Fans of "Sex and the City" have a proprietary, even protective attitude toward Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, the quartet who inherited the Fab Four moniker from the Beatles for a generation of women. Like them, we were independent and successful and falling down and getting up again, and doing our best to laugh through it all.

When they introduced the concept of "frenemies," we said, "That's what it's called." When they met for breakfast at their usual cafe, decked out in a rainbow of designer tops and interesting accessories, we were all ears, even as we sat at home, watching in our yoga pants. We got the timing down pat: Samantha will overshare about her sexual exploits of the night before, and Charlotte will screw her face up into a ball of horror.

During postepisode analyses with our pals, we argued about which characters we most resembled: "I am not Samantha. I'm Miranda with an occasional walk on the Sam side. Oh, come on. That dress you wore last Saturday was sooo Charlotte. But the hair was total Carrie."

Only half-jokingly, we applied Carrie's habit of posing rhetorical questions to begin her columns to our own lives: "Were we all, in fact, just dating the same person over and over again?" "It's like the riddle of the Sphinx. ... Why are there so many great unmarried women and no great unmarried men?"

We love them as they were. And we hope they've evolved. But not completely. It's the swan song, after all, and who wants to shell out nine bucks to watch practical, enlightened, self-actualized models of perfection?

In real life, emotional growth is great. At the movies, we like to see our heroines make mistakes -- so we don't have to. Not the same old head-smacking blunders, maybe, but enough errors in judgment to satisfy nostalgic yearning. And can at least one more taboo be broken? Please?

Thanks to an onslaught of advance buzz that usually accompanies only blockbusters, we know that Carrie and Big are altar-bound (and in classic fashion, she's wearing some weird, sharp feathers on her head that only she can pull off). Critics in London, where the movie premiered already (how dare they), and New York have let slip a few details: Miranda is having some sort of crisis in the beginning. Carrie is now a bestselling author and contributing editor at Vogue. Samantha's age is revealed, hold the shame.

Snide comments about whether they can "pull it off" a decade after the series premiered on HBO are all over the blogosphere. One site even compares then and now photos, pitting face shots from 1998 against more current images that show a few wrinkles.

Stop it, cowardly online harpies. They're older, wiser and still gorgeous. For that kind of speculation, please turn to Harrison Ford, 65, now starring in "Indiana Jones: The AARP Years."

The movie takes place in the present, not where the series left off, and I for one am glad the initial deal was stalled by four years. It's much more compelling for viewers -- who themselves have aged -- to fast-forward to the women they've become than to suffer through a slower, chronological evolution.

Sarah Jessica Parker, 43, a co-producer on the film, has said in interviews that it would be "vulgar" to go back to the thirty-something track they were on, and that the characters have matured with the times. That's a good thing, because some of the show's story lines would seem dated today. As we stand knee-deep in recession, the idea of being mugged for a pair of Prada shoes seems more like a real possibility than an ironic plot point.

Retrospect and the city

For all its popularity, the HBO series had polarizing effects. Male critics called the foursome man-eaters while privately judging whom they'd most like to do. Some women bemoaned what they saw as post-feminist flibbertygibbets too caught up in snagging the ultimate pair of sandals and a wealthy husband. Even fans wearied of Carrie's flip-flopping with Big (disclosure: I never liked that limo-lurking weasel, and he'll have a lot of convincing to do in the movie to change my mind). But she hardly deserved the nickname "Scary Sadshaw." She was sometimes scary -- those huge flower brooches! -- but never any more pathetic than we all can be.

Although "SATC" was conceived by a female columnist, Candace Bushnell, and employed talented female writers, it owes much of its chord-striking success to two gay men, creator Darren Star and executive producer Michael Patrick King. Women the world over identified with the four friends, but they also represented female archetypes celebrated in gay culture. If Bushnell had helmed the series, it might have lacked the over-the-top spin that idolizing can bring and not have been as much fun.

King, who also wrote and produced the movie, was a master at blending fantasy and reality: Carrie's Cavalli dresses and Blahnik heels were way beyond the budget of a freelance writer in New York, but her angst over whether to stay with nice-guy furnituremaker Aidan brought her down to earth. WASP princess Charlotte finally found her prince -- and he was Jewish, bald and lovably crass. Bed-hopping Samantha's Teflon heart eventually cracked when she fell for an unfaithful hotelier. Breast cancer, divorce, unplanned pregnancy and other real-life messes never took on the soap-opera quality that they do in shows such as "Desperate Housewives."

My hopes for how things wind up for the gal pals are as open-ended as a Carrie Question, though we can safely predict an ending that's more happily ever after than bitter. My only worry is that the word "cougar" will be uttered at some point. Our fearsome four are too worldly and too classy for that.

Meanwhile, a co-worker told me her 17-year-old daughter and her crew are having a "Sex and the City" party when the R-rated movie comes out next weekend. So much for the has-been accusation. Looks like these icons of modern womanhood won't be forgotten for some time.

Carry on, my friends. Carry on. And should you one day decide to appear in "SATC: Move Over, Menopause," I'll shuffle to the theater as fast as my walker will let me.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046