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How is 'Force Awakens' related to Harrisburg?

When filmmaker J.J. Abrams first considered working on “The Force Awakens ” – the first film in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy – his father gave him one simple piece of advice.

Don’t do it.

“I’m also the same guy that begged him not to go into entertainment,” Gerald Abrams said in a phone interview Friday. “I thought it was so unpredictable and uncertain.”

Gerald would know.  The Penn State graduate – who grew up in Harrisburg and went to Harrisburg's William Penn High School – worked in entertainment, executive producing more than 70 films.

Gerald said he felt that he did pretty well for himself in the entertainment business, and so had his son. At the time, J.J. had already directed a reboot of “Star Trek” and a sequel of “Mission: Impossible.” But Gerald didn’t want him to tempt fate and be disappointed, he said.

However, after watching the highly anticipated movie, which will be in theaters Dec. 18, Gerald changed his tune.

“I think my advice to him about not doing it – it was probably very smart that he did it,” Gerald said. “He loved doing it … I think it’s the best work he’s ever done.”

Without giving too much away, Gerald said one of the things he loved most about the film is how it seamlessly melded the old and the new. This will be the seventh “Star Wars” movie, but Gerald said he thinks critics will compare it to the first film made in 1977.

“That’s the biggest compliment you can give,” he said.

Gerald still remembers taking 11-year-old J.J. to see the first “Star Wars” movie in ’77. They saw it at the Avco Theater in Los Angeles, and when they left, they were both so impressed, Gerald said.

But after that, they didn’t talk about it much.

“‘Star Wars,’ per se, was not a focal point on our life,” he said. “It was just something we liked. Who would ever think he would go on to direct this epic franchise? Not me.”

Though J.J. didn’t need any help to make a great movie, according to Gerald, he kept his father involved throughout the filmmaking process.

He let Gerald read the script and give him notes before filming began and even invited him to the set several times.

By the time the movie was finished, Gerald said he only had about six or eight notes, which considering the length of the movie, is very few.

On Monday, Gerald will have the chance to watch the film again at “The Force Awakens” premiere party in Hollywood. But this time, he’ll get to watch with a new generation of “Star Wars”-lovers: his grandchildren.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “How many people get to take their kids to see the movie and years later see the whole evolution of J.J.’s success in the entertainment business working on this movie franchise? It’s nothing short of surreal.”

Gerald said that he never imagined his son’s career would evolve like this. “The Force Awakens” has been more “hyped up” than any other movie he’s seen in his life, he said. And in his opinion, the film definitely lives up to the hype.

“The moment the movie ended, I didn’t want it to end,” Gerald said. “And that, I think, is the hallmark of a really terrific film."

5 fan questions about "The Force Awakens":

Q: Director J.J. Abrams is known for using a lot of lens flares. What is your opinion of them?

A: “He’s very much into technology. Whatever he can do to make the public pay attention to his movies – he’s not above experimenting. If it helps the scene, he’ll do it. I don’t have an opinion about them.”

Q: “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”?

A: “Star Wars.”

Q: What “Star Wars” character do you identify with most?

A: “Harrison Ford. We’re of similar age, and I know Harrison a little bit … The thing about Harrison, I get the feeling that when he was in high school, he was the coolest guy in town. He exudes cool.”

Q: Did Han Solo shoot Greedo first?

A: “No comment.”

Q: Do you think Boba Fett is dead?

A: “I think the movie will speak for itself.”