OLD-SCHOOL STAR WARS Steve Johnson of Richmond looks at a poster for Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Smitty’s Cinema in Topsham.

The force is strong with this one. The latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, opened Thursday night, Dec. 17, and has already shattered all previous records for a domestic weekend opening, earning $238 million in this country alone. It’s estimated that the new film has made $528 million worldwide and most likely will become the most watched movie of all time, at least for now. Star Wars is back in full force, no pun intended. The 10-year wait for another movie is over, as is the 32-year wait to see more of Han, Luke and Leia.

With my date, I attended a 6:30 p.m. Friday showing of the movie at Patriot Cinemas Nickelodeon in Portland, and while we did not encounter any long lines and no one in costume, the theater was full. I was thrilled to be there, as I went to the first Star Wars in 1977 with my father when I was 4 years old, and this installment brought the magic back immediately. Although I do not really remember seeing the original of the 1970s and 1980s trilogy and the details of that experience, I distinctly recall going to see the sequels in the early 1980s. I wondered how many others in the audience had also been to see the original movies; people from ages 10 to 80 attended this showing.

This is spoiler-free, but suffice it to say that the movie brought back the magic, the thrill, the mystery in almost every scene. It harkens back to the original trilogy, and although it is derivative at times, director J.J.Abrams and crew captured so much that is awe-inspiring about the Star Wars universe and also introduced new themes and directions that we trust will continue in its sequels.

From the beginning of the film, with the classic scrawl which everyone cheered, until the cliffhanging end, everyone seemed enthralled with the new movie. The audience clapped and hooted when Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and C-3PO made their appearances, and there was many a laugh throughout the 2 hour, 15 minute film. Ovations were the order of the day, especially at the end.

Although it was thrilling to see the old gang from the original trilogy back, it was also cool to experience the new cast, including Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron and Adam Driver as the new villain, Kylo Ren. Ridley is simply amazing as the new hero, the “new” Luke Skywalker of the film. As my girlfriend Meghan Hurley, 42, said, “I love the fact that the next Jedi will be a female.” She fondly remembers the Ewoks, Jabba the Hutt and all the other characters from the original movies and was intrigued by many of the newest characters, especially Rey and Finn. Ridley and Boyega have made history as they represent the first leads in any Star Wars film that are female and African-American, respectively.

The 38-year-old franchise, which George Lucas sold to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion, has been rebooted and revitalized with this movie, and Disney promises a new Star Wars film every year until 2020. Next December, Rogue One, a spin-off and standalone movie, will appear in theaters.

The next movie is only 519 days away. Star Wars: Episode VIII is slated for a May 26, 2017 release.

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