When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens today to packed movie theaters, Robert and Jennifer Schubert intend to revel in the movie’s long-awaited release.
The Kasson couple have plans to see the movie multiple times over the next three days. They will be hard to miss. She will be dressed as the Jawa sand creature. He will be operating by remote a life-sized replica of an R2-D2 robot.
When Jennifer and Robert met nearly 20 years ago, “Star Wars” wasn’t a deal-breaker for the couple, but it did add to the bond — another box to check off in assessing their compatibility for each other.
“We’ve always loved ‘Star Wars’ together. It’s just one other thing that we had in common that we enjoyed,” Jennifer said. “If he didn’t like it, it might have been an issue. We’ve been together for 19 years.”
The movie appears destined to be a global phenomenon. With galaxy-sized expectations, the movie’s opening is setting records for pre-opening ticket sales. It is also on track to have the biggest December opening ever, topping “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which took in $85 million in the U.S. and Canada on its opening weekend in December 2012.
‘That was my culture’
While the intensity of their enthusiasm might not be typical, the Shuberts are hardly out of the ordinary. If anything, their infatuation with the story underscores the depths to which George Lucas’ space opera remains rooted in the culture since the release of the first film, “Star Wars,” later relabeled “Episode IV: A New Hope,” in 1977.
“That was my culture,” Jennifer said. “I grew up with ‘Star Wars,’ seeing the movies, re-enacting the scenes, having lightsaber duels with my brothers.”
“Star Wars” has exercised a hold over audiences that has printed itself on the language and crossed generations. Despite the often wooden dialogue, the story tapped into powerful mythic themes. Alec Guinness, who played the older Obi Wan Kenobi, described picking up the script in a 1986 interview with David Letterman.
“I didn’t think the dialogue was very good, but it held me from page to page,” he said.
Robert Shubert believes the movies’ grip on the public imagination comes down to good, old-fashioned storytelling. Even though the battle takes place in space “a long time ago in an galaxy far far away” and involves a Cantina of creepy-looking aliens, the characters are people to whom you can relate.
“One of the things that is neat about ‘Star Wars’ is that it looks like some place you could live in,” Robert said. “It doesn’t necessarily look shiny and clear and freshly made. It’s somebody’s place down the street.”
Feel the force
Jennifer is a member of the 501st Legion, an international Star Wars costuming club with about 14,000 members worldwide. The club is a stickler for detail. Members’ costumes must so faithfully reproduce those in the movies that they could essentially walk on a “Star Wars” set and be ready for filming.
Kenyon native Jeremy Horn, who also is a member of 501st Legion, said the initial spark for getting involved with the costuming club was its charitable work. He wanted to visit children’s hospitals dressed up as a stormtrooper and bring a smile to a child’s face.
Then things kind of got out of hand.
“Now, it’s like a bug,” Horn said. “When I joined the 501st Legion, the only stipulation is you have to attend one (charity) event a year. I told my girlfriend, ‘Look, I’m just going to do (one event).’ The first year, I did 15.”
Horn’s girlfriend hasn’t left him even as the number of characters he plays, from Star Wars and other movies, has expanded. Since then, Horn’s repertoire has grown to include several Star Wars characters, Batman, Spider-man, Freddy Krueger and the Ghostbusters. A full-sized Tardis, the spacecraft of Dr. Who, stands on his front lawn and draws out-of-towners.
Though they enjoy adopting the trappings of their favorite characters, their enjoyment of the Star Wars films hasn’t blinded them to their flaws. The three prequels, which ended with “Revenge of the Sith” and Darth Vader’s tragic transformation, were all disappointments, they say.
“After the prequels, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting anything else,” Horn said. “They were so bad.”
Indeed, Lucas had signaled as much during the release of “Revenge of the Sith,” which wrapped up the prequels trilogy. But that was before Disney came along to buy Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion and announce it would be starting production on a whole new trilogy of Star Wars films.
The Shuberts have done their best to avoid Internet stories that might spoil the outcome, the better to be surprised and enjoy the movie.
“I personally believe that there’s too much CG in the (last) movies, not enough acting and real props,” Jennifer said. “That’s why I’m so excited for the new movie. We go to an actual life-sized Millennium Falcon. What I wouldn’t have paid to ride in that.”