Last week was the first time I made and broke a New Year's resolution before New Year's Day.
The original "Star Wars" came out in May 1977, just as I was graduating from high school. It was a cool movie, different, y'know. Futuristic and retro at the same time. Space opera was dead when "Star Wars" came along. Its out-of-nowhere success single-handedly revived the genre.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" did not come out of nowhere. Months before its December 2015 release, the latest entry in George Lucas' storied franchise had become inescapable, as every conceivable media outlet trumpeted its coming. We saw the kitschy logo plastered on a plethora of products, and cross-promotional ads for everything from cars to sandwich shops delivered their messages in tandem with Disney's relentless assault on the American psyche.
Watching football on Sundays had become nearly unbearable. Every time-out brought not just the annual harangue about what Christmas gifts I ought to be buying, but a parallel regimen of messages aimed at conditioning me to get to a theater at light speed.
Enough, I said. "Star Wars" had overstayed its welcome in my consciousness, and I decided to skip it on principle.
Spoiler alert: I went and saw it anyway.
My spouse, of all people, used some kind of Jedi mind trick on me, and I found myself in the Snowden Square cineplex last week, sitting through eight (count 'em) previews of coming attractions (mostly second-tier sci-fi) and various other commercials before witnessing what the Disney overlords tell us is "the movie event of a generation."
Although I enjoyed the film, there was no way it was going to live up to the hype. But what interests me more than its cinematic merits is what the film and our reactions to it say about us.
My grown daughters, who saw it before I did, responded well to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," in large measure due to the character of Rey, the feisty female protagonist played by Daisy Ridley. Not only is she an ace pilot, but she can handle herself in a fight and has little patience for condescending males.
When her home planet comes under attack, Finn (John Boyega) grabs her by the hand to make their escape. It's a convention that's been around as long as movies have: The hero has to hold the heroine's hand as they run from danger, even though it slows both of them down. But Rey — being a plucky scavenger in a galaxy far, far away that has never had movies — challenges it, demanding that the perplexed Finn release her.
Rey isn't the first strong woman character in the "Star Wars" canon, of course. Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia never suffered fools gladly, and even though she eventually came to love Han Solo (Harrison Ford), she never hesitated to cut him down to size. The two make a triumphant return in this new film, their relationship as rocky as ever.
Nostalgia for the original trio of "Star Wars" films accounts for much of the appeal of this new one, of course. Although "The Force Awakens" picks up the saga many years after the events in "Return of the Jedi," Lucas and Disney knew that getting the band of Leia, Luke and Han back together would be crucial to getting Boomer butts in the seats.
And there were plenty in the Snowden Square theater for that weekday matinee on the Monday after Christmas.
Black lives still matter
The next wave of protest is upon us, as the courts seem no more able to deliver justice than the various police forces nationwide that have, in case after case, used unwarranted deadly force against people of color. The hung jury in the first trial of a Baltimore officer in the case of Freddie Gray, along with the refusal of grand juries in Texas and Ohio to issue indictments in the cases of Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice, has reignited rage.
Last week, one small contingent of the incensed gathered near the Columbia mall to demonstrate. A similar action took place in Baltimore that same evening. Social media enables organizers to swiftly assemble such gatherings, and we can expect more of them over the coming weeks and months.
What action we can expect from police and other authorities in response is less clear.