Story: “There Has Been An Awakening”

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written here on my blog… but I remembered something today that inspired me to post this.

Today, December 18th, 2017, marks the two-year anniversary of the night I first saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As you can read in my review, I loved the movie and still do, so much that I wrote a story about it for my Creative Writing class this semester. So, I thought it would be cool to celebrate this occasion by sharing that story here on my blog.

I hope you enjoy! Also, I’ll be writing my review of The Last Jedi here quite soon, so keep your eyes open if that interests you!

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“There Has Been an Awakening”

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November 28th, 2014. The trailer was released. For days, it was all anyone could talk about.

Anyone who wasn’t me, that is.

I had already made a solemn vow to myself that I would avoid it all. Trailers, news articles, YouTube videos, clothing and toys—anything that gave even the slightest hint at what was to come. It all had to go. I was going dark.

Whenever I tried to explain this to people, they stared. Or laughed. Or simply looked exasperated as they said: “Oh, come on! It looks sooooooooo good!”

I was adamant. I explained to them that this meant a lot to me. For many, it was simply a great series of movies. But for me, and countless others, it meant so much more than that.

“I don’t want to know anything,” I told them. “This movie is really important to me. I want to be surprised. I don’t want any part of it to be spoiled . . . nothing. Not even what the new characters look like! I want it all to be completely new and fresh when I finally see it on opening day.”

It didn’t matter to me that people still sometimes thought I was nuts. All that mattered was that, in just over a year’s time, the Force would awaken once again.

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Star Wars. Two small words. So simple, yet so powerful.

I could still recall the feeling I had at the age of five, when my family gathered in the basement in front of our old tube TV to watch a movie together. My dad inserted the VHS tape of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope into the VCR. The lights went off, and my siblings and I joined my parents on the sofa’s pull-out mattress. I stared at the screen in anticipation, not knowing what to expect, not knowing that I was about to experience something sublime.

As soon as the movie was over, I had to let my feelings out somehow. All I could think to do was scream “that was so cool!” at the top of my lungs and run around the house making “pew pew!” laser sounds and pretending to swing a lightsaber, also with accompanying sound effects.

That one night of my childhood changed my life. It was more than just a movie; it was the gateway to my own powers of imagination. It was because of Star Wars that I began making up my own stories in my head. It was Star Wars that opened my eyes to the magic of movies and the power of a good story. Later in life, it was Star Wars that made me fall in love with film scores—and, subsequently, what made me fall in love with music and playing the piano.

Countless hours of my childhood were devoted to Star Wars. I pieced together LEGO kits of ships and scenes. I played video games starring LEGO versions of the characters and events. I pored over books detailing the galaxy far, far way, absorbing gobs of information that the majority of moviegoers didn’t care about.

I cared.

It was more than a movie. It was a universe that inspired me time and time again in so many ways, from the big picture of the story down to the smallest details: the parts of a lightsaber, the names of the planets that weren’t even seen in the films, all the different alien species, the cross-sections of the ships—you name it, I wanted to read about it.

Despite all this, my enthusiasm for Star Wars faded into the background as I entered high school. I still loved it, of course, but there had not been a new film for years. George Lucas had finished telling the story he wanted to tell, and I’d long since accepted that I would most likely never see any more Star Wars films than the six I already knew. The story was finished.

Right?

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In 2012, I was a senior in high school, and my world was rocked by the news that George Lucas had sold his film company, Lucasfilm, to Disney. That included Star Wars. And Disney confirmed that new films were on the way, the first of which being the yet-to-be-titled Episode VII, due out in 2015.

I was ecstatic. The story that had inspired me so much, the story I thought was over, was continuing. As excited as I was, I tried to put it in the back of my mind. 2015 was a long way away, after all. However, I allowed myself to be giddy whenever a nugget of news came out about the movie over the next several months.

“J. J. Abrams has been confirmed as the director of Episode VII.” Awesome!

“John Williams will return to compose the score.” Fantastic!

“Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher will reprise their roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.” Woohoo!

“The official title of Episode VII has been revealed: The Force Awakens.” Wow!

I was perfectly happy to enjoy this kind of news. But on November 28th, 2014, just over a year before the release of the new film, it was time to go dark.

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I stuck to my guns. Three trailers in total were released over time. I didn’t watch a single one.

Oh, I couldn’t avoid everything. Otherwise, I would have had to disconnect from the Internet entirely, and probably never leave the house either. Neither was an option. So, I did come across a few things.

Within a day of the first trailer’s release, my Facebook feed blew up with pictures of the new villain and his untraditional lightsaber design.

Months later, after the second trailer dropped, I caught a glimpse of some promotional art next to the new merchandise while out shopping. It depicted a young man and woman. The man had dark skin, short black hair, and was wearing a tan leather jacket. The woman had fair skin, dark brown hair tied into three buns at the back of her head, and wielded a staff of some kind. I assumed these must be the two new main characters and lamented the fact that I’d seen them. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder who they were and what their stories would be.

With just one image, Star Wars was beginning to inspire me all over again.

Two months before the film came out, the official poster was released. I caved to my desires and looked at it. Mesmerized, I stared at it for a while and tried not to wonder too much about how everything on the poster would play into the film. The main characters I’d already seen loomed large, the woman with her staff and the man now holding a familiar blue lightsaber. The masked villain with the untraditional red lightsaber cast a huge presence, while a mixture of familiar and new faces peppered the rest of the poster: a grizzled old smuggler, a princess turned general, a daring pilot, a trio of droids, and more.

Along with the new poster came the final trailer, and some people were expecting me to have given up by this point and watched it. They were wrong.

Some said I was (and still am) obsessive. “I don’t know why you make such a big deal out of this. It’s just a movie. Just watch the trailer, man, it looks awesome!”

But I refused. The time was almost here, and all I wanted to know when I finally walked into the theater was one thing and one thing only:

I am about to see a brand-new Star Wars movie.

The rest would follow.

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And follow it did. After years of waiting, of hoping . . . it was finally time. It was finally December 18th, 2015, a date I had obsessively been counting down to for months. I shivered along with my younger brother, my three younger sisters, and one of my two older sisters as we braved the biting, chilly wind to enter the theatre. I took in the familiar smell of popcorn and the sight of the purple carpeting as we approached the left hallway in which, I guessed, the line had already begun to form.

We had secured our tickets two months before. But I wanted to get the best seats possible. So, being the nut that I am, I had suggested that we get to the theater an hour and a half early, hoping we would be one of the first in line.

The plan worked. As we turned into the hallway, we saw that there were just four or five people already there. As my siblings and I got in line behind them, I grinned from ear to ear. Shortly afterward, three of my friends arrived and joined us: Abby (fellow nerd), Stephen (my best friend since before high school), and Eli (who had dressed up as director J.J. Abrams for the occasion, his hair spiked up and large thick glasses framing his face).

Everyone was here and accounted for. Now all we had to do was keep doing what we’d been doing for years.

Wait.

I didn’t mind too much for a while. I talked and laughed with everyone who had come with me, but all the while, anticipation grew to bursting point in my chest. As the minutes snailed by, a real crowd formed, and the enthusiasm in the air was tangible. Around 7 o’clock, I hopped up and down a little on the balls of my feet. Showtime was at 7:30. Any minute now and they’d open the auditorium doors.

I gasped as I watched the theater workers do just that.

Now it really, truly was time.

My companions moved with me amid a buzz of excitement. As we walked through the doors into the dim theater, I literally shook with nerves.

“Oh my gosh,” I said. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh—”

“Are you excited, Matthew?” Eli asked, grinning.

“It’s happening,” I told him, my eyes wide. “It’s happening. This is real. This is really happening.”

I could hardly say anything else as we all found near-perfect seats around the middle of the auditorium. Not too far back, not too close, and not too far off-center.

The ads were a blur. The first couple of trailers passed without much thought on my part.

And then, I made a decision that almost ruined everything.

I didn’t really have to go at the moment. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I hated having to leave the theater to pee, and there was absolutely no way I was going to leave the theater during this movie. Not wanting to take that risk, I got up and left to use the restroom, thinking I still had plenty of time before the movie actually started. There would be at least another five trailers or so.

As I speed-walked back into the auditorium, though, the lights were dimming down.

I panicked.

As quickly and quietly as I could, I scrambled back to my seat. My companions looked relieved. They had clearly been panicking too, knowing how much I would hate missing even one second of the movie.

And just as I sat back down in my seat, it began. The word “Lucasfilm” slowly faded in and out on the screen in silence, and a hush fell over the crowd around me.

I held my breath as the next few words appeared.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

I covered my mouth with my hands. I didn’t blink. I didn’t breathe.

And then, the orchestra blasted out of the speakers as the huge yellow words zoomed into the infinite field of stars.

STAR WARS

I smiled. I clapped and cheered along with everyone else. The joy was tangible. My smile only got bigger as more words scrolled slowly up the screen.

EPISODE VII

THE FORCE AWAKENS

Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed.

With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE. She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy.

Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission to Jakku, where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts. . . .

For the next two-odd hours, I could hardly stop smiling. Just about everything was pitch-perfect.

I loved the two new main characters. Rey was strong, endearing, hopeful and vulnerable; Finn was brave, funny, and wore a big bounding heart on his sleeve.

I loved the new villain, Kylo Ren, a young man struggling with standing in the shadow of Darth Vader—his idol—and who lashed out unexpectedly with fierce venom.

I loved the new daring pilot, Poe Dameron, who was equally at home with wisecracks as he was with swashbuckling acts of heroism.

I loved the droids both familiar and new. I loved seeing Han, Leia, and Luke again. I loved the story, which felt familiar but with plenty of brand-new touches and twists. I loved the filmmaking skills on display: cinematography, lighting, editing, sound design, music.

And a couple of times, I was so awed by something that happened that I wanted with all my heart to leap out of my seat and scream for joy.

In other words, Star Wars was back.

For many people, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was just a movie. A good one, absolutely, but just a movie. For me, it was a rekindling of my childhood, my imaginative spirit, my love of great stories.

When I walked into the theater, I was a twenty-year-old college sophomore. For the entirety of the movie, though, I was once again a starry-eyed five-year-old sitting on a pull-out mattress in the basement watching an old movie on VHS with his family.

The Force had awakened, and it was with me once again.

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People

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a mission trip with a group of fellow Catholics to New York City. It was an incredible experience, and one thing we focused on a lot was homeless outreach. This, of course, required us to reach out to individuals who we might otherwise overlook. This taught me a few things. I wanted to briefly share one of those things with you today.

I can generally be pretty shy around people I’ve never met before, and even among people I do know. So whenever I’m in a public place, perhaps just strolling down the street or sitting in a subway in New York, my natural instinct is to keep to myself and my thoughts. Don’t talk to anybody, don’t even look anybody in the eye. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it often blinds me to a certain fact.

All these people around me, these people I’m avoiding eye contact with or just trying to forget they’re there? Well . . . they’re people.

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That sounds silly, I know. Of course they’re people, Matthew. Duh. But do you ever think about that when others are passing you by? Those are people. People with lives, with families (hopefully), with hopes, with needs and wants. It can be so easy to get caught up in ourselves, so much so that we don’t take proper notice of what’s going on around us.

See that homeless man sitting alone on the street corner? See that elderly woman on the bus with no one to talk to? They’re people. And people need love.

I’m not trying to guilt anybody. And no, I’m not saying that I think you should talk to every single stranger you run into. Sometimes people do want to be left alone, and other people just aren’t friendly at all. But I think there are definitely situations we find ourselves in from time to time in which we can feel a nagging voice in our heads. Go to that person. Talk to them.

The Holy Spirit works in funny ways, that’s for sure. And it’s usually a good idea to listen. Who knows? You might just make someone’s day.

That’s all. Until next time!

The Best Thing About “Star Wars”

Wait, it’s Easter! Why aren’t I writing a post about Easter?

Technically, I am. You’ll see. To start, though, I want to share what I think is the best thing about Star Wars.

Okay, so maybe it’s not the best thing about Star Wars, but it’s definitely one of the best things, because I find it to be very inspiring. And it’s this.

When the original film was being made, most people thought it was going to fail.

Many of the cast members were dissatisfied with the script. The studio executives were sure that such an unconventional film wouldn’t make much money. Even George Lucas himself was very disappointed with the film that he got versus the film he had in his head. As grand and exciting as the final film turned out to be, he had always imagined something even grander and more exciting. The technology at the time simply didn’t allow for it.

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“I was compromising left and right just to get things semi-done,” he said in an interview. “I was desperately unhappy.”

In May 1977, the movie opened in 32 theaters in the U.S. Just 32 theaters in the entire country! Crazier still, instead of attending the premiere, George Lucas took a vacation to Hawaii with his friend Steven Spielberg, because he was absolutely convinced the movie was going to flop.

The rest, as they say, is history. It was an instant blockbuster hit. And now, almost forty years later, Star Wars is just as popular (if not more so) than it has ever been.

So what’s my point? My point is that, sometimes, things don’t go our way. Sometimes our plans are destroyed by circumstances. Sometimes reality doesn’t meet our expectations at all.

Sometimes, it looks as though things couldn’t get any worse.

But then, lo and behold, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s a simple message that we’ve heard many times, but I think it’s worth repeating, especially at Easter time. (See, I told you this was actually a post about Easter!)

Happy Easter, and I hope you remember never to give up hope. Later!

Faith, the Future, and the “Falls”

Have you ever worried about the future?

I admit that was a pretty dumb question. Of course you have. We all have. Some more than others, of course, but it’s a pretty universal problem.

Why do we do it?

We’re afraid. We don’t know what might come. We want security. We want good things to happen. We know that bad things can and will happen sometimes, but we don’t want them to.

We want to be in control.

I went on a silent retreat this weekend. There was a lot more to it than what I’ll reiterate here, and it was a very eye-opening and refreshing experience. But for now, I just want to share one thing that I was reminded of.

We’ve heard these words more times than we can count, but they are still worth hearing. We forget them. We even ignore them sometimes.

But here they are again. Four small words.

Do not be afraid.

Read them again.

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

This is no easy task. It’s natural for us to be fearful of things, including the future — sometimes especially the future. But you know something? We’re not the ones in control. This is not easy to accept, but I believe it is true. I am in control of myself and am responsible for my actions, yes. But I do not control the world or other people’s actions. Therefore, there is uncertainty ahead.

I have trouble with uncertainty. You probably do too.

With that in mind, another thought. Recently, a show called Gravity Falls aired its final episode. It was a near-perfect ending, in my book. During the silent retreat this weekend, after repeating “do not be afraid” to myself, I was reminded of the show.

But I wasn’t reminded of the finale. I was reminded of the second-to-last episode, particularly a scene in which one character is terrified of the future and another character is trying to convince her that she shouldn’t live in denial about it.

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“You’re scared — of growing up,” he tells her. “And who could blame you? I’m scared too.”

A little later in the scene, he tells her this:

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future, but whatever it is, you don’t have to fear, because we’ll do it together.”

Wise words.

Look, I don’t want to get too preachy. But we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. So what’s the point of worrying about the future?

I seem to remember Jesus having a few words to say about this. “Which of you, by worrying, can add even a moment to your life?”

Wise words.

Do not be afraid. Whatever comes, comes. Good and bad.

Will it be easy? Heck no.

But you’re not alone.

Do not be afraid.

Live. Learn. Love.

Let’s do it together.

One day at a time.

Adventures in College: Sophomore Surprise

So, much to my amazement, I am coming close to the midway point in the first semester of my sophomore year in college.

I guess Nationwide was right when it said “life comes at you fast.”

Now, at first, I was a bit apprehensive about my second year. I’d seen memes and stuff like this before:

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But I’ve actually been rather surprised by how my own sophomore year is turning out thus far. Overall, I’d say it’s shaping up to be even better than my freshman year. I feel significantly less on edge this semester, and I’m finding more time to myself and to be with my friends on campus than I did last year.

I think part of it has to do with the fact that two of my classes this semester are online, which allows me to work at a steadier pace — I don’t even have to be on campus for class on Fridays! I’m also sure it has to do with the classes I’m taking; I haven’t written a single research paper yet, and to my knowledge, I won’t be writing very many at all (although I will have other big writing assignments, like scripts).

This is most definitely a welcome change of pace. But . . .

. . .

Wait a minute . . .

. . .

. . . did I just jinx it?

. . .

I just jinxed it, didn’t I?

. . .

. . . Darn.

Now wouldn’t it be hilarious if I wrote another post in a few weeks complaining about how complacent I had gotten?

. . .

To be continued. Possibly.

Love = Feelings?

I’ve been reading a book by Edward Sri called Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love — basically a condensed version of John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility. The most recent chapter I read discussed a topic which I think is extremely important, but also one that a lot of people don’t think about or ignore. I also had a great conversation about it with a friend of mine yesterday, so I decided to write about it a bit while it’s fresh in my mind. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep things short and simple.

Quick note first, though: you should definitely read this book. JPII was a genius. They don’t call him St. John Paul the Great for nothing!

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So, in his work, JPII describes how people are attracted to others in two main ways: physically and psychologically (or emotionally). He calls these attractions sensuality and sentimentality. We are attracted to people’s bodies and also to their masculinity or femininity — that’s a pretty obvious given. We were designed this way, and these attractions are meant to orient us toward another person, eventually leading us to love them in an authentic way.

However, ever since the Fall, lust has entered the picture. People are now capable of misusing their sexual desires in order to use others for their own personal pleasure. The way men and women tend to lust is related to the two main types of attraction; that is, in general, men tend to lust more physically and women tend to lust more psychologically, or emotionally. That’s part of why we have the stereotypes of “all men are pigs” and “all women are overly emotional.”

Now, obviously, we are called to control our sexual desires and orient them toward what they are meant to lead us to: true authentic love. We’re not animals, after all, acting merely on instinct. We have free will. So we hear a lot about how we should be careful about how we look at others, how we shouldn’t use them as objects for our own gratification. And that’s an extremely important thing. It’s certainly not bad at all that we see articles about it all the time (or at least I do; my Facebook news feed is probably different from yours).

However, I don’t see nearly enough articles or hear enough discussion about the dangers of not controlling our emotions properly. And I think that’s a problem. I’m no expert, but I think I can see why a lot of people (especially the younger crowd) jump around from relationship to relationship so much. They get so caught up in the powerful emotional rush they receive from mutual attraction that they (wrongly, of course) think that they’re “in love.” But oftentimes, the relationship isn’t based on anything except the attraction. Just for example, the guy may be dating the girl because of her shapely body, or the girl may be dating the guy because she has idealized him in her head — projecting traits she finds desirable onto him even though he may not possess many (or any) of them. Then, once the feelings fade, there is nothing left for the relationship to stand on, thus leading to breakup and leaving both parties worse off than before.

I don’t want to go super deep into this or go on for too long, but I think it’s important to start a discussion about it. Why is it that so many marriages end in divorce? Why are so many people so unhappy in their relationships? Could it perhaps have something to do with people confusing love with sentimentality? I definitely think so.

The book gives a great example of how we can see this happening in life: James Cameron’s blockbuster film Titanic. People flocked to see this movie, particularly women (or so I hear). They were drawn to the thrilling romance of the main characters, and the book speculates that they were especially drawn to Jack’s sacrifice to save Rose (do I really need to include spoiler tags for this movie?). Women want that. They want a man who is willing to give everything for her, even his life. And this is a good thing. But because that great message was mixed with a “love story” that was based on little more than a sexual attraction between the two main characters, we end up with an upside-down message: that this kind of relationship is true, authentic love. That this is the kind of relationship we all should strive for.

Again, it’s no wonder there’s so much complication in people’s love lives (so-called). Hollywood (and other sources, I’m sure) has taught people that love is equivalent to romantic feelings. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s high time people woke up to this fact and stopped getting caught up in their emotions.

Yes, emotions do come along with love. But they are not what love is. Let’s stop seeing the people we’re attracted to as the fulfillment of our personal fantasies. Instead, let’s start seeing them for who they really are. And from there, we can truly grow to love them authentically.