CHARLOTTE, N.C. –– A senior at Charlotte Catholic High School who is among the first in the country to see the latest “Star Wars” movie said he saw a good movie on his trip to Los Angeles Dec. 13.
But it wasn’t “Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” the highly anticipated new film in the “Star Wars” saga, which he screened at Disney Studios in Burbank, California. That got a “thumbs down, two stars out of four” from Christopher Graham, 18, of Belmont.
No, Graham really liked “Bridge of Spies” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg. He saw that on the plane as he flew to L.A. with his editor at the Gaston Gazette, for which he writes movie reviews. Thanks to the Gazette, he went with an editor and another of the paper’s movie reviewers to an early premiere of the much-anticipated “Star Wars” film, scheduled to be released worldwide Dec. 18.
“(‘Bridge of Spies’) was a really great movie; it’s my favorite movie of the year so far,” Graham said Dec. 14. “I highly recommend it.”
It has Cold War intrigue and background, with some humor thrown in, and people can enjoy the story for years, he said. “It’s from Steven Spielberg, of course. He’s a great director.”
But “The Force Awakens,” while brilliantly executed, left this “Star Wars” fan wanting more.
“The music was good. I mean, it’s John Williams,” Graham told the Catholic News Herald, the newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.
And, he added, the special effects were great. The production design was top-notch, and the three planets were well designed. The characters’ interactions and the fight sequences were good, too.
But what Graham saw didn’t reach the expectations he had going into the wildly hyped movie, the first “Star Wars” film release since 2005. In 2012, Disney bought “Star Wars” creator George Lucas’ company, Lucasfilm, and the rights to the epic sci-fi franchise for $4 billion and quickly announced it would begin making more “Star Wars” films. “The Force Awakens” is one of three sequels planned by Disney, and it is set about 30 years after “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.”
Said Graham, “They didn’t try anything different. It’s, like, been there, done that.”
The early press screening marked a first for Graham. A long time ago, “Star Wars,” as it was originally titled, was released ‚Äì- on May 25, 1977, nearly 20 years before Graham was born. He watched his first “Star Wars” movie with his father, his grandfather and his younger brothers, when he was 8. He’s been a “Star Wars” fan ever since, but he’s never seen any of the quintessential “Star Wars” movies on the silver screen.
“It was so different than I expected it to be,” Graham said of seeing the movie in a theater instead of on TV. “I felt like I was in the Star Wars universe.”
As part of the press junket for the movie, Graham also got to interview the stars of the movie, including Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.
“I was nervous,” he said. “It was scary at first. But they made me laugh, so it wasn’t that bad.”
Of the actors he talked to, he said he liked Ford the most. “This man, this actor was very nice to me. He’s a positive man, positive to everyone he meets.
“He’s just a very good man,” he said.
Graham also was able to tour Disney Studios before the screening and meeting the cast, during his short weekend trip.
Graham landed the movie review column for his local paper with the help of a family friend. He got an interview and started writing his movie review column in September.
Graham’s reactions to “The Force Awakens,” and to the in-flight movie he also saw, showcase both his movie knowledge and tell-it-like-it-is approach.
The movie “looks good but is a disappointment,” he said matter-of-factly.
With his father and brothers, Graham first saw the “Star Wars” movies in the order in which they were released: episodes 4-6, then 1-3. But now, he recommends viewing the movies in numerical order, to better understand Lucas’ story line from beginning to end.
Darth Vader, the iconic villain, is his favorite character, “because he is probably the best thing to come out of the entire series. He has everything he needs to be a great villain. He has an intimidating voice, he is very aggressive.”
Graham said he also relates to the young Jedi apprentice character before he become Vader.
“I am kind of like similar to Anakin Skywalker, who doesn’t think things straight,” he said. “Sometimes I stress out, take it the wrong way. Anakin goes to Obi-Wan (his mentor) and Padme (his wife) to talk it over.”
That’s also what he does with his family, he said. Graham, who is on the autism spectrum but is high-functioning, said his family helps put him on the right path when he needs help.
He also relates his Catholic faith to some things in the “Star Wars” saga, he said.
“The Jedi are symbols of priests and nuns, not in a fighting way, but in terms of their wisdom and knowledge,” he said. “Yoda kind of reminds me of some of the traits that the pope would have, such as being wise and seeing visions in other people if they are capable of doing great things in their future.”
When asked which “Star Wars” character he would like to see more of in future sequels, Graham answered, “Han Solo.” And which new character would he like to see developed in future movies? “Finn, a stormtrooper who turns to the good side in ‘The Force Awakens.’
“He has a great personality.”
Graham said he can’t go into any greater detail yet about “The Force Awakens” because of a standard media embargo preventing movie reviewers from publishing too much before the film’s worldwide release. He hopes to publish his full review in the print or online version of the Gazette soon.
Stephen Guilfoyle is a correspondent for the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.