From Matthew McConaghey to Twitter nerds, it seems everyone on the internet lost their shit over the new Star Wars trailer.
Back in the 20th century, if you cried while watching Star Wars, you were just sad and alone. Not any more. Now, you can hop online and publicly document your weepy catharsis at seeing Harrison Ford dressed as Han Solo for the first time in 32 years.
If you don't think this is a thing, just type "Star Wars crying" into Twitter:
When I spoke with Tor.com staff writer and geek critic Emily Asher-Perrin, she told me the waterworks first started when she heard the voice of Luke Skywalker for the first time since 1983. "My childhood hero was back, and he sounded just like himself, and it was the most comforting feeling in the whole wide universe," she said. "[It was] like being wrapped up in a space blanket."
An old publishing friend, Jacob Arthur told me the direct address from Luke worked for him, too: "When Luke said, 'You have that power, too.' That you brought my chest to a mighty swell."
He continued: "I've waited too long for someone to awaken that hope and pride. I think that might have been the second or third most meaningful you I've heard in my life."
On Vulture, in his shot-by-shot recap of the trailer, the critic Abraham Riesman catalogued his entire emotional reaction to the trailer. He was struck by the "silver stormtrooper with a cape," which caused "actual tears" to pour out of his eyes.
When I spoke to Riesman to understand why he had such a reaction, he said what he was seeing in this trailer matched up for what he'd always hoped for as a kid: a dystopian battle-scarred Star Wars. "To see your hopes given life is a powerful experience that transcends cynicism," he explained. "I sort of lost control. It was like being in a very extreme yoga pose: I was crying as a form of release beyond words."
In numerous ways, cultural critics have tried to pinpoint the exact moment when Star Wars ceased to be a movie franchise and became a cultural touchstone. That point remains elusive, but it's an unshakeable fact that Star Wars has effectively slipped into the public domain in terms of how we think about it. Part of this has to do with to what degree we're angry – or hurt – about what George Lucas "did" to a thing so many of us loved. For Star Wars fans, Star Wars itself is like a deadbeat dad who left, came back, and left again. By extension, everything we associate with "real" Star Wars (i.e., anything from the original three movies) is also like a parent that has ditched us – or, worse, died.
In the 17th century, when the word nostalgia was invented by Johannes Hofer, it was all about a longing for a return to a specific place. Simon Reynolds explores this in the opening chapter of his 2011 book Retromania: "Nostalgia was literally homesickness, a debilitating craving to return to the native land." With this in mind, it shouldn't be any surprise that Han Solo's utterance of the word home at the end of the trailer really did it for a lot of people people. The line, "Chewie, we're home," even caused Asher-Perrin to break out into a second wave of tears.
Of course not everyone who was moved went so far as to cry.
"I knew a lot of this was coming," Brandon Burton, a fan of Star Wars who works as a classically trained actor, wrote me in a email. "I was like, 'Yah, black people as main characters'... R2-D2 is the blackest character. Dude throws shade with beeps and boops. But I saw most of that shit coming. So, no, I didn't lose my shit. But yes, there was an approving nod."
Two years ago, Burton and I had a long discussion in which we both prayed for a nonwhite lead actor to show up in the new Star Wars. When John Boyega was cast, it was a moment of relief and celebration.
In speaking to the crowd at the Star Wars Celebration last Thursday in Anaheim, Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy echoed the notions of diversification and representation when she stressed the importance creating more gender parity in Star Wars. When asked which Star Wars character she would be, she responded, "Up until recently, I didn't have much of a choice. There was only Princess Leia," reminding me that this thing we're crying over has some sexist baggage.
The trailer that opened the facial floodgates
For me, the heartstring tugging and tear jerking is mostly connected to Han Solo, who was a big part of my adolescence. There's a passage about a Luke versus Han debate in Ashley Cardiff's book Night Terrors that I love and quote all the time: "But right about ten or so, I started thinking Han Solo was the more charming and interesting of the two. This is because Luke represents chastity and virtue, while Han Solo represents cock."
With his unbuttoned shirt and infectious, shit-eating grin, Han Solo is the guy a lot of us want to be. (And not just guys, either. Asher-Perrin's wife, the science-fiction author Kelsey Ann Barrett, frequently dresses up as Han Solo for conventions.) You could argue that this is down to the fact that Harrison Ford created a certain flirty-but-safe-type of sex symbol with both Indiana Jones and Han Solo. But Han Solo is relevantly different from Indy for one reason: He's the outsider in Star Wars, the guy who doesn't believe in the religion that surrounds and binds the whole phenomenon, both in the films and in real life.
Fittingly, Harrison Ford is bristly about the iconic character. His Reddit AMA from last year made some of his flippancy about Star Wars fandom pretty clear. Who shot first, Han or Greedo? "I don't know, and I don't care," was Ford's response. During the Force Awakens panel on Thursday, John Boyega detailed a story from the most recent film set in which he creeped out Harrison Ford by asking the actor to sign a Han Solo action figure. Boyega claimed Ford said, "This is weird," but signed the "doll" (Ford's words) anyway.
So, despite flying planes and helicopters, Harrison Ford is not Han Solo, and at 74, he's certainly no longer the conventional sex machine that we all fell in love with. Now, seeing Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the new trailer is bittersweet. This happened with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, to an extent. But at that point, the zeitgeist was sort of ready for that movie to be disappointing. There was something about Shia Lebeouf that made us prepare to be let down. But the promise of The Force Awakens is that there will be healing for those who've felt that George Lucas, Star Wars, and specifically Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker abandoned them.
Spencer Kornhaber, writing for the Atlantic, recently worried that the new Star Wars film may be pandering to a fan-service culture, and I think there's something to it. But it's deeper than simple fan service. Fan service was George Lucas putting in someone who sort of looked like Boba Fett in Attack of the Clones in 2002, or the promise of a Batman versus Superman throwdown in the next Zach Snyder flick. Fan service is the camera rotating around all the Avengers as they prepare to do battle. But an old guy, looking really grey, grinning, talking about "home"—that's different. It's a promise that whatever thing we think we've lost has come back.
Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths forthcoming from Plume (Penguin Random House)on November 24, 2015. He's written for the New York Times, Electric Literature, the Awl, Tor.com, and elsewhere. He lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter.