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Vicarious wonder

We love watching others—strangers or not—learn to love what we love.

Late last week, there was a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in joy. Why? Disney unveiled a beautifully-edited, emotional, spoiler-light trailer for the upcoming Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens. Unlike the first promo (which starred only unknown newcomers), this latest promo features several fan favorites, including Luke Skywalker and R2-D2. The trailer also boasts arresting visuals: a decayed, shipwrecked Star Destroyer. Darth Vader’s iconic mask, warped and scarred by his cremation. And, of course, a fleeting glimpse of Han Solo and Chewbacca (pictured above).

The franchise’s diehard fans lost their collective shit when the trailer hit the web. After all, they have a lot riding on The Force Awakens. The disastrous prequels broke nerds’ hearts; they’re relying on Episode VII to set things right. “Help us, J.J. Abrams,” geek fandom pleads. “You’re our only hope.” The trailer gives them reason to believe that Star Wars might be good again.

To understand the fans’ fervor, watch a few of the many live reactions published to YouTube since the trailer’s release. In each video, someone watches the teaser for the first time. Geeks’ eyes widen with wonder when Luke’s voiceover begins. Enthralled forty-year-olds pump their fists as the Millenium Falcon soars by. Enraptured fans weep when Han appears.

Fan Reactions
Fan reactions to Han Solo’s return, via ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer 2 Reaction Mashup’ on YouTube.

I love these reaction videos. Each offers an opportunity to relive the experience of watching the trailer for the very first time. The only way to recover that “trailer virgin” wonder is vicariously—through someone else’s eyes. Each viewer’s enthusiasm affirms and justifies my own, and the fanbase’s deep feelings remind me just how seminal this franchise is for geek culture.

These videos also make me excited to share my pop culture addictions with my daughter. She’s six weeks old right now, so it’ll be a while. But someday she’ll watch Star Wars for the very first time. When she does, I’ll be watching her. Will she gasp in horror when she learns Darth Vader’s true identity—like these adorable kids?[1] Will she cry when Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise? Will reading The Hobbit inspire sketches of Bag End and Rivendell? I can’t wait to find out. I’ll never visit Middle-Earth or Hogwarts or Tatooine again for the first time. But she will, and I get to escort her.

We love watching others—family, friends, or strangers—learn to love what we love.[2]


Finally, here’s a parody of these fan reaction videos, featuring cut-in footage of Matthew McConaughey from Interstellar:


  1. For more kids’ reaction to the climactic Empire reveal, see this compilation.  ↩
  2. Maybe, just maybe, this will keep home theaters from killing the multiplex. The shared experience is what makes the cinema magical—not screen size or comfy chairs or artery-clogging butter. We relish being surrounded by others encountering the same intoxicating story. Hearing them gasp and laugh and cry enhances and augments our own wonder.  ↩