My Journey to The Force Awakens

You receive life-altering news only a few times.

The tooth fairy isn’t real.

That girl in your career orientation class agrees to go to the dance with you.

You were accepted to the only grad school program you applied to.

Jerry Jones miraculously didn’t draft Johnny Manziel.

Eventually, some girl will say yes to your marriage proposal.

Someday, you’ll be told you’re going to be a parent.

But in the middle of all that is Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012.

It’s the middle of your senior year of college. At the moment, about 10 minutes until 3 pm, you sit in a computer lab for a photography class. The teacher, Ernie, lectures over a now forgotten lesson.

You’re messing around with Photoshop. In the equivalent of digital doodling, you create this:Photoshop

At one point in the creation process, the girl sitting to your right, a bleach blond Radio/TV major named Cara, informs you she’s never seen Star Wars.

Sadly, no one’s perfect. (Three years later, you’re not sure if you let her borrow your Blu-Ray set or not.)

Then that life-altering moment appears in your Twitter timeline at 2:53 pm, courtesy of CNBC.

In the span of a minute you experience more emotions than you’d typically experience in a week.

Confusion. Anger. Excitement. Denial. Wonder. Happiness.

That minute has barely passed before you’re informed of even more important news.

In three years, Star Wars: Episode VII would be released upon the world. Confusion overwhelmed all other emotions. Seven years earlier you sat in a theater as the credits began on what you and everyone else believed was the final Star Wars film. Ever.

Sure, there was an animated film connected to a TV Series, but that was different. Revenge of the Sith was the period on a sentence that began 28 years before. The circle had been complete.

The circle was reopened by Disney with $4.2 billion.

The Maker

I wasn’t given a lot of time to process the news. The next day I was on a plane and then a train to Chicago for a journalism conference in Chicago for the week.

But during and after the trip the prospect of a new Star Wars film rattled around my brain. What would it be about? Would the original cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford (especially him) return?

But the biggest initial question at hand was who would be continuing the story that had ended in 1983, eight years before I was even born? Who would take the place of George Lucas?

My No. 1 choice was J.J. Abrams. Combine the nostalgia trip of Super 8, the action, energy and story telling of Mission: Impossible III and the pseudo Star Wars tale in the Star Trek reboot, and you had everything you wanted in a director for the first non-George Lucas installment of the Star Wars saga.

Then came January 25, 2013.

I was in the same room I had been 88 days earlier. This time I was alone. I sat at conference table waiting to be called by Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir for a story on new football head coach Bryan Harsin.

While I waited, I browsed Twitter. Then the news came.

With no one around but Ernie in his office, I danced.

I have never been more excited for someone directing a movie than I was in that moment. In the span of a few seconds I went from guardedly hopeful to hopefully excited.

The only other directors that could have elicited my reaction that day were Steven Spielberg and Joe Johnston.

I may or may not have shared my enthusiasm with Mohajir over the phone when our interview began.

 The Cast

star-wars-episode-7-cast-announce

Where were you on April 29, 2014?

Just a month shy of the anniversary of my graduation from Arkansas State, I was in Indianapolis.

More specifically, I was on the fifth floor of the Informatics & Communications Technology Complex on the campus of IUPUI.

I was a graduate student in the school’s sports journalism masters program and I had my own office (that I shared with the other grad student, Cory).

It was there, in our closet of an office on a to-old-to-be-functioning Mac computer, that I saw the first official cast photo from Episode VII.

For me, the people that mattered the most were all present: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and HARRISON FORD. It was really happening. The Big Three were present and accounted for.

But the Internet had to be the Internet.

Within minutes of the photo appearing on social media, a segment of fans began complaining about the amount of women in the cast based on one photo of a table read 20 months before the film’s release.

Knee jerk reactions are the worst.

That’s the only thing I remember from that day.

That and Ford’s major sweat stains.

The Title

A decade later, I still remember how I learned about the title for Star Wars: Episode III. It was the last time a newspaper provided me with “breaking news.”

It was late July 2004 and I was in a church van on the way back to Arkansas after a week spent in South Dakota for a mission trip. A stop at a gas station had prompted me to buy a copy of the Kansas City Star.

That’s how I learned that the last Star Wars film “ever” would be titled Revenge of the Sith.

Ten years later, I was in North Carolina, a state I had never set foot in until I moved there for my internship with Sporting News in July 2014 a week after my time at IUPUI ended.

My internship ended seven months later, but not before the next Episode VII bombshell was dropped.

This time, on Nov. 10, I sat before a brand new Mac computer. It was at my desk in the Sporting News office. It might have been sunny.

Yes, the title didn’t roll off the tongue like the previous six, but within a month or two it was cemented in our consciousness.

On Dec. 18, 2015, the Force would awaken.

The Teasers

I’ve never stood in line for more than 30 minutes for a Star Wars film. The closest I’ve come to those who waited in line for weeks for a movie were the hours I waited for the first official footage of The Force Awakens.

Everyone knew the first teaser for Episode VII would be released on Nov. 28, 2014. But no one knew when.

As a result, I sat up in bed at my parent’s house Thanksgiving night, waiting for the trailer to unleashed on us.

Midnight came.

Nothing.

Then 2 am, midnight pacific arrived.

Zilch.

It was around this time I gave up. I closed my lap top and attempted to go to sleep.

My attempt was thwarted by my stomach. Soon, I found myself in the bathroom, where I would spend a significant amount of time that night.

When the sun rose, I could be found on the couch in the living room, drained of anything resembling excitement for a movie teaser and Thanksgiving dinner.

But just after 10 am, I found the energy necessary to watch the 88 second teaser.

I watched the first Star Wars film footage in nine years on my cell phone.

Five months later, on April 16, the second teaser dropped in a debut at Star Wars: Celebration.

This time I stood in the living room of my Fort Worth apartment I had moved into three weeks earlier. I had accepted my job with NBC Sports and moved back to Texas, where I had lived until I was 9.

I was standing because my nervous energy wouldn’t allow me to sit.

I stayed that way from the panning shot of the crashed Star Destroyer on Jakku, through Poe Dameron’s excited whooping in his X-Wing and until Han Solo told Chewie they were home.

Days like this were the kind Twitter was made for.

The Toys

I skipped “Force Friday.” I’ll stand in line as long as I need to see a movie, but you won’t catch me waiting in line for toys. I didn’t do it when I was 9, I’m not going to start when I’m 24.

But a little over a week and half after the first toys for The Force Awakens hit shelves, I finally graced a nearby Toys R Us with my presence.

I had a day off from work and after picking up the latest Star Wars comics, pulled into the store’s parking lot in the middle of the afternoon.

I had set foot in a Toys R Us maybe once in the last decade. The last time I had bought a Star Wars toy was in 2010, when I got a Luke Skywalker action figure with the intention of getting Mark Hamill’s autograph at Celebration V.

The plan was thwarted by the $50 charge to get said autograph.

I was without a plan this day. I was just curious.

When I found the Star Wars section, it was empty. In the back of my mind I had expected the two aisles to still be crawling with fanboys even days later. But with school still in session on a Wednesday afternoon, I was alone.

Pretty soon I found what I was looking for: Micromachines.

During my glory days of buying Star Wars merchandise in the late 90s, Micomachines were a must have. They were simply a box with three small, plastic Star Wars ships. Typically an X-Wing, a Y-Wing or the various TIE-Fighters.

I still have most of them, they reside in a plastic container in my closet with the rest of my Star Wars treasures from the previous century.

After determining I would spend no more than $15 (OK, $20) and agonizing for the better part of five minutes, I bought a Micromachine box with an Original Trilogy Star Destroyer, Rebel Blockade Runner and a TIE Fighter with deformed wings.

I also took home a Black Series figure of the Millenium Falcon and the First Order Star Destroyer.

I was so caught up in the moment, when I got home, I pulled that plastic container out of the closet and took a trip down memory lane with toys from a more civilized age.

The Trailer

As I said earlier, there are certain days and moments that make Twitter a magical place.

The day Osama Bin Laden was killed. Halftime of the 2010 Super Bowl. The night of a Presidential debate.

Oct. 19, 2015 was one of these days.

Disney had set the premiere of the only full trailer for The Force Awakens for during halftime of Monday Night Football.

This guaranteed that a lot of people who would normally never watch a second of football would be that night.

I took a small amount of joy in watching them squirm through the Internet.

But just a couple of hours before the trailer dropped, I did the most surreal thing related to Star Wars since that October day three years ago.

I bought my ticket.

At 10:10 PM, one of the best communal experiences I’ve ever had on social media took place.

It was over in 2 minutes and 10 seconds.

But the fun was just beginning.

While Twitter was an incredible place to be that night, it will be a minefield for the next three days.

As I write this the world premiere for The Force Awakens is taking place in Los Angeles.

Pretty soon, whatever happens in the first Star Wars film in a decade will be the worst kept secret in the world. Opinions will be let loose. These are the last moments of unbridled enthusiasm, coupled with fear.

As soon as I get off work tomorrow I’m going radio silent. I will willingly not use the Internet for 48 hours.

On Wednesday, I will drive to Little Rock, Ark. There I will get see my best friend Matt who I haven’t seen in more than a year. On Thursday, we will go to the Chenal 9 IMAX. At 7 pm, we will sit in a theater with 3D glasses on.

The lights will dim and the blue lettering of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” will appear.

Then the journey will be complete.

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About Daniel McFadin

NASCAR writer for NBCSports.com. Former Sporting News intern. Graduated from IUPUI in Indianapolis with a master in sports journalism in 2014 and from Arkansas State University in 2013 with a degree in Journalism. Originally from Lewisville, Texas, now in Fort Worth. Ask me if I like Star Wars. I dare you.
This entry was posted in Fandom, Film, life, Life in Texas, Memories, Movies, Star Wars and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to My Journey to The Force Awakens

  1. “Then that life-altering moment appears in your Twitter timeline at 2:53 pm”

    I was more shocked by ANYTHING to this date (even the killing off of Han Solo), than the news that Lucas gave the whole thing to an “empire.” It still hurts. Seriously.

    Your writing is fantastically good. I am thankful to have caught your name and links.

    Like

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