Helping 'Star Wars' newbies finally embrace the Force

Believe it or not, some people haven't seen "Star Wars." At a screening Saturday night, more than a dozen finally joined one of the world's biggest clubs.

Mashable deputy editor Chris Taylor, Change.org's Charlotte Hill, and Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo sport light sabers at a screening of 'Star Wars' for newbies in San Francisco Saturday night. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--What I'm about to tell you is 100 percent true, no matter how much you will want to tell me I'm full of it: there are American adults who have never seen "Star Wars."

The 1977 George Lucas film is a timeless global phenomenon and may be one of the most embedded of all our cultural artifacts. It spawned an empire that Disney ended up buying for $4 billion , in large part because of the passion and commitment of its worldwide audience. But still some people, even those who watch other movies, and are part of mainstream society, managed to make it to 2013 without ever seeing it.

For one group of "Star Wars" newbies, though, their lifelong exclusion from one of the biggest clubs on Earth is over.

Take Zeal Caiden, and Jaqueline Marie, for example. A couple for two years, neither had seen what might be alternately called "Star Wars," "Episode IV," or "A New Hope." Until Saturday night, that is, when along with at least a dozen other first-timers (and several dozen "Star Wars" veterans), the pair finally laid eyes on Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and the rest of the gang.

The occasion was a screening for "Star Wars" newbies timed to the global May the 4th Be With You celebrations and hosted by Change.org and Mashable deputy editor and "How Star Wars Conquered the Universe" author Chris Taylor .

The drink menu at the screening. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Caiden and Marie didn't meet or bond over their mutual "Star Wars"-free lives. In fact, the two only recently discovered that neither had seen the movie -- a befuddling statistical improbability in my book. But when word went out about Saturday night's screening -- an attempt to set the Guinness World Record for most people to see "Star Wars" for the first time together (in the 21st century) -- they knew it was time to do something about one of the gaping holes in their cultural repertoires. "We're just black sheep," Caiden said. "But not any more."

How could it be?
Taylor, who's in the middle of writing his book, believes that even those who haven't seen "Star Wars" nonetheless still know its characters, some of its plot, and many of its signature lines. I wanted to see if that was true. I also wanted to know how it was even possible that these otherwise normal folks had skipped one of the 20th century's biggest cultural touchstones. And what it would be like for them to actually see the movie.

Talking to 32-year-old Jamie Yamaguchi, I heard an explanation I could at least understand. The Oakley, Calif., resident told me her parents were strict and religious and she saw very few movies growing up. "Star Wars" wasn't one of them.

Yet Yamaguchi's own young children had seen it, and her lack of having done so was a handicap in helping them understand the film's subtleties. "They asked me if Luke and Princess Leia know they were brother and sister," Yamaguchi said. "And I was like, 'they are?'"

When "Star Wars" isn't a big part of your life, it simply doesn't mean all that much. That might explain why Yamaguchi had fallen asleep every time she had tried to watch it before. Saturday night, though, she was determined to finish the task, so she loaded up on coffee beforehand.

I asked her what she knew about the movie. She said she knew about Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2-D2, and "the gold guy." "Oh, and Darth Vader," she added.

Jorge Tovar was a 'Star Wars' newbie until Saturday night. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Another one with a vaguely acceptable excuse was Jorge Tovar, 33. He's from Mexico. I thought about it, though, and decided that it was still incomprehensible. After all, they have "Star Wars" south of the border. But Tovar said he was just never interested in "Star Wars," despite the fact that when he was a kid he had little R2-D2 and C-3PO action figures. "They were just toys," he said. "Robots."

So what did Tovar know of the plot? He said that he knew that the "bad guy is Darth Vader," and knew the line (from "The Empire Strikes Back"), "Luke, I'm your father."

Of course, Tovar's girlfriend said that when she first met him, "He thought the phrase was, 'Luke, I'm your daddy.'"

The big reveal...not!
The explanation I had the hardest time understand was that of Tami Fisher. A 32-year-old who grew up in Southern California and Utah, she said she just wasn't interested in movies about space. Then again, she also said her parents limited her movie watching to National Geographic and Care Bears films. As such, "Star Wars" was never a draw.

And what did Fisher know about the movie, or at least the franchise? "I know the big reveal," she said. "The father-son relationship between whatever their names are."

I tried not to tell her that she wouldn't be seeing the big reveal. That didn't seem fair.

The oath
Before the film began, Taylor stood up and explained the genesis behind the evening's event. It turns out, he said, that a year ago, it came out that a Mashable writer hadn't seen "Star Wars." The reaction of the staff was kind of like "if you saw a live unicorn."

Clearly, he wanted to do something for the world's "Star Wars"-less population. This was his chance.

Only one thing remained: administering an oath. "I solemnly swear that I'm about to watch 'Star Wars' for the very first time," he had the newbies recite. "May the force be with you."

And?
Afterward, I circled back to some of the newbies to see what they'd thought. They all seemed to have liked the film, even if it maybe didn't have that much of an impact.

Fisher told me she was "bummed out that the big reveal didn't happen," and admitted that she had had expectations after all. She also said that she expected to see "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" soon.

For her part, Yamaguchi did stay awake through the whole film and said that though she thought "Star Wars" was a little slow, she'd enjoyed it and probably will watch the other films in the series.

Caiden had perhaps the most "Star Wars" experience among the newbies. He'd played hundreds of hours of "Star Wars" video games and had even seen "Episode I: The Phantom Menace." But even he recognized that he'd done something significant. "It's been sitting in a time capsule for [decades]," he said, "waiting for us to see it."

 

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