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1984, aged 5, Plymouth Drake Odeon cinema. I'm sitting with my dad, tucking into a lunchbox full of cheese sandwiches and snacks. I'm literally minutes away from seeing my first proper film in a cinema. It just so happens to be Star Wars: A New Hope. What makes the screening even more special is that they're playing all three original Star Wars films back-to-back. Little did I know then the impact these films would have on me.
Later, after nearly seven hours in the cinema, we emerge on to a busy Plymouth City street, still buzzing from what we had just seen, and all I want to do is go home and play with my Star Wars figures! Re-enacting scenes from the films, doing the voices, saying the characters' catchphrases, saving Leia... my life was simple, but full to the brim with imagination, thanks mainly to the greatest sci-fi films ever made; and of course my dad, for taking me to see them.
Fast-forward 30 years, and I'm a grown man, sitting in a slightly larger cinema with my dad once more, only this time I bought the snacks! I look around the cinema, and I see men and women of all ages; mums, dads, grandparents, younger children, teenagers, students... all eagerly awaiting and chatting about the film that will either relight that fire of imagination, or introduce the Star Wars franchise to a whole new generation of sci-fi fans. The film, of course, is Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It's just amazing. Nostalgia waves over me, hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The opening bars of John Williams' iconic score play, and the equally iconic yellow text-scroll appears: 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...' and instantly I'm that 5-year old boy all over again.
I asked my film club members prior to the release of The Force Awakens if they had seen all of the Star Wars films, to which a majority said "Yes sir, of course!", which I was obviously pleased about. Unfortunately, I later found out that a few of the members were referring solely to the prequels! As such, I felt it my absolute duty as their film club leader to educate them about the original Star Wars trilogy before they got to see the new instalment, and they were duly given homework to watch all six films before The Force Awakens was released.
After they'd watched them, in our next session we started talking about who their favourite characters were, and some started reciting lines, or doing the voices of characters - from both the prequels and the originals - and it was great to hear them talking about Jar Jar Binks being annoying; Darth Maul being cool; Han Solo having the best lines, etc. And then I realised - it didn't matter what generation they were, or which Star Wars films they had or hadn't seen - they were all just fans. They completely bought into the franchise and the stories being told. They all had their favourite bits - their favourite film, their saddest moment, coolest baddie, best lightsaber fight - and they were all reliving those moments as a group after school on a Thursday at their film club.
And the best thing about that particular film club session was that we didn't actually watch any films! We just discussed the world of Star Wars, and watched the new trailers over and over again, and all got far too excited. It's that buzz of excitement that the power of film can generate, which creates more fans and allows more followers to immerse themselves in stories on screen.
The beauty of the Star Wars films lies in their narrative, and the sheer escapism it provides. The knowledge that when you watch one of those films, that for two or more hours you can completely escape from everything in your life, no matter if you're a young child, a teenager, or a 36-year old bloke like me! The imgaination and wonder that these films develop is the one binding thing that allows all generations to enjoy stories together, and with a new influx of Star Wars films coming out over the next few years, long may it continue.
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