The Last Jedi was the last movie I saw in theaters.
Not the most recent. The last. I thrilled to the familiar cadences of Star Wars, to the joy of the new characters bringing it alive again…and then I barely made it out of the theater upright. I went back to my family’s vacation rental and threw up again and again.
The popularity of unsteady camera work has made even the most sedate of movies a risk my balance disorder won’t let me take any more. Even a conversation between characters in a hallway might pitch and lurch in ways that my broken inner ears can’t keep up with. When a director chooses handheld camera work, my balance disorder is kicked into high gear, and I literally don’t know which way is up. I become disoriented, unsteady, trying to focus on anything while the camera zooms earnestly into one character’s face, then another. The swoops and spins of a space battle are right out. In my own well-lit living room, I can look away, reorient myself on the comforting perpendiculars of a doorframe or a bookshelf, then glance back to see if it’s safe to watch again. In a dark movie theater, there’s nowhere for my eyes to settle to find out where up and down are. Two hours of that leave me sick and reeling for days. Not worth it—not any more.
Not even for Star Wars?
Not even—I discover as Episode 9 approaches—for Star Wars.
Nor am I the only one. The Rise of Skywalker has come with warnings that the strobe effects in the movie may trigger epileptic symptoms, and I know that there are people who suffer from migraines who are blocked from enjoying their fandoms by that kind of filmmaking choice as well. Knowing about the problem is a good thing. Being shut out, not so much.
But the internet is what it is; enthusiasm and fan culture are what they are, and I have surrounded myself—very deliberately and lovingly—with nerds. I’m guaranteed that I will know what happens in The Rise of Skywalker months before it comes out in a format I can watch. Not just the broad brushstrokes of a formal review—I’m immersed in fan culture. By the time you read this, I will know this movie’s equivalent of porgs, vulptices, and all the other little details that make a movie fun—but that will be long before I get to have that fun myself.
And… it turns out I’m all right with swimming in spoilers.
In the leadup to The Rise of Skywalker, I kept trying to give myself room to feel sad, angry, anything else negative. And I didn’t. Not being able to see it in theaters wasn’t like an open wound or even a papercut. It was more like a missing tooth, where you keep poking your tongue in the place where it used to be. It felt weird… but not painful. I kept telling myself it was okay not to play the cheerful smiling cripple. But when I went to sit with my actual feelings, they were… fine?
It’s not because I’m not interested in the story. I am. I think it’s not even that I’ve internalized that knowing a plot and experiencing storytelling are two different things—although wow, are they ever. (Try listening to a six-year-old tell you about their favorite movie sometime. It can be delightful, or it can be tedious beyond words—but it is most certainly not the same as watching the movie. Not even a little. Even though they know—and will tell you, with the slightest encouragement—all the best lines and most charming details and, to some approximation, the jokes. Now think of that magnified by an entire internet: that’s what it can be like when you haven’t seen the movie that’s the center of the discourse. You’ve heard the one-liners again and again, often with people getting them wrong or laughing in the middle, but it’s definitely not the same.)
When I gave myself space to sit with my feelings about not getting to see The Rise of Skywalker in theaters, what came out was this: yes, this is a new facet of my disability. Nobody really wants those, and I’m no exception. If you could give me a get-out-of-vertigo-free card, a day pass to go to the movies without side effects, I would absolutely do it. But in general I think this, the capstone of the Star Wars sequence, is actually the ideal movie for me to be a fan who waits.
When I was little, most of my Star Wars experience was not watching. Most of it was discussing and reenacting with other children in the imaginative play that can be the center of fandom for the littlest fans. Star Wars was mediated through other people: my cousin Garrett, my friend Jimmy, sometimes even other children whose names I didn’t know. What do you imagine Han Solo would do here? If I say my Princess Leia does this and you say your Chewbacca does that in response, do we keep running around yelling and playing? Do we argue about it? Tiny child fandoms can be incredibly interactive. Strong personalities—yes, like mine—will hold a lot of sway. But if you want someone else to play that the merry-go-round is the Millennium Falcon with you, you have to listen to them at least a little.
These days I’m a writer, which means that I get to spend a lot of time telling other people what to think. I get ARCs and NetGalley downloads of books. Sometimes I even see manuscripts before their editors see them. It’s very easy to get used to the idea that my opinions are best formed in a vacuum—that I am supposed to be the influencer, not the influenced. But both sides of that equation can be fun. Usually I get to be first in line, but there’s something wonderful about opening a new book knowing that it’s a friend’s favorite.
Even without the vertigo banning me from theaters, I was never motivated enough to be the midnight release person—so I always knew that other people had seen it before me. In between bouts of illness after The Last Jedi, I texted my friend Arkady Martine, “I was squeezing your hand across the miles when Holdo came on the screen,” because of a conversation we’d had about the Vice-Admiral and depictions of femme women in space opera. “I see what you mean,” I wrote to a family member who had already told me she’d fallen in love with Rose Tico.
So I’m leaning into those moments. I can’t avoid my friends and family’s enthusiasm—I wouldn’t want to—so I’m embracing it as part of the roots of my Star Wars fandom. Let’s do this together. If I can’t be there to be the one who sees it first, help me see it best.
Make sure I don’t miss a wonderful thing. I’m not going to be the lone figure out on the plane, facing down the new challenge by myself—so let me go into this knowing that I’m already part of a huge conversation, knowing that I can come out and talk to all of you, that when I do get to join the conversation you’re not going to be saying, “Ugh, I’m tired of that,” but, “Yay, we saved you a seat!”
Save us all a seat. Make sure there’s always more to talk about.
If you’re in the same position as I am—if you can’t go to theatrical releases of movies for medical reasons—and you don’t feel the same way, please know that your feelings are valid too. Angry, sad, frustrated, isolated—even bemused—I’m not trying to say that I’ve unlocked the secret one true way to feel about all of this. But I’m hoping that for me, this time, being late to the party still feels like being at the party—with plenty of verses of the Ewok song yet to sing together.
© 2020 Marissa Lingen