Thursday, February 4, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I have purposefully waited almost two months.

A new installment of the science fiction epic that got me to love science fiction in the first place has been in theaters for a quite a while now, but there's been nary a peep about it on ESE. I waited because I wanted to let the furor die down, to let the multitudinous appraisals explode then wither, and I suppose I wanted to diminish my chances of publishing spoilers. Even though I'm pretty sure that everyone who wanted to see this film has probably seen it by now, I know that everyone's situation is different and I will therefore allow at least a bit of spoiler space. Please scroll below.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins 30 years after the last Death Star was destroyed over Endor. We thought the Empire had fallen at the end of Return of the Jedi, but they seem to have simply re-branded themselves as "The First Order," complete with stormtroopers, TIE fighters, and everything. On the wasteland planet of Jakku, a young scavenger named Rey comes across a lone droid called BB-8. This droid is the custodian of a map that tells the location of Luke Skywalker, who has been missing for the better part of the past 30 years. Rey teams with Finn, a former stormtrooper who left that life, to get the map back into the hands of the Resistance...which is now apparently the re-branded Rebellion. It won't be easy as the Sith lord named Kylo Ren will be leading the entire First Order after our new heroes.

No sir. I didn't like it.

However, this film was not without its positives. In the spirit of fairness, let's first take a look at what Star Wars VII got right.

-The look. I was not opposed to the computer-generated world that George Lucas gave us with the prequels, but it wasn't until seeing The Force Awakens that I realized just how overdone it all was. Physical models and techniques similar to those first used in A New Hope reminded me of what gave the first trilogy their unique appearance. You just can't beat it.

-The new characters. Finn, Poe, and especially Rey are great additions. You quickly get a sense of who the are and develop something of an establishment something of an attachment to them. And no, Rey is not a Mary Sue.

-Getting the band back together. No matter the circumstances, it really was great fun to see familiar characters and vehicles again on the big screen.

Unfortunately, those positives were outweighed by what I didn't like. Such as:

-The look. I know, I know. I just said that I liked the look. I did. In terms of the special effects, that is. The film itself just looks like one big streak of gray. That's it. I know that everyone lambastes director JJ Abrams for his lens flare, but I'm starting to see "gray" as his true trademark.

-No background. A New Hope didn't slow down too terribly much but we still found out what we needed to know. Politically, we knew enough about the Empire and the Rebellion to understand what was happening. You get none of that here. Why are they called "The First Order?" Why is there a "Resistance?" Didn't they finish all this at the Battle of Endor? What exactly is happening? Damn if I know, but I'm guessing JJ wants us to keep coming back to the movies to find out. For me, it's just frustrating.

-Recycling. The whole plot is a refurbishing of Episode IV. I think that so much derision was hurled at the prequels, for just and unjust reasons, that JJ Abrams thought the only way to escape all that was to copy what worked exactly. They did it right down to the massive planet killer that must be flown into and blown up but first its defense shield must be brought down. Placate the desiderata of the masses and you'll never go wrong. Well I'd rather see something new. The Force Awakens merely reuses the old as pre-fab plot.

-The Force. I guess it's supposed to "awaken" in this movie. Awaken from what, though? We don't find out but it's presence is startlingly nil. There is no spiritual connection as in Episodes IV-VI or even that of I-III. The most we get is Golden Girls reject, Maz Kanata. What gives? Along those lines...

-Lame, clumsy lightsaber fights. I know that the opponents in these duels were not supposed to be experts yet, but if you can't show someone doing it right...

-Kylo Ren. Any criticisms of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker are now nullified. Kylo Ren is the ultimate "whiney emo kid with issues." I was not menaced by him. I felt no "shock and awe" from his presence as I did with his grandfather, Darth Vader. In fact, I wanted Kylo to keep his Sith mask on so I could try to forget that we have a Sith villain who looks like a member of One Direction. If this is the new trilogy's main antagonist, prepare for boredom.

-Luke. I want to change the title of this film from The Force Awakens to Waiting for Luke. Only I think Beckett would have had more patience than me. I wait all through the movie for one minute of Luke? I know JJ wants that to tantalize me into seeing Episode VIII, but forget it.

-Han dies. Whatever enjoyment I was getting from the movie up until that point died with him. I know Harrison Ford likely wanted to exit that way, but I have a problem with that. He originally wanted Han to die at the end of Return of the Jedi. I'm paraphrasing, but I recall an interview where Ford said he told George Lucas, "he [Han] has got no mama, no papa, let's give some weight to this thing." Meaning, have Han sacrifice himself and die a hero's death. Lucas said no. JJ must have said yes but that didn't happen here. Han died an empty and meaningless death that leaves poor Chewie a tortured soul. I guess that must be in keeping with what is thought to be the postmodern, "Edgy McEdgerson" film goer, but I despised it.

-"It was just like the first time! The magic is back!" That was the gist of many of the early reviews. I simply did not get that impression. Episode IV had a mythic and optimistic feel to it. As Lucas said, "It's an optimistic film in a cynical world." I did not get the same feeling from The Force Awakens. Now that might be unfair as I am no longer five and there is therefore no way I could have the same reaction to a Star Wars movie as I did the first time. Still, this one came off as bleak, unrelenting, and somewhat hopeless.

I may not have liked the movie but you won't catch me ranting against it or its successors. This new trilogy of Star Wars is clearly not being made for me and that's okay. Things are meant to be reinvented and new, younger audiences need things to speak to them in their own generational ways. Me? I have my old DVDs and my Star Wars Marvel Comics (Jaxxon! What up!) so I'll be sitting this new crop out.

Unless curiosity about what happened to Luke gets the better of me.

And dammit, it just might.

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