A super quickie inspired by reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. [No Spoilers.] Happy holidays, 'errbody.
Chapter Description: You had to be there...
[size=2]The humming line of eager Star Wars fans, many decked out in various stages of cosplay, snaked past the restrooms, around the corner, and terminated near the entrance to a lonesome theater showing the new Chipmunks movie. Despite arriving an hour early, Justin and Katie found themselves bringing up the caboose — at least until another posse of makeshift Yodas, Lukes, Hans, and Leias claimed the spot of shame. The young couple bided their time with small conversations that drifted off into nowhere as they stood sandwiched between a 40-year-old Boba Fett and a chatty Italian family all sporting matching Force Awakens shirts. The evening had that thick air of anticipation only a new Star Wars movie could manufacture, only more so thanks to the debut of the North Park Cineplex’s special Cinemagic XD screening.
Helplessly fidgeting, Justin nevertheless made a valiant effort to hide the giddy feelings percolating just underneath his reserved exterior. Despite being too young to have witnessed the original trilogy on the big screen, the college senior fell madly in love with the films early on, and like many edgy folks clustered along the velvet rope, suffered through the prequels with a soldier’s stoicism. God, the prequels, he thought. It was as if millions of fans had cried out in terror, and were suddenly disappointed. Surely J.J. Abrams and company wouldn’t repeat Lucas’ mistakes and drag the fanbase through another soulless CGI hellscape of galactic taxation debates.
“You’re nervous, aren’t you?” Katie said, the faint glimmer of a smirk appearing. “You’re actually nervous about a movie.”
“Well, a little...” the normally composed pre-law major admitted.
Katie shook her head, and let slip a disapproving, motherly sigh. It was the sound of someone who had never seen Star Wars, not even the first three. As likely the only uninitiated member of the audience, the bookish sophomore struggled to understand the outsized hysteria over a silly space movie filled with characters who sounded like rejected NPR correspondents. Kylo Ren? Leia Organa? The air of awe and excitement blew right by her without creating so much as a mildly inviting breeze. She’s past the window, Justin realized. No modern twenty-year-old could fully appreciate the magnitude of this moment without any prior experience with George Lucas’ magical mixture of hero myths, Buddhism, Kurosawa, and Flash Gordon. He couldn’t help but pity her.
“We are still going out after this, right?” she said, checking her watch for the nineteenth time. “Dinner at Carrabba’s and then...” Her face brightened.
“Yes, I got the hotel reservations,” Justin answered, mentally fact-checking himself. Katie had made it clear tonight was “the night” and reliably circled the conversation around to the Galtman Hotel at least once a day for the past two weeks.
“Because that was the deal.”
“I know, I know,” Justin assured. “Hey, I’m looking forward to tonight too, you know.”
“You better be, stud,” she replied, leaning over to land a brief peck on his lips. She pulled back, smiling as the tiny slit in her black halter put on an alluring little show of its own. Katie could turn on a sexy charm at the oddest moments.
“Okay, if I could have everybody’s attention, we’re about to start seating for the first Cinemagic XD showing of Star Wars,” an usher announced as he walked the length of the line like a drill sergeant. “A reminder costumes are allowed but no helmets or accessories that could disturb those around you.”
“This is it!” Justin grinned wide.
“Jesus, how long is this thing again?” Katie asked, “I bet with previews we’ll be here three hours.”
“Just relax and try to enjoy it, okay?” he urged, nudging her butt slightly forward with his right hand. “Our turn.”
Their clique of Jedi-happy fans trundled into the theater, all balancing their barrels of Pepsi, large buttered heart attacks, and Star Wars-themed 3D glasses. Excited murmuring emanated throughout the theater as the crowd filed into the rows like Tetris blocks. The makeup of the audience testified to the multigenerational love the series inspired, attracting graying boomers and smartphone-addicted middle school tweens in equal measure. And one couldn’t help but notice the number of full families populating the seats, for once all simultaneously jazzed about the same movie. Even Katie had to marvel at the hushed, church-like reverence that fell over the crowd as the house lights dimmed for the trailers. Hell, the theater had twenty minutes of previews and commercials to plow through before the thing even gets off the ground, she thought, amused.
Sparse laughter and shushing occurred as the trailers ran, as if the audience were politely humoring an opening act, but by the sixth preview Katie detected a restless mood developing. Delayed gratification was one thing, but Star Wars nerds had waited thirty years for this and patience grew thin. Finally, a thundering animated message scrawled across the screen. The chatter immediately shut off like a switch.
“It’s now time to put on your Cinemagic XD 3D glasses for this very special screening of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Sit back and enjoy the show!”
Then it happened. That glistening green Lucasfilm logo followed by the legendary bold title card and John Williams’ iconic theme blasting through the bass heavy surround-sound speakers. Applause broke out as the crawl scrolled out into star-filled backdrop. Cue eye roll from Katie. Immune to the palpable excitement shooting down the aisles, the ponytailed brunette settled in for two hours and sixteen minutes of pure adolescent male catnip. As the opening scenes proceeded, Katie was again surprised by the attentive silence the film commanded. The absence of talkative teenagers reflexively checking Facebook, old people repeatedly asking each other what was happening and who they characters were, and obnoxious kids made for a unique viewing experience. Even Justin seemed locked in to the point of total immersion, a rare state for the always nervous student.
About a half hour in, Katie felt the impending call of nature — no doubt thanks to the large $6 bottle of Evian water she’d mindlessly guzzled — and excused herself quietly. Alone in making the trek, she slipped silently down the dimly-lit stairs toward the exit. At the door, she was met with a small gaggle of broom-carrying ushers taking turns peering curiously through the glass, most of whom politely scattered when she emerged.
Huh, she thought, as one remaining employee seemed to appraise her as she passed by. Unprofessional.
Following the line for the next showing back toward the restroom, Katie squirmed through an opening in the already packed hallway and into the women’s room. Unafraid of missing any crucial plot twists, she took her time, stopping at the mirror on her way out to inspect her makeup and check for any popcorn grease stains on her newly-purchased Old Navy leggings. With everything in order, she fought her way past an overweight Obi-Wan Kenobi and a squad of youngsters in Darth Maul hoodies.
Returning to the theater, Katie climbed the steps and reclaimed her seat on the end of Row E — catching a fleeting glimpse of her bespectacled boyfriend as she sat down. Not wanting to interrupt his long-awaited fun, she contained her usual urge to comment or otherwise get his attention. But the longer she sat staring at the screen, the more a meaningless minor observation nagged away. I could have sworn Justin had a light five o’clock shadow tonight. Playing the thought over and over again, she shot repeated subtle glances his direction, always careful not to leer. After several minutes of mulling it over, she decided it must just be a simple trick of the light. Anyway, Justin looked happier than she’d seen him in weeks, completely absorbed in the adventures of Rey and Finn.
For the next hour and forty-five minutes, Katie reluctantly joined the audience in losing herself in the Star Wars universe. As the pace picked up, she discovered the much hyped sequel wasn’t all that bad — nothing Oscar-worthy by any means — but not an entirely-unentertaining way to spend a Friday evening. The climax piqued her interest, as it rapidly bounced back and forth between action in different locales. Toward the end, she actually discovered herself leaning forward in anticipation, a hint of the magic Justin must be experiencing. As the final shot irised out and “Directed by J.J. Abrams” appeared in blue, Katie realized she’d been glued to the screen for the final half hour, even neglecting her habit of resting her head on Justin’s shoulder during the tense scenes.
“Hey, you know what that was actually —“ she began, turning to congratulate the fanboy on converting her into a Star Wars fan, only to find herself craning her head down.
Seated next to her was her boyfriend — minus more than a decade. Standing in for the geeky but handsome university student on the cusp of graduation sat a bashful little boy now donning funny, oversized 3D glasses. The famous closing fanfare still blaring, Justin’s smile lingered as he gradually broke free of what felt like an awesome two-hour trance. Covering her open mouth, Katie worked to contain her shock. Swallowed by the seat and submerged inside a fleece North Face jacket, the ambitious law school hopeful wore an adorable look of hazy confusion. Sensing something wrong about this new angle, he pressed his hands into the seat to push himself back up to eye level with Katie, only to hear a tiny thud as his Fitbit slid effortlessly off his wrist, down the crack of the seat, and onto the floor below.
“What… what happened?” the gap-toothed grade schooler asked, as if waking up from anesthesia at the dentist’s office. The sound of Justin’s repitched voice only cemented the very real fantasy unfolding before Katie’s eyes.
Before she could piece together a cogent reply, gasps began to fill the auditorium as audience members awoke to find their ages all over the map. Katie scanned the row in front of them. Not even a single head reached above the tops of the seats. Meanwhile, Row E — once sporting a healthy mixture of kids and adults — now hosted mostly children with a handful of young teens interspersed. Half-eaten bags of buttery popcorn spilled onto the floor as patrons struggled with their tent-like clothes. A din of decidedly higher voices arose. Panicked expressions washed over cute, innocent faces. The theater took on the atmosphere of an unruly elementary school cafeteria.
By this time, Justin’s stupor had fully worn off, leaving able to absorb the strange evidence presenting itself all around him. “Katie? Why is…”
“I — I don’t know,” she answered before he could form any more words.
“Why are you so tall?” Justin quizzed her, tilting his head like a puppy.
“I’m not taller, Justin. You’ve gotten younger,” she explained. “It looks like most people in here have.”
Bewildered by the sheer size of his cavernous sleeves, Justin resembled a child actor in a commercial trying on his dad’s hiking coat as he attempted to navigate himself back inside it. Gradually it clicked that Katie wasn’t lying and the last remnants of Star Wars fever drained from his face. Always on the hunt for the closest explanation at hand, his mind instantly leapt to the movie. He’d noticed a powerful nostalgic euphoria overcoming him during the screening, like a hefty dose of Percocet spreading throughout his body. Then he remembered the ads for the Cinemagic screening, featuring critics endlessly touting how the movie made them feel like a kid again.
As Justin rehearsed the commercials in his head, Katie leaned in to better assess his young features — wide almond eyes, angelic little eyelashes, a rowdy collection of mismatched teeth, and a lighter helping of sandy brown hair. Traces of his adult likeness persisted, only in a softer, more precious package.
“You look about ten or eleven years old, Justin,” she said. “This is insane.”
But she was being kind. He knew exactly how old he was. He could recall every detail like it was yesterday: a sick day from school, his parents’ old ratty basement couch, the dusty VHS tape of A New Hope, and the moment of pure glee the first time he heard the “bshhhhh” of Luke’s light saber firing up.
He was nine years old again.
As that fact sank in, he surveyed the audience. Directly in front of him were a mom and dad, reduced to about seven and five respectively, working in vain to corral their middle school age kids. The father, previously a balding construction worker type with a spare tire, could easily walk right into a kindergarten class without anyone noticing. The presence of a tiny, crunched up skull tattoo on his naked right shoulder would do little to intimidate now. And his poor wife hadn’t fared much better, now a second-grader in Kabuki makeup with her massive, gaudy bracelets clinking as they slid down to her knobby elbows. And their offspring weren’t exactly coming to their defense.
“Oh my god,” their thirteen-year-old daughter whistled through her braces. “You’re, like, all little and stuff! Holy shit!” Obeying her millennial instincts, she immediately yanked out her iPhone and captured the scene and uploaded it to Instagram. “#FreakyFriday”
“Language! We are still your parents!” her mother squeaked ineffectually. “Help us!”
A few seats down, two stunned former teenagers out on a date took turns breathlessly trading descriptions of each other until one also pulled out a smartphone and took a blurry picture of himself. Justin had spied them necking during the previews; after tonight’s showing they would be lucky to hang out without adult supervision. By the looks of the girl frantically patting the area where her breasts used to reside, neither would be Netflix and chilling for another decade. As was the case with most couples in the auditorium, the male drew the short straw, winding up several years behind his date and never on the right side of puberty. The calculus made for no shortage of fitful exchanges as they grappled with their embarrassing demotions.
“How old do you think…?” the high school junior with disheveled Edward Cullen hair asked in a tinny soprano.
Only fresh out of grade school herself, the pretty, moonfaced Chinese girl with a row of earrings running down her left ear adopted a comforting, sympathetic tone. “I don’t know, maybe… six?”
“Six?!” the distraught teen shot back, hoping for at least double digits. This was a nightmare. So much for that makeout session he had planned later in his car. Now he wouldn’t score a learner’s permit for another nine years.
A few lucky adults managed to avoid a plunge into the wrong end of adolescence, but only barely. Katie heard the occasional deep voice cutting through the ocean of high-pitched chatter, but she was one of only four or five women whose clothes came even close to fitting. Relieved but also perplexed, she wondered how she escaped the drastic downsizing that most underwent, remaining by all measures every bit the twenty-year-old she started. While welcome news, the result did serve to magnify the giant gulf between her and the modest, blushing fourth-grader seated to her left. Walking into the theater that evening, surrounded by grown men and women in homemade wookiee costumes, she had felt like the only adult in the room — now her admittedly condescending thought had literally come true.
“Everyone, everyone, please… may I have your attention,” an overdressed theater employee interrupted. Once the cacophony died down, he addressed the angry, scared, and confused audience with a reassuring managerly smile. “I know you’re all wondering what’s happened here, but please don’t be alarmed. We are in full control. We know most of you are finding that you’ve lost a little height and, for the first time ever in a movie theater, a little weight…”
He paused, the meager attempt at a joke falling utterly flat.
“What you have experienced is the world’s first age-altering movie theater. We could think of no better movie than Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the debut this technology. The originals were movies that defined your childhood and with Cinemagic, we were able to totally recreate that indescribable feeling. Right now, all of you are exactly how old you were when you were first introduced to the saga — whether it was in your twenties, your teens, elementary school, or even before you could read the opening crawl.”
He glanced at a particularly unfortunate soul whose parents left Return of the Jedi on the TV when he was still a wee lad of three.
“But we don’t want to be actual children!” a cowlicked fifth-grader yelled from the back row, one bare shoulder peeking through the neckhole of his vintage Darth Vader shirt.
“We know, we know,” the manager said, calming the antsy crowd. “The effects are temporary. You’ll all return to your normal ages in 24 hours.”
“24 hours?” an exasperated single mom, now three years younger than her out-of-control gothy teenage daughter, added. “Look at me! How am I even going to get home?”
“We’ve arranged rides for anyone too young to drive. It was factored into the cost of your tickets. They are waiting at the special exit you see directly behind me. We ask that you use that exit so as not to spoil the surprise for our next round of guests. Also, we must caution against multiple viewings in Cinemagic XD. Repeated exposure could cause the changes to become permanent.”
The muttering ranged from the indignant (“This is unbelievable!” “I’m suing!”) to the pleasantly resigned (“Well, maybe being a kid again for a day won’t be so bad,” “I knew those tickets were expensive for a reason,” “Come on, you look really cute this way.”). Still, it would take hours, if not a lifetime, to shake off the disbelief that a simple popcorn flick had produced a nostalgic reaction so potent it effectively whirled them back in time. Most remained too stunned to truly parse out the mind-blowing implications, if for no other reason than their young brains still buzzed with the whoosh of TIE-Fighters and X-Wings. Truth be told, a part of them wanted to grab some plastic lightsabers right there and stage an epic play battle in the aisle.
Clearing his throat, Justin finally stood up, his belted jeans puddling at his feet like so much useless laundry. Katie followed suit, now casting a towering shadow over him. Of course, his eyes were dead level with her breasts. They seem a lot bigger from down here. She bent down.
“I guess this means our night on the town is off,” she reported the obvious in her typical dry manner. “I can’t exactly check into the lover’s suite with a ten-year-old, can I?”
“Nine,” he muttered, eyes tracing the floor.
“I guess you really had some fun tonight, huh?” she said. “You just had to see the most expensive Star Wars showing in town to relive your memories. Well, you’re gonna miss something even more fun…”
“I know,” he answered, rocking back and forth like a naughty child just caught with his fingers in the cookie jar.
Gathering Justin’s high-tops, pants, and boxers into a dirty heap, Katie wished aloud for a hamper. “Now it looks like I’m babysitting.”
That stung. Throughout their bumpy three-month relationship, she never missed an opportunity to needle him over his comic books and games, all artifacts of a unhealthy, prolonged childhood. What kind of self-respecting lawyer keeps a closet full of unwrapped action figures and wrestling toys? It was a distraction from real life. Now her diagnosis had materialized in the most dramatic fashion possible as she took him by the hand and walked him out of the theater like a goofy little kid. Around the auditorium the scene repeated itself with erstwhile adults — bankers, physicians, even a local TV news anchor — being led down the stairs like participants in a school field trip admonished to stay in a single file line. But it isn’t my fault, he kept telling himself. Nobody in the audience expected to trudge out of the theater in monster shirts and coats with voices like chipmunks. (He thought of the patrons currently taking in the Chipmunk movie, who would, ironically, emerge with their maturity intact.) It could have been worse. At least he landed with the older elementary school kids, not the hapless superfan in the third row who might require a box of Pampers to get through the night.
As they neared the exit, Katie took him aside and knelt down again. Justin could sense something important coming.
“Look, I’m not going to lie. You are aggressively cute as a little boy,” she said, managing a borderline smile while frazzling his hair. “And I’m really happy you enjoyed yourself tonight, little man. I know this is only temporary and tomorrow you’ll be back to your old self. But I feel like you need to make a choice — either you’re serious about relationships or you’re more interested in Star Wars and comic books and gaming. And looking at you right now, like this, I just wonder if you’re ready to commit.”
“I didn’t know this would happen!” Justin yelled in as authoritative a tone as possible with miniature vocal cords.
“I know that, sweetie,” Katie cooed. “But sometimes I think… emotionally, you’re just not very… mature.”
“I am too mature!” he announced, the words tumbling out even as he realized how ridiculous they sounded. He was standing in a movie theater, naked except for a giant shirt and jacket (he didn’t dare peek beneath), being lectured by a woman more than twice his current age. All the while the Millennium Falcon continued to course through his veins at light speed, calling out to him like a siren. He could practically hear Sir Alec Guinness urging him to “Use the force, Justin. Don’t turn to the Dark Side.”
“You don’t sound very mature to me,” Katie intoned, lifting an eyebrow in an “mmm hmm” fashion. “I wanted tonight to be special and I indulged you, but all I’m getting in return is your fourth grade school picture come to life and, I’m guessing, a trip to Walmart to find you some little Star Wars undies.”
“I am not immature!” The hate flowed through him. “I make my own decisions and I don’t need a babysitter!”
With that declaration, Justin tore away and darted back into the crowd, a mess of surplus sleeve space flapping in the breeze. Disappointed but not especially surprised, Katie sighed. Boys will be boys.
Cunningly, Justin had slipped past a pair of distracted ushers at the theater entrance, too full of nine-year-old hormones and frustration to feel self-conscious in front of the crowds waiting for the next showing. Blood pumping and chest heaving, Justin felt invigorated — like the time he gathered the courage to run away from home and snuck out the second story window down the lattice. Katie might have been turned out to be a meanie, but Star Wars would never let him down. So what if it’s got explosions and heroes and Death Stars. What’s wrong with loving that? Katie just didn’t get it and she never would. Bolstered by his newfound youthful confidence, Justin made up his mind, as if pulled back in by the Force itself.
Just one more time, he decided, ducking into the line. [/size]