Millions of us will be seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the next few days. And millions of us have expectations so high nothing short of the greatest movie ever will meet them. Seeing the film has become nothing short of the secular equivalent of a pilgrimage to Mecca. I predict that some will come away disappointed, voicing complaints like “it wasn’t as good as the old ones.”
I won’t be one of them.
I saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977, when it was first released. As far as I remember, it was the first PG-rated movie I saw; it was certainly my first non “kid” movie. To say I was completely blown away is an understatement. My grandfather (now deceased over 30 years) took me to the film, and even told my parents how good it was, prompting a later family outing. It was, perhaps, my most memorable cinematic experience. Certainly, it was a milestone in my young life.
So, yeah, The Force Awakens won’t be replicating that experience. How could it? I’m not a wide-eyed young kid and my grandfather has been gone for years. I will go into the film expecting it to be really good, and I’m certainly expecting it to be better than the prequels. That said, I enjoyed the prequels more than many, largely by adopting a similarly reasonable set of expectations. I was happy to see the words scroll by at the beginning, hear the whoosh of light sabers, and savor the first breath of Darth Vader.
I often see clients in my psychotherapy practice falling into a similar expectations trap in their own lives. Christmas and the holidays have to be every bit as good as childhood memories, or sometimes even better. Sometimes parents may wish to undo bad childhood experiences or prevent their own children from having a bad memory. This is an example, in my opinion, of falling into a life narrative that may prove challenging or problematic. Oftentimes, when expectations are sky high, disappointment results. The holidays (and accompanying expectations) may be a challenge, too, when family members have passed away. Especially the first year after their passing, the remaining family may work hard to overcompensate for the loss of the absence of beloved family members.
So how do we break out of this problematic narrative?
Something that has been successful for some families is to concentrate on new traditions or doing things differently. If Christmas has always been at one person’s home, perhaps it is time to try a new location this year. Activities are good, too. Never played White Elephant? Maybe this is the year to try it. There is nothing like laughing to help us break through a challenge and create new stories and memories for the years to come. Or maybe another new tradition: a flag football game or a board game. Maybe change up the dinner menu. Have you always had turkey or ham? I hear tamales are great!
Maybe we should all take a similar approach to The Force Awakens, too. It won’t be the same as it was 30+ years ago when you saw the original trilogy. Movies have changed. You’re 30+ years older. And there wasn’t incredible 3-D technology available then, so that experience alone will be different for many. But, most importantly, don’t try to make it the same. We’ve all moved on—enjoy your life NOW.
May The Force Be With You.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture