'Star Wars: The Force Awakens': The series brings multiple generations together

Since the original movie came out in 1977, the movies have gained only more fans. 

John Ehlke/West Bend Daily News/AP
Shiva Siddharth, 10, of West Bend gives a thumbs-up at the opening of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' at the Paradise Theaters in West Bend, Wis.

Names like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader have became an inextricable part of our pop culture since the first movie was released in 1977.

But the films in which they appeared, aren't just remembered by those who are old enough to have seen them in theaters. Today, the “Star Wars” movies are bringing multiple generations together with the love of a single story, from those who first saw Luke and Leia on the big screen in the 1970s to those who may not even have been old enough to see the 2000s prequel “Star Wars” movies in theaters but still know and love the films.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which is now in theaters, takes place after 1983's “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” and centers on characters including scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who hails from the desert planet of Jakku; Finn (John Boyega), who serves as a Stormtrooper and is desperate to escape; and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a skilled pilot.

“Force” also features such actors from the 1970s and ‘80s films as Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, who are returning to the series for the first time.

The “prequel” film trilogy, which is comprised of 1999’s “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” 2002’s “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones,” and 2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” are much-maligned, but it’s conceivable that a Millennial who saw those, and only those, movies in theaters might have a fond memory of certain aspects of the films. But at a recent marathon screening of all six “Star Wars” movies, the screening of the three prequel films were met with mostly silence, with occasional chuckles at a particularly cheesy line.

By contrast, attendees of all ages cheered as one of the original movies started and clapped at character entrances and favorite lines.

“Star Wars” fan Brendan O’Leary says he saw “Phantom” in theaters and was young enough that he remembers watching parts of the film with his coat over his head because of scary moments. Despite the fright, it was enough to get him hooked. 

“That started me and I just kind of went from there,” Leary says. 

Krista Carmichael was a child when the original trilogy was released in theaters and says she has seen even many young fans coming aboard lately. It's a trend she attributes to the animated TV series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" that aired on Cartoon Network and Netflix from 2008 to 2014.

"This gave an opportunity for a younger audience to be exposed to the universe ... it's multi-generational," she says of the franchise's fans.

Meanwhile, both Corey Handy and Caitlin Elliott say they can't even remember the age they first saw the original "Star Wars" movies – they’ve just always had “Star Wars” as a presence in their lives. 

For Handy, it was a family fandom – his father also enjoyed the films. The first movie he was old enough to see in theaters was “Sith.” 

Handy says the movies are very familiar to his friends despite the fact that they were born more than a decade after “Jedi” was released.

“Everybody knows 'Star Wars,’” Handy says. 

Now, he says, he’s excited for “Force,” the beginning of the first “Star Wars” series that will be a part of his age group’s filmgoing experience. 

“Big fan of J.J. Abrams,” Handy says of the movie’s director. “I believe in his ability.”

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