Star Warriors: Frontline Reporting From the Seven Movie ‘Star Wars’ Marathon
On December 17, 2015, to celebrate the release of Star Wars: Episode VII --- The Force Awakens, Disney and Lucasfilm held special back-to-back marathon screenings of all the Star Wars films, in story order, leading up to and including The Force Awakens itself. ComicsAlliance’s own lifelong Star Wars fans, Dylan Todd and Chris Haley, spent almost 18 hours in a theater, and have returned from a galaxy far, far away to tell the tale.
Chris: Okay, so we made it! How are you feeling about the experience? Did you have fun?
Dylan: Yeah, I did! Seeing all seven (crazy to say that now!) movies on the big screen was a great experience, and an unexpected one at that. I literally never thought we’d see more of these movies after Revenge of the Sith in 2005, but here we are, back in the galaxy far, far away. I have a complaint or two about the complete experience, and we can discuss those in a bit, but overall, it was a very memorable experience. How was your marathon, Chris?
Chris: It was great fun, and as long as we were in there, and as daunting as that time sounded at the onset, it honestly went by a lot faster than I expected it to. The only time I really felt like time was dragging was in that last hour or so of Return of the Jedi when my excitement/anticipation for finally seeing The Force Awakens was nearly insufferable.
And, speaking of memorable, I was lucky enough to be seated between the guys I saw the theatrical releases of the Special Edition Original Trilogy as well as The Phantom Menace. So that was some good emotional history as well.
Before we get too far into talking about the space ordeal we've been through, let’s establish a little bit of history for context purposes. What is your history with Star Wars, Dylan? How did it first come into your life?
Dylan: I was born in early 1977, so it’s hard for me to remember a time when Star Wars wasn’t a part of my life. Apparently, Star Wars (AKA A New Hope) was one of the first movies I saw in the theater at the ripe old age of four months. (I also apparently peed on my aunt during the movie?)
I remember getting a Greedo for Easter one year and seeing Empire Strikes Back in the theater, and the distinct feeling of being very distraught afterwards, worried about Han Solo’s fate and Luke’s robot hand, and was Vader lying or what? Then Return of the Jedi came along at just the right time to hook me even harder.
Like a lot of people my age, I had a literal ton of plastic figures, playsets and vehicles, rocked the Underoos, ate the C3POs, devoured the coloring books and radio plays and novelizations. Thanks to the Lucasfilm marketing machine, I never really lost interest, either, with the Zahn novels --- and the subsequent Expanded Universe of comics, novels and roleplaying and video games --- and the Special Editions pulling me back in just when I thought I was getting out. Then the Prequels came along, and while my interest waned, it never fully subsided. I’m a lifer, for better or worse.
How about you, Chris? What’s your Star Wars story?
Chris: I was too young to see any of the original trilogy in the theaters in their original runs on account of either not being born or having no family members having any interest in taking a baby to the movies with them, but thanks to the Lucasfilm marketing machine you mentioned, I was incredibly familiar and a little obsessed with Star Wars from as early as I can remember. But I learned the story from coloring books and cereal boxes and action figure packaging and plastic dishes long before I was able to actually see the movies themselves.
One of the oldest memories I can bring to mind is the time my grandmother and step-grandfather were taking me on what has to have been the longest car trip I’d ever been on up to that point in my life. I’m not sure where we were going or how long it took, but for whatever reason, the only thing I had to entertain myself with for this incredibly long journey was an eraser shaped like one of the Emperor’s Royal Guard.
To this day, the Emperor’s Royal Guards are one of my favorite things about Star Wars, and I have no doubt that eraser is why.
Dylan: They’re a really cool visual.
Chris: The other important question we must get to is the question I got asked a number of times, and that’s, “Why?” Why would we want to be stuck in a theater for so long to see movies we’ve already seen countless times?
Dylan: See, this question baffled me, because, I mean, sitting and watching Star Wars movies for 18 hours is literally a dream come true. No distractions, no interruptions (beyond the occasional bathroom break); just me and my space stories and a large tub of popcorn. And while I’ve seen every one of these movies more than I’d care to admit, the opportunity to view them all holistically, and experience the new film afterward, was too much of a good deal to pass up.
Plus, I knew that by the time Episode VIII rolled around in spring of 2017, the marathon would include seven movies plus next year’s anthology film, Rogue One, so I figured now was a good time to check it off the list.
How about you, Chris? Why’d you sign up?
Chris: I got a text from my friend Corey that said something along the lines of, “They’re doing a marathon of all the movies for Episode VII. What do you think?” and at first I thought, “Man… I don’t know… that’s a long time to be stuck in the theater.” Thankfully, it only took me a few seconds to change my mind and realize this was a rare opportunity to do something that was an “out-of-the-ordinary” type fun with a dude I’ve known since small times. You’ve got to take those opportunities whenever you can, and doubly so when it involves something that’s been such a big part of your lives.
Having said that though, we both said “pass” when a similar text conversation happened about our high school reunion, so perhaps Star Wars played a bigger part in me saying yes.
Dylan: Oh man, I know that feel. So, the marathon went in movie-time chronological order, starting with the Prequels, and moving into the Original Trilogy before hitting us with the first installment of the New Trilogy, The Force Awakens. I know for me, I found it to be a really rewarding experience to binge them all together like that. I felt like seeing all The Prequels together, for example, gave me a better picture of what Lucas was going for and sort of paid off the Original Trilogy in interesting ways.
Say what you want about them --- and I will if you get me talking --- but the Prequels are definitely something new compared to the Original Trilogy. Lucas flips the script on the fairly straightforward morality of the OT, giving us a nonsensically dogmatic Jedi Order, a war with no clear “good guy,” and a main character who is obviously dangerous and troubled. He’s not content to just recycle the same stuff for cheap nostalgia hits, much to the chagrin of audiences. Instead he offered up an overly mannered, fake historical epic that’s way too melodramatic for its own good.
I mean, they’re still not great movies, but I definitely had a deeper appreciation for them by the time Revenge of the Sith wrapped. Did you find something similar or were they just a chore to get through before “The Good Ones”?
Chris: I know you’re an MST3K fan, but I don’t think we’ve ever discussed Rifftrax, but I’ve seen the prequels so many times with the Rifftrax that in some of the, let’s say, less enjoyable parts I could practically hear Mike Nelson. In fact, I even gave the new Rifftrax app a whirl during Revenge of the Sith, which was a lot of fun, if not a little weird to have headphones on in a movie theater.
I definitely went in feeling like the prequels were going to be the real uphill battle, but thankfully, they were also there to catch a nap during, so I wasn’t passing out during the Original Trilogy or The Force Awakens. I dozed off during Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but I have to say, seeing them again in the theater, in the middle of that experience, with good friends, and with a crowd of people who were clearly there out of a deep love for Star Wars, really did make them a lot more enjoyable.
Dylan: For me, the best and worst parts of the marathon was seeing them with an enthusiastic crowd. Hearing them break out into cheers for certain characters or scenes was fun, but we also had people trying to Rocky Horror along with some bits of dialogue from Empire, which was really annoying. (Thankfully, this ended pretty quickly.)
Then there was the guy who decided it was going to be his thing to say, “This one again?!” whenever the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” text came up. Which was kind of funny before Attack of the Clones, but significantly less so by the time we hit Return of the Jedi.
Overall though, the crowd was fun and kept up their energy throughout the thing, still managing hearty applause at certain moments in the new film.
How was your crowd, Chris?
Chris: Mine was surprisingly great. I mean, maybe “surprisingly” isn’t the best word, but they were much better behaved than I anticipated, and it only smelled kind of bad in the theater before they turned the air on. It could have smelled much, much worse considering how many people were dressed in wookie onesies and full on Jedi robes. The cheering and applause was enough to make one’s heart swell.
We only had a few instances of people trying to go into business for themselves and be “funny”, but I will give it up for one guy who said, “Trust me, we’re all suffering” after Anakin’s line “...if you are suffering as much as I am, please tell me.” You nailed it, That One Guy.
I think people got most of their jokes out during the prequels though, because once we got to the Original Trilogy, people were just excited and reacting... I don’t want to say appropriately, but as you’d assume a filmmaker would hope for. Laughs, cheers, clapping. I have to imagine that a fair number of the crowd I was with had never seen the Original Trilogy in a theater.
Dylan: Yeah, let’s talk about that. I honestly can’t remember if I saw the Special Editions in the theater, so for me, this was the first time I’d seen Episodes 4–6 on the big screen since they first ran. And while the theater I was in was showing files I’m pretty sure were ripped from a DVD source and not the vastly superior recent Blu-ray, it was still something to see those movies on a big screen, as The Maker intended.
Chris: That's so weird to hear, because as best as I could tell from the changes and additions/subtractions and picture quality, my theater was definitely just showing us the Blu-ray versions.
Dylan: We should probably keep it as brief and spoiler-free as possible, as some people might still not have seen the film, but what did you think of The Force Awakens?
Chris: I absolutely loved it. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The only thing that’s kept me from seeing it several more times is that the effects of so little sleep for several days in a row and being trapped in a theater full of coughing and sniffling Star Wars fans caught up to me by Saturday morning and I’ve gotten sick. This is one of those things where if I were a kid, you’d know I wasn’t just faking being sick to get out of going to school because I felt so bad Saturday I didn’t want to go see Star Wars. I cannot wait until I’m feeling better so I can immediately go see it again several more times. How about you?
Dylan: Oh yeah, I loved it both times I saw it. I could nitpick --- and, again, will gladly do so if you corner me --- but I loved the new characters, loved the new cast, loved the dialogue and the energy of the thing.
I’ve seen some people poo-poo the new mysteries, but I feel like they gave us some meat to chew on while we await Episode VIII, and also, did these people not know they were seeing a J.J. Abrams movie? Like, setting up mysteries for other people to solve is kind of his jam.
Plus, seeing all the (literally?) old characters was obviously thrilling. Also, I was not prepared for how much I would mark out at seeing the Millennium Falcon, I guess? It was basically two hours of me internally screaming and having literal heart palpitations, to the point where I worried something was medically wrong with me.
Chris: A friend told me he felt like he didn't breathe the entire time The Force Awakens was playing, and that's a great explanation for how it made me feel. I was enthralled and excited and at times completely overwhelmed with emotions. My biggest fear going into it was that after all that build up and time invested in the marathon, if Episode VII wasn't great, it'd be even more of a letdown, especially having just seen my favorites. Thankfully, I liked it even more than I thought I would or could, and that really gave me a new hope.
Dylan: I see what you did there. But, here’s the big question, Chris: would you do it again? Like… in May of 2017?
Chris: Do you really think they'd try to do it again? Part of my rationale for going to this one was also that “this is probably the only time they'll do this”, but as of right now, if tickets went on sale for a similar marathon before Episode VIII, I would buy that ticket. I'd probably just make sure I got more sleep before it. Oh, and I'd buy a neck pillow. Do they make Star Wars neck pillows yet?
Dylan: Oh, you know they do.
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