The Force is strong with this one. So strong that Dawn and Jim Novak had to ease back on their hyperdrive-level anticipation to see the new "Star Wars" movie right away Thursday or risk facing the Dark Side of their daughters, ages 12 and 10.
"We asked if they'd be mad if we went to the first midnight screenings without them," Dawn Novak, of Maple Grove, recounted. "They made it very clear they would not like that."
Poised to blow up box-office records like the Death Star in Episodes IV and VI, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is also shaping up to be the rare pop-culture phenomenon that reaches across genders and generations.
Just as Darth Vader hoped to lure Luke Skywalker to his side of the Force, many of the 1970s and '80s Generation X kids who grew up in the Galaxy Far, Far Away® have been eagerly turning the "Star Wars" tractor beam on their own kids. And they're succeeding — with ample help, of course, from the marketing and merchandising empire at Disney, which took over George Lucas's sci-fi franchise in 2012.
"I can't think of anything we've all been this excited about," said Bradley Bush, a Stillwater naturopathic doctor and father of four girls ages 5 to 13, all "Star Wars" fans.
The whole Bush family is going to see "The Force Awakens" at — get this! — 4:15 a.m. on Friday, the earliest screening time near them that wasn't sold out. May the force of caffeine be with them.
"We're all going to the movie, and then the girls are going to school," Bush, 44, excitedly explained, justifying it as a once-in-a-lifetime event. "It's incredibly meaningful to get to share this with them."
The Bushes helped "The Force Awakens" already break one box-office record: advance ticket sales, which are up over $50 million since sales kicked off Oct. 19.
The 14-screen Theatres at Mall of America will show the movie 42 times in a 29-hour period starting Thursday at 7 p.m. Six of ShowPlace Icon's 14 screens are now set to show it — and there could be even more by Thursday. The St. Louis Park theater has been continually adding times based on advance ticket demand.
"We've been hearing requests for tickets going back to January," said Michelle Longest, operations manager at Kerasotes Showplace Theatres. The theater is also screening the six prior "Star Wars" movies in order as a 17-hour marathon.
Chris Grap, marketing manager for the MOA theater, said it feels like the entire mall has been drawn to the "Force" hubbub since Sept. 4, aka Force Friday, when merchandise for the movie flooded the market: "You see signs of 'Star Wars' everywhere from the Disney store to iCandy [candy store] to places that sell 'Star Wars'-specific luggage," he said.
"Their timing with this has been very good, from when the last prequel movie was released to when they started rolling out all the new merchandise," said Roy Cook, a University of Minnesota philosophy professor who has written and lectured on "Star Wars" — and even has an R2-D2 tattoo.
Looking at it philosophically, Cook said the "Star Wars" saga has spanned generations, genders and cultures because "it really isn't just a sci-fi movie. It's about magic, with the Force. It's a love story. It's a comedy, with R2-D2 and C-3PO as Laurel and Hardy. And it's about ethics and morality, with the Jedi code. It's a lot of things to a lot of different people."
Passing the lightsaber
Kyle Dekker has noticed a new "Star Wars" generational dynamic as the manager of Fantasy Flight Games Center in Roseville, where fans gather for role-playing games. He credits new animated TV shows such as "Star Wars Rebels."
"It has become the kind of thing where a dad whose wife didn't want him hanging out here playing our games all day now can come in with his kids, and they play these games together," Dekker said.
The father-child connection is especially strong for Dan Cote, manager at Treehouse Records in Minneapolis, who has fond memories of his dad bringing home "Star Wars" action figures whenever he went away on a business trip. David Cote died in May just as Dan's 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte, became a "Star Wars" fanatic somewhat by chance.
"We found a stash of cardboard masks at my mom's house one day that I'd cut off of cereal boxes as a kid, and she got to know who all the characters were," Cote said. Now, he doles out a new action figure to her every couple of weeks the way his dad did.
"I think the key to 'Star Wars' is seeing it at just the right age when you aren't yet cynical of the hype around it," Cote said. "I'm glad she's young enough to love it as much as I did."
As for Dawn and Jim Novak, their daughters Olivia and Maddie were practically born into "Star Wars." Their baby nursery was decorated entirely with images from the original three movies. "Both of our mothers said, 'Not too much Dark Side stuff!' " Dawn Novak recalled.
Still, the Novaks never pushed "Star Wars" on the girls and let them discover its allure on their own. And did they ever. Olivia and Maddie just bought matching Wookiee jackets with some of their own money to pledge their allegiance to "The Force Awakens."
"It's one of the rare sci-fi fantasy series where the female characters are empowered, and I think the girls always liked that," said Jim Novak, pointing to the new movie's lead character, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. "It looks like they're keeping that tradition alive."
The Novaks settled on seeing the movie all together, even though it meant waiting until Saturday afternoon.
"It'll be hard to wait," Dawn said, "but it's going to be so worth it."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658