The Force Is In All Of Us, You Know

I’ll admit it; the picture made me smile.

How could it not? It was a perfectly contained moment of enthusiasm and anticipation, a reflection of hundreds of people beaming up at me from my Facebook feed to commemorate one of the many opening weekend showings of a long-awaited and much beloved science fiction series. Everyone was happy. The costumes they wore were brilliant, or, at least, well meaning. You could read from the photograph that felt honored to hold a place in that crowd, and during a moment in time that radiated positive feelings throughout. How could you not smile at that, particularly in this day and age?

Here is the picture:

Totally cool, right?

Except, this is the picture as I saw it on Facebook:

Now, I will be the first to tell you I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Not only that, but I enjoyed it Thursday night of the opening weekend, which meant I was one of the first to see it. I thought it was a great example of comic book/graphic novel escapism, and I only found myself wondering once or twice how much longer the movie was going to be, which was less a reflection of my devotion to the series, and more a function of my distaste for theater seating.

My admission notwithstanding, I’ll admit that the second picture made me chuckle, because I thought it was both playful and true. I realize it could also be read as bitter and true, but I chose to ignore that interpretation.

The 365+ people who chose to comment on that picture? They generally went with the latter interpretation. And boy, did they dish it right back. Bilious comments ranged from the disgusted grammarian: (“Star Wars is not a “Fictional movie.” It is a real movie that presents a fictional story.”), to the eye-roller who has. just. had. it: (“Yeah…because heaven forbid I work hard all week and enjoy two hours of escapism in a theater watching a movie. Won’t someone think of the orphans and global warming? Sometimes I forget every minute of my free time is supposed to be devoted to fighting injustice.”).

Now: I find nothing wrong with escapism. I think it’s a healthy way to recharge, particularly if your escapism is relatively clean, like it is if you’re dressing up as a favorite movie character and watching a movie. The worst you’re probably doing, at that point, is ingesting fake movie butter.

What chafes, here, is the spurious argument that you cannot both escape and activate, and with minimal fuss. Really.

Maybe the commenters are correct, and the meme creator is just trying to scorn something the commenters care about. It would explain the viciousness with which they retaliated.

But, what if they got it wrong? What if the meme creator just wanted everyone to think about how all of that time and energy is distributed? And, even if the creator was just being a petty jerk, what would happen if the commenters all thought about the meme like you would if it was presented to you at, say, a Ted talk, where there is a general understanding that any questions posed are absent of malice?

I, for instance, thought about whether the meme creator was preachy. I decided it didn’t matter, because the question made me think of finding an answer. I thought about the energy that went into all of those costumes, all of the logistics that went into planning where to go, when to go, whom to go with, and how to get there. I thought about the money that went into the costumes, and the tickets. I thought about people who went multiple times.

I thought about the actual movie, which, at its heart, is about a disenfranchised group of people who try to live a decent life somewhere in the universe, people who constantly fight or flee from a horrible, oppressive enemy. I thought about the qualities that are emphasized in the movie’s heroes: Resilience, empathy, compassion, bravery, sacrifice.

Then, I thought: Well, even if a movie goer recognizes all of that, how could they possibly transfer those “big feelings” into some sort of action, or the “shit that really matters?”

Then, I thought of the creators of the movie. I thought about how excited they likely felt to continue work on a beloved series, and how they felt proud of the integrity of the finished film. I thought about how they must have felt hearing the accolades they have thus far received, and of the staggering sum of money they have pulled in in just the first six days.

I also, then, thought about how the movie creators were very careful with their story line, and the good-versus-evil theme, the downtrodden-versus-establishment theme, and, quite tellingly, the federalist-versus-fascism theme. I thought about how they worked more than any creator in the prior installments to create a more balanced blend of female and male characters with a variety of ages and abilities.

I thought: There has been a lot of work put into this project. Hundreds of people put their life into this for a very long time to inspire an unprecedented level of fervor among new and old fans. There is a reverence surrounding this franchise, a very rare and precious commodity in Hollywood, and one that studios fight very hard to capture and maintain.

So, here was my thought, carried along through a galaxy far, far away: Instead of meme creators bitching about people dressing up and getting excited about a movie to which they likely have a childhood, sentimental attachment, and, instead of commenters dismissing anyone questioning their choice to escape, rather then activate — I thought: Why can’t we al escape AND activate?

Take the movie themes of good versus evil, and the qualities of resilience, compassion, empathy, sacrifice and bravery, and teach a whole new generation how to bridge the lessons they learn in stories by acting in the real world. The task is daunting on an individual movie-goer level, but consider this: You could ask the movie creators to consider donating just, say, $1 of every ticket sale (and you could raise ticket sales by $1, and you wouldn’t see many people turn away), and donate that $1 extra to people who are really disenfranchised, who are really fighting and fleeing from enemies who want to oppress and condemn them.

If you did something like that? Well, in the case of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” you would have made $5.1 million in just the opening weekend, if you average ticket prices out to $10 each. That’s according to Forbes’ estimate of global weekend ticket sales of $517 million. Is that right? I think it’s right. I like to write, not do math; I just know it would be a shitload of money to people who have none.

So, you, as a proud escapist, just helped raise $5.1 million for people who are starving, or people who are terrified and leaving everything they know behind because they cannot live in their country, anymore. And, you didn’t even have to think about orphans or global warming. You just had a good time, and maybe tsked a tiny bit over a slightly higher ticket price, though you knew would be going to a good cause. How hard was that?

What do you think, JJ Abrams? Kathleen Kennedy? Bryan Burk? What about you people over at Disney? Do you think it’s worth it, to show people a good time, and also, help save people in desperate need of help? Could you be the bridge to teach a generation of movie-goers they can escape and activate?

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