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updated: 4/23/2013 5:20 AM

Gilberts filmmaker finds the Force of 'Star Wars' in families

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  • Director/writer/producer Cris Macht introduced his documentary "The Force Within Us" at the first Chicago Critics Film Festival earlier this month.

      Director/writer/producer Cris Macht introduced his documentary "The Force Within Us" at the first Chicago Critics Film Festival earlier this month.

  • Director/writer Cris Macht, right, and director of photography Ian Vacek film a Death Valley segment for their "Star Wars" documentary "The Force Within Us."

      Director/writer Cris Macht, right, and director of photography Ian Vacek film a Death Valley segment for their "Star Wars" documentary "The Force Within Us."

  • Director/writer/producer and Gilberts resident Cris Macht introduced his "Star Wars" documentary "The Force Within Us" at the first Chicago Critics Film Festival earlier this month.

      Director/writer/producer and Gilberts resident Cris Macht introduced his "Star Wars" documentary "The Force Within Us" at the first Chicago Critics Film Festival earlier this month.

  • Gilberts residents Cris Macht and his new wife, Michelle, reinforced their 2009 wedding with a "Star Wars" flair.

      Gilberts residents Cris Macht and his new wife, Michelle, reinforced their 2009 wedding with a "Star Wars" flair.

  • Video: Luke removes Vader's helmet

  • Video: Luke at Darth Vader's funeral

  • Video: "Force Within Us" trailer

  • Video: "Empire": I am your father

 
 

Cris Macht and his sister had gone with their dad to see the original "Star Wars." All Macht remembers is that they had to wait an hour and half in line to see the movie, and that he became very angry when Darth Vader escaped at the end.

By the time "Return of the Jedi" hit the screens in 1983, their father was gone: He committed suicide when Macht was only 7.

"Watching 'Return of the Jedi' is still very emotional for me," said Macht, a resident of Gilberts. "The part I really connect with at the end is where Luke burns the body of his dad. He searched for his father, found his father, and made peace with his father. Obviously, I can't do that."

But Macht could make "The Force Within Us," a documentary examining how the "Star Wars" movies have brought families together, bridged generational gaps and unified communities of fans.

Among the original trilogy's storylines is how young Luke Skywalker discovers Darth Vader is his father -- and ultimately inspires him to turn away from the dark side of the Force.

"I wanted to show the father/son thing in 'Star Wars' because it's something that I was longing for myself, something I missed out on, something I didn't have past the age of 7," Macht said.

Macht had made one previous "Star Wars" documentary titled "The Force Among Us."

"That movie was a Hallmark card to 'Star Wars' fans," Macht said. "It shows the diverse nature of the fans. 'Star Wars' fans are very diverse. We even interviewed a sociologist from the College of Lake County, John Tenuto, to deconstruct the 'Star Wars' fan stereotypes."

"The Force Within Us" is a whole different experience.

"I thought it was very cool that 'Star Wars' connected me with my childhood and then my father," Macht said. "It's the story I fantasized about, spending time with my father today, which obviously will never happen."

"The Force Within Us" includes interviews with many "Star Wars" fans about how George Lucas' movies have become bonding experiences for fathers, sons, daughters and even mothers.

"I'm not the only one," Macht said. "There are many who connect with their fathers or their sons through the 'Star Wars' films."

Macht was particularly impressed with "Star Wars" artist Dave Dorman, who tells of the strong bond that the movies have created between him and his young son.

"His story was very touching," Macht said. "His story impressed me the most. It was very unexpected, because he's a very quiet guy. He really opened up for the camera."

Macht released "The Force Within Us" on March 22 and has publicly screened it only three times, once at the first Chicago Critics Film Festival at the Muvico Theaters in Rosemont earlier this month.

He was still abuzz from the experience a few days later.

"Usually at film festivals you have small screens and they're stuck in libraries and hotel conference centers and that sort of thing. I was super impressed, super amazed that this is where it happened! I don't think there could be a better venue for my film!"

Macht himself never studied to be a filmmaker. After graduating Westmont High School in 1993, he earned a degree from Lincoln Tech in 1994 as a diesel mechanic. ("I wanted to be a mechanic because that is what my father did," he said.) In 2000, he graduated from Columbia College's Music Business program.

Four years ago, Macht married Michelle, a woman he calls his "best friend." They met through the Yahoo personals. They wanted to have a family, but a severely premature birth has put an end to that dream for the moment.

"Ever since losing my father as a 7-year-old, I've been able to deal with things in my adult life because of that tragedy," he said. Then he quotes from the beginning of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Conan the Barbarian" -- "What doesn't kill you makes you strong."

At the end of "The Force Within Us," Macht is seen walking through the woods immortalized in "Return of the Jedi." He delivers a monologue on what Luke Skywalker probably felt at the movie's conclusion.

"The 'Star Wars' movies will always be very special things in my life," he said. "Nothing has changed my life and affected me the way the 'Star Wars' movies have."

He added: "You know, a lot people love this movie. Because it's not just about 'Star Wars.' It's about something you can relate to, like playing catch with your kid in the backyard."

-- Dann Gire

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know someone who would make a good column and is from the suburbs, send an email to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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