Has any movie every had more pre-release baggage than Star Wars The Force Awakens? Expectations, rumors, hype—it felt like the fate of the universe was resting on this movie. So maybe it’s no wonder that I enjoyed Episode VII a lot more the second time I saw it.

Warning: Some spoilers ahead.

Every day since October 2012, anticipation for The Force Awakens has one of the most prevalent topics in popular culture. Spoilers, discussion and speculation have been everywhere, every day—so it’s no surprise that actually stepping into a theater last weekend was an incredibly overwhelming experience for some of us. Myself included.

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For me, watching the movie the first time was what I’d imagine seeing your life flash before your eyes is like. It felt like I was watching it on fast forward. My mind was racing to piece things together at such a rate, actual interaction with the film came second. “Okay, here are these new characters, this is what happens, oh that’s what happened with the old characters, how does he link to her, holy crap, that did not just happen.” By the end, I felt like a boxer after a 15 round slugfest. I laughed, I cried, I was spent. There was just too much to process. So many questions were answered, but new ones were posed.

And most of all, an almost unbelievable fact: I’d just seen what happened next in the Star Wars saga. For decades we imagined and day-dreamed about what happened to Han, Leia and Luke, but now we know. Definitively. We’ll never have those discussions again.

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So for me, and I think a lot of other people, that first viewing of The Force Awakens was tough in the best possible way. I enjoyed it, but just felt drained. People asked me how I felt as I walked out and the best word I could come up with was “conflicted.” I loved so much of what I saw, but there were problems here and there. As we’ve discussed, this is by no means a perfect movie.

And considering expectations for the film were at “Best movie ever or else” status, the fact it wasn’t perfect dominated my initial reaction. Not to mention that I was still coming to grips with what I’d just seen. I couldn’t believe that after all this time, I’d finally seen the movie I had been living with and thinking about for over three years. It was all too much to process.

So I took off for about a week after that. Life got in the way, but the break also gave me time to think about the movie a lot. Unpack it. Figure out what I liked, what I didn’t like, what I wanted to see again. Then I went a second time. This time I knew the plot, so I had no expectations, I’d already dissected all the minutiae of the film ad nauseum. I could just try and enjoy the movie on a simple, straightforward level.

And seeing The Force Awakens with no baggage was amazing. In fact, it was the experience I had wanted that first time around. On a second viewing, my mind wasn’t spinning at the awesome exposition in the opening crawl and first conversation. I wasn’t dying to figure out who Max Von Sydow was playing. I didn’t have to obsess about each new piece of information about Finn, Rey, the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo. I could watch the thing, laugh, and just enjoy it. In particular, I enjoyed the banter between Finn and Rey, the awkwardness of their relationship, the humor in it. Those new characters juxtaposed with the old ones just felt right in this vast, creature filled world. And that’s just the opening of the movie.

The first time I watched the film, I walked out kind of annoyed at some of the more coincidental plot contrivances. Things like R2-D2 waking up when he did, there actually being a map to find Luke when he supposedly doesn’t want to be found, Han finding the Falcon so quickly, the destruction of Starkiller Base lacking any real narrative weight, and so on.

But on a second viewing, those things didn’t matter as much. They were still problems with the film, but I was no longer dwelling on them. Instead, I soaked up the fact I was watching a new Star Wars movie. John Williams, wipes, droids, aliens, ships, lightsabers—all the things that have helped make Star Wars my favorite thing in pop culture.

Think of it this way. You go out for a night on the town. You drink and laugh and by the end of the night, you’re buzzed, tired and it’s all a bit of a blur. Then the next morning, you wake up, grab some coffee and look back at some photos. Make some phone calls, talk it out. It’s only then that you can truly put the experience in perspective and remember how great it was. That’s what The Force Awakens was for me and, I think, for a lot of others who had obsessed about the film for almost 40 months.

Granted, my experience was somewhat different from most other people. Since my job is to write about movies for a living I wrote about, or at least talked about, this movie every single day since Disney first bought Lucasfilm in October 2012. Literally everyday. I read almost every single rumor written about the film, looked at every image, considered every scenario. No spoiler was too big, no idea too stupid. Episode VII of the Star Wars saga was something I was looking forward to more than every Christmas growing up combined. I made events of each trailer, the toy release, everything. I raced across the streets of Hollywood in flip flops to buy tickets. Then, the most amazing thing happened. I got to see the movie at the premiere. It was all too much. I mean, I was in the same room as this, seconds before the movie started:

And even then, despite having read every single rumor, I felt as though the plot of the film could have been anything. Disney and J.J. Abrams had played such a sweet game of misdirection, that even though I ended up knowing every plot twist, I wasn’t sure until the lights went down. Kylo Ren could have resurrected Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker could’ve shown up halfway through and kicked ass, Rey could have turned to the dark side—I’d heard it all.

So it wasn’t until that second viewing, free of baggage, that what’s great about the film could outshine the things that aren’t so great. And make no mistake, The Force Awakens has issues. But they’re no different from issues that many other great films have. An underutilized character here, a missed opportunity there. But it’s all forgiven for the things it gets right. The wow moments. The small moments. The fact it’s a new Star Wars movie.

So see Star Wars: The Force Awakens a second time if you haven’t already. Especially if that first screening wasn’t everything you wanted it to be. This was the most hyped movie of all-time, released in a world where microscopic slivers of information become trending topics on Twitter. And Disney and Lucasfilm stoked that anticipation masterfully, encouraging speculation while keeping actual spoilers under wraps. The run-up to this films’ release was overwhelming: sometimes unbearable and often exhilarating. But in the end, for all the madness, we’re left with a movie. Luckily, it’s a really good one. And watching it without the unprecedented expectations and insanity, you can see it the way it was meant to be seen.


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.