Making My Peace With The Force Awakens

There was no way to control my excitement and anticipation as the release date for The Force Awakens drew near at the end of 2015.  I tried but this was the first time in thirty years Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Artoo, and Threepio would be together again in a new adventure on the BIG SCREEN.  As the credits rolled and the lights in the theatre came up…I wasn’t feeling what I wanted to feel.  David, Kalie, Jeff, Hannah, and I all stood around in the parking lot after our initial screening staring at each other until Hannah finally said what I was feeling too, “I kind of hated it.”  It didn’t feel like Star Wars to me.  The absence of Lucas’ vision was painfully evident.  BUT I’ve carried this resentment long enough.  It’s time for me to let go and celebrate what’s right with The Force Awakens

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Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

Now, I stand by my criticisms of The Force Awakens and the Disney Canon in general.  I think there are significant and legitimate issues worthy of critique in what Disney’s given us in place of the Expanded Universe (if you’d like, here’s a whole post about it).  I also believe informed critiques are a good thing.  It’s because I love Star Wars that I’m critical of all I feel falls short of what the Star Wars Saga should be.  I’ve always felt the unquestioning love of everything with the Star Wars label on it seems a thoughtless approach to art that’s meant to affect us emotionally and guide us spiritually, as Lucas’ Original and Prequel Trilogies did.  Still, losing myself in the negative isn’t healthy.  Holding on to resentment and anger only poisons the one who can’t let go.  I don’t want to live that way.  I want to open the door to enjoy the Disney Canon as best I can.  Three things in particular have led to this epiphany – my students, internet trolls, and the sheer joy of speculation.

Last term Hannah and I concluded the inaugural run of our Star Wars & Contemporary Myth-Making course.  We walked our students through layer upon layer of theological, literary, mythical, thematic, and musical analysis of Lucas’s six films and a few episodes of The Clone Wars.  In addition to heavy class discussion, they wrote reflection papers focusing on articles exploring different facets of the Star Wars Saga or they analyzed parts of the films themselves.  We then pushed them out into the broader world of Star Wars, namely the Expanded Universe and the Disney Canon, for their final project.  Their assignment was to write a three-to-five page paper analyzing whether or not the work they examined was entertaining and, far more importantly, whether or not it provided spiritual instruction in the same mythic way Lucas’s work does.

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Note how Rey and Kylo Ren, with their lightsabers and their clothing, briefly make a Yin Yang symbol while fighting on Star Killer Base.  This is one little example of the kind of stuff we talked about in class. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

Of the seventeen students we had, twelve chose to write about The Force Awakens (much to our chagrin).  Was part of the reason because it took less time to watch and analyze a two hour movie than read a 300+ page novel?  Sure.  But many of their papers were profound, featuring both deep insights and passionate deconstruction.  I can go on and on about why I don’t like The Force Awakens but, obviously, it spoke to our students.  Reading about what they saw and connected with made me want to revisit the film myself.  As I read their papers I came to see a similar unspoken thread weaving through them – this was their Star Wars movie.  Maybe, just maybe, Disney isn’t making Star Wars for me anymore.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  I’m a product of my age and time.  Star Wars will always be Lucas’s work for me.  The Expanded Universe will always be the rest of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando, Artoo, and Threepio’s story.  The Truce at Bakura will always be what happened after Return Of The Jedi and Return Of The Jedi will always be my favorite Star Wars film!  And I’ll always be a little snobby and dismissive of what’s coming down the line now :).  But there’s a new generation of Star Wars fans rising and this is their story.

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The Millennium Falcon is being passed to a new generation of stewards, both on screen and off. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

With this new dimension to the story, there is no longer any guarantee that a newbie to Star Wars will start with A New Hope or The Phantom Menace.  This pains me a little (or, if I’m being honest, a lot), but it’s the way things are.  For many a newbie, The Force Awakens or even Rogue One was or will be their first Star Wars experience.  That’s something special, something that will forever shape their understanding and experience of Star Wars.  One of our students pointed out in his paper that The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars movie he could remember seeing in theatres.  In addition to making Hannah and I feel old, it underscored just how important this film is to the next generation (unintentional Star Trek reference aside) of Star Wars fans.

Watching our students come alive to Star Wars (especially the half of the class who’d never seen a single movie before taking our course) was a special blessing.  Reading their insights through the term, seeing them take what we were trying to teach them about art and analysis and pealing back the layers of the films to explore their depth and emotionally connect with Lucas’s saga was one of the most rewarding moments of my teaching career.  And watching them take their budding love of Star Wars and pour themselves into Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren’s journey in The Force Awakens was a revealing experience.  I felt compelled to re-watch The Force Awakens, wanting to see it through their eyes, letting their papers color my experience of the film.

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God save me Poe Dameron you have A LOT of charisma!  You’re one good looking man too. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

This embracing of other’s opinions brings us to internet trolls.  A few months back Jeff wrote a post titled “Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck” in response to language he saw bouncing around the fandom that he felt wasn’t conducive to the spirit of creative speculation in Star Wars.  As he was simultaneously besieged by support and trolling, I wrote a piece agreeing with him.  I received a lot of positive feedback…but I also got some pretty hateful responses too.  In fact, for the first time in the history of this site, I had comments I chose not to post.  There were people vitriolically attacking other people’s comments and people who were maligning my students and their experience of Star Wars as I discussed it in the post with derogatory, pejorative language.  While I love a good debate and free exchange of ideas I will not allow hateful, unfounded ranting especially at the expense of my students’ experience and the opinions others express on this site.  Sorry, you don’t get to play here if you’re going to play like that.

As I saw the responses to my piece, both positive and negative, I began to reflect on my own negativity towards The Force Awakens.  While I certainly never attacked anyone who expressed their love of The Force Awakens nor did I presume my experience of the movie was the “correct” one (both of which are regular tactics of your common internet troll), I was allowing my negative reaction and critical analysis to color my entire experience of the film.  I was seeing negativity first, thus putting more negativity into the world.  I’m not okay with that.  I’m also often frustrated by the people who dump hatred on the Prequels, unable and unwilling to see their beauty, intelligence, power, and worth.  I certainly don’t want to become the next generation of that sort of angry, isolated, bitter fan.  Is The Force Awakens anywhere near as good as Lucas’s work for me?  No.  It can never be.  But that doesn’t mean I need to focus on the negatives I see whenever I look at the film nor does it mean there’s no good for me to see in it.

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Finn, you are LIVING MY DREAM. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

And if I refuse to see the good in The Force Awakens I’m closing myself off to the anticipation and speculation about The Last Jedi and the future of Star Wars!  I can’t even BEGIN to estimate how many hours Jeff and I lost on the phone or Hannah and I burned during our prep mods as we excitedly speculated about what The Force Awakens would entail.  Nor can I tell you how many times I made Kalie watch the trailers with me as I deconstructed every scene.  This sort of speculation is a HUGE part of the fun of Star Wars (or any nerdy saga experience).  We have The Last Jedi coming out this year and I want to jump into that discussion!!!  I want to lose hours again with Jeff on the phone (as Kalie lovingly makes fun of us from the couch listening to my seemingly endless end of the conversation) and with Hannah and our students at work talking about what could happen!  I can’t have that sort of fun if I’m hung up on all I didn’t like about The Force Awakens.  Rather I want to take what’s fun about The Force Awakens and celebrate it!  I want to let that fun and excitement guide me into The Last Jedi.  Life is too short to poison with needless negativity.  I stand by my critiques and my criticisms but there is no reason to let them dominate my mental landscape.  What good comes from that?  Life can be dark enough as it is.  Only with positivity and optimism, hope and love can we transcend the darkness.  I want to always put as much positivity out in the world as I can, Star Wars perspectives included!

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Ben…you’ve got some issues. / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

With this spirit in mind, I sat down to re-watch The Force Awakens tonight.  While I saw it nine times (I know…I kept trying to find a way to love it) in theatres, I’d only ever been able to bring myself to watch it once since I bought the DVD.  As I watched tonight, whenever I felt my old, familiar critiques rising I’d simply breathe them out as I would any sort of negative or distracting thought during meditation.  Do you know what happened?  Free of my expectations and my resentments, I was finally able to enjoy myself!

To begin, even on opening night, I loved that scene when Rey and Finn are escaping Jakku on the Millennium Falcon and, with the bottom gun turret locked, she flips the Falcon and puts it in a dead drop so Finn can shoot the TIE fighter now above them.  That scene makes me cheer out loud EVERY TIME!!!!  Hell yes!  I LOVE IT.  On a similar note, every time I watch the scene where Rey calls Luke’s lightsaber to her from the snow on Star Killer Base, chills shoot up my arm and I get tears in my eyes.  It’s such a powerful scene.  There’s so much going on!  She calls the lightsaber to her for the very first time from the snow, just as Luke did for the first time on Hoth.  The music swells and that familiar theme begins and there are so many feels.  So these were things I’ve loved since my first viewing, even in and around the parts that frustrate me.

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WOOOOOO HOOOOOO!!!!! / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

I also love Rey!  To finally, finally have a strong, female Force-user as a protagonist – a protagonist, I’ll add who never feels like the “girl hero” or the “female protagonist” but simply the hero – is as important as it is unique in Star Wars.  Rey’s character is layered and her ability to use the Force with such unprecedented natural power raises SO MANY questions that need to be obsessed over.  And seeing her take Han’s captain seat in the Millennium Falcon as she, Chewie, and Artoo go off in search of Luke…yeah.  That’s a powerful scene.  I’ve loved all of that since the first screening too.

In fact, all the characters – Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren – are interesting to me and I’m excited to see how their stories evolve as Star Wars under Disney’s stewardship becomes their story.  How do you not love Finn’s loyalty or Poe’s humor and bravado?  I appreciated all of that with so much more freedom tonight.

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Okay Maz, I know some serious stuff went down when the First Order invaded your place BUT we still need answers as to why you had Luke’s lightsaber.  Don’t think I forgot about that! / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

I also like the inclusion of characters like Lor San Tekka and Maz Kanata.  Here are people who see, believe in, and understand the Force who aren’t Jedi or Sith.  This opens the door to a new type of theological discussion in Star Wars.  On the theology note, I love, love, love, when Han, Chewie, and Finn are sneaking into Star Killer Base and Han asks how they’ll get in.  Finn replies, “So…we’ll figure it out.  We’ll use the Force!”  Han gruffly chides, “That’s not how the Force works!”  The implied theology here is excellent.  So often we think of God as some wish-fulfilling genie but, in truth, the Divine doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) work that way.  I looooove how this one quick dialogue exchange underscores that point.

Maz herself is a fascinating character too, obviously.  I’m intrigued by all she has the potential to be in this next generation of Star Wars stories – mentor, watcher, information broker, threshold guardian.  And, visually, I liked how The Force Awakens gave us a combination air and land battle at Maz’s palace with the ground troops fighting as the fighters strafed the area.  I’ve never seen anything quite like that in Star Wars before.

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Trouble’s coming… / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

Also, I think tonight was the first time (free from the combinations of anxiety, shock, expectations and/or resentment on opening night and in subsequent viewings) that I’ve fully appreciated the emotional power of Ben killing Han.  Obviously it’s moved me before.  Obviously I’ve cried.  But I felt it in a new way tonight.

Lastly…moof-milker.  C’mon!!!  How was that not the catch-on quote from this film?!?  Everyone likes to say, “Tell that to Kanjiklub” but where are all the “moof-milker” quotes?!?  It’s hilarious!!  Best throwaway line of the film for me, by far.

So, I think, time has helped.  Admittedly, it’s taken me awhile to get here – a year and a half.  But I’m finally ready to enjoy The Force Awakens for what it is, meeting it on its own terms, and not demanding anything more of it.  Honestly it felt good to sit down and watch it like this – ready to appreciate it for what it was and not upset that it wasn’t what it could be or what I wanted it to be.  It felt good to let go of my resentment and to try to live in the light.  And, while I stand by my critiques, I am happy to say I honestly enjoyed watching The Force Awakens in my own way.  Now let’s bring on The Last Jedi!

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I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS!!! / Photo Credit – The Force Awakens

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27 thoughts on “Making My Peace With The Force Awakens

  1. I quite liked The Force Awakens, but so many people around me hated it that I ended up with the impression that that’s because I’m not a “real” Star Wars fan. Other people seemed very purist about the whole thing (which is fine, I can be kind of a purist about my own fandoms), but I’ll admit it’s kind of depressing when you like a movie and its strong female lead and some of the interesting questions it’s asking…and everyone around you is just talking about how the movie is all wrong. I admit Star Wars isn’t my “thing.” I’ve seen each of the other six movies exactly once, and I thought they were fine, but honestly, I wasn’t that excited about them. I don’t know much about Star Wars canon or how things are or are not supposed to be, or whether Rey uses the Force “too fast,” or whatever else people had complaints about. I just liked the movie and the characters and the relationships those characters built/are building and can’t wait to see more. (Also BB8 is adorable.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are 100% right Briana – there is so much good there. And I find that Star Wars fans ruin Star Wars ALL THE TIME. That’s a big part of what led me to write this post. I realized, unconsciously, I was doing the same thing. It bothers me when people get so hung up on the negative or believe their vision of something is the “right” one. When I realized I was doing that with ‘The Force Awakens’ I had to challenge myself to move beyond that. In so doing, I just didn’t lose the negativity but I found a movie I really enjoyed too!

      (Oh, on the nerd-out note, Rey’s ability to use the Force as fast as she did is one of the most exciting mysteries to untangle too! There is so much potential story there to tell!)

      As weird as it may sound, this whole thing felt very healthy and very freeing. I kind of want to go home and watch ‘The Force Awakens’ again tonight to keep soaking it in now that I can enjoy it! And, yeah, BB-8 is about the most adorable thing ever :).

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  2. Great post, as always!
    Like you, I’ve also watched the film many times desperate to try and love it – and I will keep trying to. Maybe I should become a teacher and attempt to find a similar experience!
    There are some scenes I do very much love; the exchange between Finn and Kylo, the ensuing battle and the moment when Rey takes up the lightsaber is, as you say, quite powerful. It gives me chills, despite the fact a lot of the movie unfortunately still fills me with disappointment. But that’s okay, I know a lot of people love the film and that it’s perhaps not for me. It’s limited how excited I can get for The Last Jedi, which I think is good because it means regardless of how it turns out I can’t be as disappointed. I am still very much looking forward to it, but I think the excitement can be part of the reason I don’t enjoy films quite as much. I remember my old housemate asked if the lead-up to The Force Awakens was the most excited I had been about anything in my life, and it probably was.
    Along with that and a few other issues, another issue was that Return of the Jedi is also my favourite Star Wars film. And considering how great the ending was (I know people hate George Lucas’ edits, but I think the revised ending of RotJ makes it even more beautiful) seeing TFA can be a difficult follow-up to accept, due to where it takes all our favourite characters.
    I think it can definitely be seen as a film made to create new Star Wars fans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right – the expectations was a major part of the problem. I don’t think any movie could have lived up to the hype. And if we weren’t excited enough on our own, we had the Disney marketing machine behind it. So, in some ways, I do believe ‘The Force Awakens’ had a rough setup as no film could ever match that hype.

      I appreciate what you said about the end of ‘Return Of The Jedi’ too! The ending was perfect. As to the edits, while I still feel bad for Sebastian Shaw but there is an undeniable power to seeing Anakin restored to the hero he once was alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda. I’ve gotten teary-eyed more than once watching that scene.

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  3. I’m so glad you were finally able to enjoy the movie. I will leave my personal thoughts and measure at the door and just say that this news has brightened my day. May the Force be with you my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Fine…fine….😭 I like Star Wars just because it’s Star Wars. Sure, Force Awakens isn’t the best Star Wars movie…but I love it more than prequels…😭….there I said it 😭😭😭😭😭

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      2. I think quite a few moviegoers – diehard fans or otherwise – felt it was better than the prequels. And there is probably a solid argument to be made that it is, especially from an aesthetic standpoint.

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      3. I think my biggest problem with Force Awakens was it was too neat and tight. No real wiggle room (other than questions left to answer in the future). What we saw on the screen was what we got. Every new critter, alien, or ship was paraded around by Disney to show us fans that they meant business and it was real honest to god Star Wars…so with that there really isn’t anything to uncover over multiple viewings. I thing Rogue One did a better job of populating the backgrounds with hidden things that make watching it again more enjoyable. Shoot, I still watch the original 3 (and sometimes the prequels) and notice new things or things I forgot.

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  4. Michael,

    As always, excellent thoughts. I have loved Star Wars ever since seeing Empire and Return in the theatres eons ago when I was very young. Unfortunately I was too young to remember seeing episode IV, but I heard stories about how I stayed up at the drive-in while my siblings fell asleep.

    With each version of the story (first the prequels and now the new sequels), I’ve kept an open mind. I barely dabbled into the expanded universe because what Lucas did was leave room for us, the audience, to imagine what happened in between episodes. Because of my creative nature, I loved the idea of imagining what happened to the rebellion after Jedi ended.

    Lucas then gave us the prequels. The ideas and set-up were really well done. However, my problem with them came with the overuse of CGI and horrendous dialogue. At the end of Sith, I was glad it was over. That was until the chatter surfaced that Lucas had three more films to make.

    Force Awakens was a love-hate relationship with me as well. J.J. Abrams was my biggest fear when Disney announced that he would helm this new series. While he is an exceptional director, he had just come off the successful reboot of the Star Trek series. I was afraid that Star Wars would morph into Star Trek. And, for some aspects of the film, it did. There were too many areas where the film concentrated on the science or exploration side of the universe.

    For me, Force Awakens was fantastic at some key areas. First, Abrams relied less on the CGI aspects and opted for more green screen and model produced sequences. The battle scenes felt realistic rather than something I could experience playing Clone Wars on XBox. Second, the dialogue was phenomenal. It had everything dialogue should have for film/theatre. Granted, there were some areas that I scratched my head thinking I wouldn’t say that in a particular situation. But, it made more sense than the awful dialogue found within the prequels.

    The one thing I can say that disappointed me the most about Force Awakens was the lack in development of the hero’s journey. This, I suspect, is probably the main reason why you disliked the film. As we have seen in all of the films Lucas produced, each episode took us on the hero’s journey. Force Awakens didn’t have the traditional model, in my opinion, of this key aspect that has made Star Wars what it is today.

    I’m glad that you are finally seeing the good in what the Disney versions of the films are providing. It is truly a different way of the classic tale that we have grown to love.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I absolutely feel that TFA is a Star Wars for a new generation. The way my son looks at Finn and Kylo Ren is the same way I looked at Han and Vader. It’s fun to see and tough to remember at the same time. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The years we come into something is always key. We came into the original (middle) trilogy as children, so they shall always be special in our minds. Just as the music of your generation is always the “best” and kids today listen to crap!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a solid way of looking at it – that youthful connection. It makes it “ours” in a very real, very personal way.

      Although, that being said, the kids’ music today IS crap :). They have no idea what good music is. Harrumph :).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So sorry I didn’t catch this Post earlier! Didn’t reach my Reader for some reason…
    This is a *Great Post* – glad to hear u giving TFA another chance
    So much to say (I’m saving th juiciest comments for my Star Wars Day Post this Thursday!) but I wld like to express my sympathy and support after reading w dismay that u – good friend! – had to receive hateful responses, which r certainly NOT pretty…
    On a more groovy note, moof-milker was 1 of my fave lines – and I seek to work that into my fiction a whole lot more!
    Yay to that Falcon gun-turret scene! For me, all th scenes on Jakku were an absolute delight
    And to think that MARK HAMILL believed that th saber was hurtling not into Rey’s hand, but Luke’s! Yes, that wld have been SO MUCH MORE spectacular! And a much more satisfying entrance than just sulking on a cliff…
    Jeez, this ol’ dog’s been blatherin on fer too long – need my milk an’ a lie down, man
    The Force will b w u
    Always

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No apologies required my friend! I’m still getting caught up on reading posts myself and doing some commenting after the big trip. There always seem to be papers to grade too :). Yay for Thursday though! I’m now eagerly awaiting your Star Wars Day post. Aaaahhh, I can’t wait!

      I hadn’t heard that Mark Hamill thought the scene on Star Killer Base played out like that!!! I too would have liked to see that. Luke’s role (or lack thereof) is one of the problems I have with TFA. I also read Mark Hamill felt Luke, Han, and Leia deserved a scene or two together in TFA. He also said Leia could have sensed the danger Han was in, reached out to Luke with the Force, and they could have arrived on Star Killer Base not in time to save Han but to witness his death along with Rey and Finn. That would have lead into the snow scene perfectly! I do agree that was a missed opportunity. I think we all would have liked to see the ol’ gang actually together one more time. Alas…

      Also, that fact that you too are a lover of the linguistic marvel that is moof-milker just makes me even happier that I know you. Woo!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I can understand your travel fatigue (taking into account my commute between th UK & Se Asia!), so to see u have come round to view my stuff already means so much more to me.
        Mark Hamill Live @ SW Celebration commentating on th 1st time he read th SWVII script: “Jeez, evry1’s talking about me, but where am I? How many lines have I got? HOW MANY HOURS IN THE GYM WILL I NEED TO PREPARE?! Hilarious, man!!
        No moof-milkers were harmed in th making of this blog etc, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Mike,

    Things are changing in a galaxy far far away. That’s okay. I think it was like how JJ rebooted Star Trek. More people, including my wife, finally realized how awesome this series was. The nerdy status has rise up to new level of coolness with a broader audience. That should validate that you chose a good series to use as a platform to minister to others. What did Mordecai tell Esther, “For such a time as this, God raised you up.” Have you ever thought how God uses everything to reach people. He knew we would live in this time, with the world of media, and how to use our love for it and Him to reach others. Look at this open changing scene as opportunity my friend.

    Thanks, Gary

    On Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 7:36 PM, My Comic Relief wrote:

    > Michael J. Miller posted: “There was no way to control my excitement and > anticipation as the release date for The Force Awakens drew near at the end > of 2015. I tried but this was the first time in thirty years Luke, Han, > Leia, Chewie, Artoo, and Threepio would be together again in” >

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    1. Amen Gary, amen. I’ve always loved teaching through popular culture. I love showing how often the “sacred” appears in and through the “secular” and, in so doing, showing how we’re surrounded by the sacred far more than we often realize.

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