Jan. 19 2016 01:37 PM

Rediscovering fandom on the night of 'The Force Awakens' premier

It's the night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens' premier, and I don't see how this night can end well for me. I'm going to fuck up, and the nerds are going to have a field day. I'll get my droids wrong, and they'll crucify me. I'll accidentally question whether Han shot first, and they'll "actually" me to death.

I eye the crowd at Reuben H. Fleet Science Center's pre-party for the exclusive private screening. I'm here as press, a title that allows me to attend the party, but not the movie. At $100 a ticket, one can only assume that either this event is "a trap!" or, more likely, this is solely for superfans. And that is what I'm worried about. They don't look like a violent bunch, but then again it's always the quiet ones, right?

An older couple and their adult son stand next to me and wonder if the booze is free. It is. The matriarch—really, there is no other word—wears Leia hair buns that cause the "woe is me" variety of discomfort; her son wears a tunic and a cape. She commands him to inquire at the bar. When he returns with their options, she predictably opts for chardonnay.

I poke at a bowl of pretzel balls covered in melted nacho cheese: "Padme Pretzel Balls," according to the label underneath the cauldron from which they came. I push a Padme Ball into my mouth and let it sit there. It's not the grossest thing I've eaten, but that's not saying much.

I sit on a bench with all my other Stars Wars-themed foods around me, which, honestly, aren't thematically or logically linked with the characters they're named after. There's Rebel ramen, Obi Wan kale salad, Han Solo Caesar salad and Death Star balls. And I'm binge eating all of it as a coping mechanism to deal with the terror of being found out as a nonfan. I listen to two adults seriously discuss the real-life implications of light sabers. They keep making vroom and bwwow sounds. I shake my head, man. I shake my damn head.

It's not that I'm anti-Star Wars, but I've been on the Internet enough to gain a healthy disgust with fanboy culture. Social media has streamlined all our interests so nothing feels special or niche. We give weight to fan theories, produced by those who believe their vision is superior to those of the producers, writers and directors. Adults turn into babies at the mere mention of a spoiler. And by the time you've read this, you've probably become numb to onslaught of thinkpieces justifying The Force Awakens' pros and cons, thusly reinforcing our lowball expectations that cinema should merely satisfy us rather than entertain us. So, Star Wars is all right, it's just the fans I can't stand.

I finish a second Death Star ball and slide into the booze line. It's, by far, the least crowded free booze line I've ever been in. I don't know if it's Star Wars fans' devotion to keeping a clear head for the anticipated premier, or if they—in socially awkward fashion—are afraid to ask. At the front of the line, I order a cocktail created especially for the event: "Yub Nub and Chill." It's made with gin and something else that makes it green. The bartender asks how it tastes and I lie and say, "It's amazing." I ask for another one.

I meet up with my friend (and Reuben H. Fleet's public relations and promotions manager) Nathan Young. He's part of a crowd surrounding a replica R2-D2. It rolls around, beeping at people. Everybody wants a picture with it. The inventor appears slightly annoyed about his inability to move anywhere without a mob. "C'mon, R2," he keeps saying.

"I spent all day with that thing," Nathan says. I can't tell if he's boasting or if I'm just jealous that he got to have one-on-one time with the little droid. It's a sweet droid.

We walk by another droid that looks like a box with an accordion neck. The inventor gives me a phone number and tells me to text it. As soon as I do, his robot locks onto my phone and takes three photos of Nathan and me. According to the inventor, it picks the best photo to text back to me. The text comes back and we look ravishing. A robot just texted me, I think, trying to reconcile my fear of the Singularity with my approval of everything badass. I ask the inventor if it's all right if I drunk dial the robot after I have a few more of these Yub Nubs, or will it come and hunt me down, Westworld-style? The inventor gives me a pity laugh and turns away.

A robot took this picture!

"If you think about it, all of these people have probably been influenced by Star Wars in one way or another," Nathan says, referring to all the scientists, tech professionals and inventors who are demonstrating their expertise at this pre-party. He's right. I often forget that these movies inspire much more than hateful flame wars on the Internet. Suddenly, I feel very bad for being so judgmental. While I wouldn't spend $100 to see an exclusive screening, I now kind of understand the people who would.

And after my third Yub Nub, my initial trepidation is replaced with a sadness that comes with feeling left out, knowing that I won't be able to step up onto the buses that take this crowd to their private screening. Those buses are for fans only.

Ryan is the author of Horror Business. Write to ryanb@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford


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