'Star Wars': Meet the Fan Who Watched 'Force Awakens' 9 Times in a Row

"I think it has a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome-like hold on me now," says Jim Braden, who watched the new 'Star Wars' movie nine times in a row to win Alamo Drafthouse's marathon contest.
Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios
'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

Star Wars nerds, bow to Jim Braden.

The Austin, Texas, fan was the winner of Alamo Drafthouse's Star Wars: The Force Awakens marathon contest, in which seven fans were selected to sit through a marathon of all of the earlier Star Wars movies, followed by as many screenings of the new movie as they could handle, until only one was left.

It took no less than nine screenings of The Force Awakens — which, bear in mind, followed six earlier movies, for a total of 15 Star Wars movies in a row across nearly two days — before Braden emerged triumphant, winning a seven-year movie pass to Drafthouse theaters, a collection of Star Wars merchandise and the honor of having a seat in the theater named after him.

The Hollywood Reporter corresponded with Braden after his victory about what he described as "a grueling ordeal, even though I loved the movie."

Here's an obvious question to start with, but how on earth did you manage this? You watched 15 Star Wars movies in a row. That's either impressive or terrifying.

I guess I took a sort of scientific approach. I planned accordingly: I was really careful about what I ate — one meal a day, a light chicken wrap, at lunchtime, supplemented by tons of water and little snacks like a sliced apple. I avoided the usual high-caffeine drinks like Red Bull and just stuck with a cup of black coffee every 6 hours, which is the maintenance dose for getting the benefits of caffeine, but again without the crash. I had a bunch of tricks — deep diaphragm breathing to keep oxygen running to my brain, chewing peppermint gum and smelling lemon wedges [as those two smells are also natural stimulants]. It's not sexy, but together, all of these things worked.

The Drafthouse gang was a little disappointed that I wasn't hallucinating by the end, but I felt pretty good overall. I'm confident that I could have kept going for many more hours if I'd needed too. I'm glad I didn't.

Were you even able to enjoy seeing The Force Awakens for the first time, or were you just thinking, "I'm going to have to see this a lot more over the next few hours" through out the whole thing?

Oh, I was totally into it. I'm a lifelong, hard-core Star Wars fan, and I've been eagerly anticipating this movie for years. When the tickets went on sale, I was able to grab two tickets to the standard marathon — the six existing movies plus the new one, the foundation for the longer contest that came later — for myself and my 6-year-old son before the Internet imploded. I had always promised that if/when a new Star Wars movie ever came out, he and I would see it for the first time together. When they announced the contest, I had to enter, and when I won, I had to make a hard choice: join the contest and sacrifice seeing the movie with my son, or stick with my original plan and miss out on the contest.

In the end, I went with the latter, but the Drafthouse was so cool that they let me keep my original seats and sit with my boy then move me down to sit with the rest of the competitors after that first show. Seeing the movie with my son as I'd always dreamed was just magical. Seeing it in that environment, with a group of fellow die-hards who had sat through the first six movies with mounting excitement and intoxication, then sitting with my kid to see the new movie was a true "achievement unlocked" moment.

Did your opinions of the new film change during the nine showings?

I wouldn't say that my opinion changed so much as it sort of cemented itself. I was able to parse out the things that I liked and the things I didn't and formulate an opinion over the course of successive viewings. I loved the movie, warts and all, which made it far easier to endure than if, say, we'd been watching The Phantom Menace. I definitely caught more things with repeated viewings.

There was a bell curve of enjoyment. The first viewing was euphoria (plus a bit of distraction from a 6-year-old with a lot of questions), but the second viewing was when I really got to absorb everything I was seeing. That was when I truly enjoyed the film the way I'd want to. After that, we quickly fell into a pattern of diminishing returns. By the 8th and 9th viewing, I zoned out, and the movie just washed over me. I think I went a little insane. I checked out.

Are you able to think of it in context with the other Star Wars movies yet? Do you know where it stands in your personal ranking, or have you just seen it too many times for it to be anything other than this overwhelming experience?

My ranking as it stands today is: V, IV, VI, VII, III, II, I.

I've watched all of the movies (even the shitty ones) many, many times. Never all back-to-back, but that's a technicality. I think the new movie suffers a bit from being overly familiar in structure and plot — oh, a space laser planet-killing superweapon? How original — but they handle this well by acknowledging the familiarity with a wry wink, which forgives it a bit.

The characters are absolutely fantastic, and the chemistry between them was unbelievably good. John Boyega's Finn is an instant classic — he's as feckless and headstrong as Han Solo, but with the naive heroism of [the original movie's] Luke. Daisy Ridley's Rey is a total badass whose mysterious past is extremely compelling. Within 10 minutes of the start of the picture, Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron became the Star Wars character I most want to go out for beers with.

You said you've watched all the earlier films multiple times, and now you've seen the newest installment nine times in one sitting. Is that enough? Can you imagine ever wanting to see it again?

I left the marathon convinced I'd never be able to watch it again. I had been Clockwork Orange'd. I went home and slept for a few hours — my first sleep in over 50 hours — and dreamed, or hallucinated, about the movie the entire time. I woke up and immediately felt the urge to watch the movie again.

I think it has a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome-like hold on me now. I've come to love my tormentor. My parents are coming into town for Christmas, and I've already gotten us tickets to see the movie while they're here. And I can't wait to see it again. I'm a sick, sick man.

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