Feeling out of touch because the last time you checked sunlight turned vampires to dust, not sparkling angelic creatures? You're not alone, even though it may sometimes seem like everyone and their mom has read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga--or at least seen the incredibly successful movies based on the series. But having a working knowledge of the paranormal-themed zeitgeist so successfully captured by a 36-year old Mormon mother of three will stand you in good pop-culture stead for at least the next decade. And with Eclipse, the third installment in the film series, due in theaters this Wednesday, there couldn't be a better time to brush up on your knowledge of Meyer's vampires and werewolves--and the humans with whom they have passionate and complicated relationships.
Let's start with the humans. When Twilight begins, 17-year-old Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart in the films) has just moved to Forks, Washington to live with her dad, Charlie, the local police chief. Clumsy and awkward but quite intelligent--and, as her name suggests, beautiful--Bella hopes for nothing more than to blend in. Unfortunately for her, she has particularly delicious-smelling blood.
Which brings us to the vampires. Edward Cullen is a permanently 17-year-old vampire with looks "a male model would sell his soul for," as Bella often likes to remind us. (Robert Pattinson, the perpetually self-deprecating actor who plays Edward, has been known to disagree, but it's hard to hear him over the legions of screaming fans.) Edward is the only non-paired-off member of the eternally monogamous Cullen vampire clan, comprised of Edward's mom and dad Esme and Carlisle, and adopted children/couples Rosalie and Emmett, and Alice and Jasper. Edward finds the scent of the blood coursing through Bella's veins so intoxicating that he contemplates draining her dry the moment he meets her. Due in part to the fact that the Cullens are "vegetarian" vampires who only eat animals, Edward resists and soon falls deeply in love with Bella. She can't resist his beauty, his brooding, or his bloodlust (not to mention his undying devotion) and falls "unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."
Because the course of immortal love never did run smooth, their relationship is not without complications. Edward has extraordinary vampire strength and is perpetually afraid he will gravely injure his fragile human love, meaning that anything more than relatively chaste make-out sessions are out of the question. And the scent of Bella's blood is so appealing that when non-veggie vampire James pays a visit to Forks in the first book/movie, he catches such a heady whiff of Bella that he will stop at nothing to get a taste. After a climactic showdown, James is destroyed. But his red-headed wench of a vampire lover Victoria is still out there, waiting to put her still-to-be-revealed-but-surely-vengeful plan into motion. This will be a major plot point in Eclipse.
Also, there are the Volturi, the vampire ruling class. Their main mission it is to keep the existence of vampires a secret. When they found out Bella, a human, knew of the cold, sparkling ones, they were seriously displeased and mandated that she be vamped up ASAP. While Bella's ready for immortality, Edward is afraid that becoming a vampire might cause the loss of one's soul, so he's less than eager to turn Bella. Still with me?
Another obstacle is Bella's best friend, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who turns out to be both a werewolf, sworn enemy of vampires, and also madly in love with her. When Edward leaves Bella at the start of New Moon (book/movie two), hoping to give her a chance at a normal life, Jacob is there to pick up the pieces of Bella's seriously broken heart. Even though Edward reunites with Bella at the end of New Moon, the love triangle is going to be pushed to its impassioned, tortured limits in Eclipse.
So what is there to look forward to in Eclipse besides some seriously angsty paranormal love? There's certainly the kitsch value. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg--who has adapted the entire saga--has a talent for staying true to the compelling stories while also showing a subtle tongue-in-cheek appreciation for their inherently cheesy melodrama. And even though the Twilight Saga-verse is not one to endorse premarital sex (yes, for those of you wondering, Edward is a 107-year old virgin), Eclipse will certainly kick the action up a notch. In the bedroom and on the battlefield, things just might start to creep below the belt.
I, however, am most excited about Jasper Hale. As played by Jackson Rathbone, Jasper is perhaps my favorite character in the first two films (apart from Taylor Lautner's abs). He hasn't had much screen time yet, but Jasper's vampire past (which includes some awesome Civil War-era flashbacks) is going to play a key role in Eclipse. And I know that Rathbone, with his flowing locks and marvelously crazy eyes, is going to rock every moment of it.
The only other thing to keep in mind is that despite what you've heard, the Twilight Saga is not just some extended Mormon allegory. Yes, it rewards abstinence and celebrates a wedlock that transcends human life. But it is ultimately, as Meyer herself explained, inspired by a dream she had of a sparkling vampire and his human love. And it's that wacky, unexpectedly enthralling dream that has captured the imagination of creator and fans alike. The Twilight Saga, like its alluring, glittering vampires, is just too hard to resist. I recommend you don't even try. You can thank me later.