For people — especially kids — in 1977, Star Wars captivated and inspired. Count J.J. Abrams among those moved.

The director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens chatted with EW and People at last week’s Disney’s D23 Expo and recounted when he first saw the original movie at 11 years old.

“It didn’t look like anything I had ever seen,” he says. “It looked real, and it was a combination of everything great: It was really funny; it was romantic; it was sweeping and epic; it was incredibly intimate; it had an amazing message and impact. It was an incredibly powerful experience.”

Abrams, who directed the first two Star Trek reboots, is a noted Star Wars fan. And before his official involvement in The Force Awakens, he told EW that George Lucas’ landmark film was the first movie to show him what the medium was capable of contributing to culture. “To get to play in that playground at all is an absolute honor,” he says.

Catch his gushing about A New Hope above. The Force Awakens lands in theaters Dec. 18.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)Carrie Fisher as Leia
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