicon, who is dressing as the original Obi-Wan Kenobi at the same Silverspot premiere. “If I had to say I was worried about something, it’s that the expectation is so high for it.”

I’m hoping that the movie will at least meet me halfway on what I want it to be. If it does, I’ll be happy.

Matt Joyce

The best way to go into “The Force Awakens,” he says, is not to judge it against the sheer cultural impact of the original trilogy, but to accept it as its own adventure. “I’m hoping that the movie will at least meet me halfway on what I want it to be,” says Joyce. “If it does, I’ll be happy.”

His own love of “Star Wars” dates to his childhood, when he watched the VHS tapes. Later, when he was 9 or 10, “The Phantom Menace” came out. He was the perfect age for the kid-oriented prequels, he says, and Episode 1 villain Darth Maul remains one of his favorite “Star Wars” characters. This lifelong thread of nostalgia is common in “Star Wars” fans.

“If you go back to first grade or second grade, I had probably three really strong memories of what happened that year – one of them’s ‘Star Wars’ and one of them’s Christmas,” says Joel Leonard, author of the children’s book “The Night Before Star Wars.” (Full disclosure: Leonard is the son of The News & Observer’s director of news research Teresa Leonard).

In the age of social media, it can take more work to avoid spoilers than to seek them, so Leonard said he is actively avoiding rumor sites. What he has seen, though, is promising: In the trailers, for instance, he noticed that the sound effects are correct. It’s a little thing, but it shows the filmmakers are thinking about the longtime fans.

The toymakers are thinking about them as well.

Larry Crowe, who owns Crowemag Toys in North Raleigh, stocks his share of “The Force Awakens” toys, but knows that fans’ tastes vary. So he stocks “Star Wars” merchandise from all eras – and in all price ranges. Children come in with their parents and want cheap action figures, so he has loose ones he sells for a few bucks. Collectors come in looking to drop a few hundred bucks or seeking a specific Clone Trooper or alien species; he has all that too. He has a giant Lego Darth Vader that he rescued from a Target trash compacter, where such things usually end up, and some of the larger spaceships.

“You have to know what they’re after,” Crowe says. “You have to have a little bit of everything.”

What he sees, too, is a surge in people trying to sell him old “Star Wars” stuff. Sometimes these toys are dirty or have obviously been stored for years, and the would-be sellers don’t know the value of the items they’re trying to unload. They don’t know, say, that many figures from the ’90s are worth little more than they were when first purchased or that original toys from the ’70s aren’t going to increase much more in value.

“The same ‘Star Wars’ figure I had last week for $7 is still $7,” Crowe says.

The more people that like ‘Star Wars,’ the more ‘Star Wars’ I get.

Joel Leonard

Yet it all comes back to the film, which is finally out. Joyce remembers seeing people dressed up as Darth Vader or Stormtroopers when he was a kid going to the original trilogy’s 1990s re-release, and he’s excited that he can give that experience to today’s kids. Tarney, who cosplays frequently, is simply excited that “Star Wars” costumes involve less spandex than superhero ones. And Leonard is thrilled to share the new film with everyone – fans and non-fans alike.

“The more people that like ‘Star Wars,’ the more ‘Star Wars’ I get,” Leonard says.

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