Watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night was a supremely satisfying experience, and seeing it at 4:30 in the morning just made it better. Waiting in line for a highly anticipated movie at 4:30 AM is different than at 8 PM, or even at a midnight movie—the characters we met during the lead-up were almost as good as the film itself, and just as believable. That, and J.J. Abrams' recipe somehow satisfied my inner child, inner adult, and inner crochety old man all at once; at 4:30 AM, my emotional palette discerned two parts love, three parts awe, and pinch of gripe for flavor.
By the time I got around to buying my tickets, every midnight screening—and earlier—was sold out. Somehow I convinced three friends to buy early-morning tickets, too. We all planned to power-nap immediately after work, then meet up and get to the theater around 2 AM in case there was a crazy line.
The theater is deserted upon arrival. Two dudes sleep in a corner—maybe they were waiting in line for an earlier screening and got left behind?—but other than that, just bowtie-clad movie theater staff. "It was pretty crazy at the midnight showing," the ticket guy tells me. "Everyone rushed the theater and one guy was bleeding everywhere." I contemplate this, and that's when I first begin to suspect that 4:30 AM showings are actually a great idea, and not something to grumble about to acquaintences I run into on the subway.
As there was not yet a line, we headed to a nearby pool hall and my suspicions solidified as we got roped into several games with a self-proclaimed pro pool player wearing black Dickies shorts and a T-shirt with a space ship on it. Having just seen the movie, he constantly promised not to spoil anything while brushing dangerously close to plot points and some of the big reveals—and boy, are there big reveals.We barely lost both times, which means he's probably not actually pro, because none of us are very good.
After the second drawn-out match we realized we should head to the theater, where we found the line we'd gotten there so early to avoid. Doors didn't open until 5 AM, but we were #blessed enough to meet a gentleman in full Lando Calrissian regalia, including cape, mustache, and swagger. We bonded with nearby line-mates thanks to the pestering of a seemingly drugged-out bald dude wearing 100% denim and sporting a massive head wound, allegedly from a fistfight the day before.
Some gems from this guy, each delivered with a snowflake's sponteneity and lack of context, include a slurred question, "So do you like boys or girls? You seem like the kind of guy who likes girls. I like girls too. A lot," followed by uncomfortable laughter. Then a half-shouted, "You know I'm a firefighter!?" as he tried to cut two people in line. He disappeared for awhile after that, then reappeared at the last minute, offering a casual, "So, whaddya think guys? Are we stayin' or leavin'?" After paying $20 for IMAX 3D tickets and waiting for three hours to get reasonable seats, the thought of leavin' hadn't even crossed our minds.
Finally, we made it through the doors, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" appeared on screen, and all was right in the world. There was a lot. of. hype, and Abrams' film lived up to it. Packed with references to Episodes IV, V, and VI to the point of near imitation, many parts felt like spending time with the buddy you were joined at the hip with in high school: beautiful and fun, loveably predictable. The young dreamer stranded on the desert, eyes locked on the sky. The planet-killing super weapon. The the fate of the galaxy hanging in the balance. The banter.
Other moments felt wildly new and exciting. Instead of faceless automatons dying offscreen, bodies crumple; fly through the air; bleed. The horrors of war and mass killing are acknowledged. Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren is a very different kind of villain, punishing his underlings with hot rage and frustration, as opposed to Vader's cold, "horrible boss"-style of management.
This juxtaposition makes The Force Awakens feel like a two-hour-long crossfade. It introduces fresh new characters and ideas to the massive-yet-fragile world that fans have come to love and think of as their own. Abrams blends his signature fast-paced action and dialog with the philosophies of the Force, adopting the same three-part narrative that carried the original trilogy. It's at once a refreshing blood-pumper and a relaxing bathe in nostalgia.
Leaving the theater, I realized that not only did I love the new characters and world of Star Wars, I loved going to movies at the ridiculous hours of the night. We flipped the movie-going script: when we walked in it was dark, and when we walked out it was light. We ate breakfast at a nearby diner—real breakfast, not any-time-of-day breakfast. We both critiqued and lauded the room to grow built into this new Star Wars franchise. Then, I had the whole day ahead of me.
See Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in theaters today.