Kurt killjoys the Star Wars euphoria of the masses. And, yea *SPOILERS* are ahead.
The movie-magic for me, was not in any way ‘awakened’ by this ‘new’ story in the most popular corner of fandom. I believe the title, The Force Awakens is meant to indicate a return to (original trilogy) form to a certain type of Star Wars geek. I am older, and if not particularly wiser, my tastes have, over time, simply evolved out of this universe. One which boils down the massive diversity of species and life of and massive galactic empire where everyone of any importance is directly related to everyone else of importance a single bloodline dynasty rife with convenient coincidences. In the vast reaches of space, millions of worlds (sadly, each one consisting of only a single climate) with trillions of sentient folks struggling about their lives, the Skywalker brood (and ancestors) are the only damn thing that enacts change. The ‘Balancing Of The Force’ is a convenient reason, but ask yourself, doesn’t it feel a bit small when everyone of importance is related to everyone else of importance in this galaxy far, far, away?
The endless merchandising, from bedsheets and lunch boxes to laptops and cellphones, and fumbled prequel trilogy, which at the turn of the century put perhaps too much emphasis on technology patents and too little on delivering fun. I am old enough to have seen all the original films in the theatre and this 2015 chapter is looking a lot like a glossy, lazy re-do of Star Wars (or for younglings, Episode IV: A New Hope.) I cannot think of a smaller, more timid way to ‘win back the four quadrants of movie-goer’ after the prequels. This is not visual myth-making, this is a 10 year corporate business plan, and the only way in which the new film is at odds with Lucas’ originals, which were in the sprit of classic movie serials and the samurai films of Kurosawa, but also, very much an original vision with surprising twists and turns along the way.
In the fuzzy 21st century fashion of reboots, remakes, and re-envisioning, we get J.J. Abrams, a fan-first, filmmaker-second who does renovated homage with a high sheen on it, rather than pushing out new ideas, concepts. The story line is so utterly familiar, the beats so well known that the ‘surprises’ it attempts fall flat, not to mention obligatory. This all seems so familiar: A droid carrying plans hooks up with a spunky orphan (now a girl instead of a boy) on a desert planet, to be whisked away on the Millennium Falcon, a stop-over in a kooky smuggler bar, Hitler inspired baddies blowing up planets (here 5 instead of one), the marshaling of a rag-tag rebel army on a planet targeted for destruction by (bigger) Death Star. Apparently the force is the all powerful force that surrounds us, and keeps the powers that be doing the same goddamn thing, with only the slightest cosmetic changes and updated special effects. A lightsaber with electric cross-guards, a new decree-by-hologram Emperor, A conflicted black-caped wearing villain, Domhnall Gleeson poorly imitating Peter Cushing, a lady-Yoda, Tunisian sunsets, and the death of a mentor as witnessed by wide-eyed young things. The destruction of Coruscant, or whatever anonymous city planet here also feels like the lazy destruction of Spock’s home-world in the Star Trek reboots (also courtesy by Mr. Abrams, how favours ‘cool and fast’ over ‘smart and considered’ every time).
I paid to see the most expensive fan film that money can buy. Slavery to ‘the rules’ is no way to make a movie, no matter how good the characters are. In this chapter’s defence, Poe, Rey, Ren, BB8 and Fin are all wonderful new faces and their short three-letter handles, memorable and instantly iconic; they go a long way to making the universe a little more inclusive of race and gender. No matter how sharp the one liners, nor how beautiful the cinematography, this is fan service on the $250 million dollar scale, to be lapped up by an undemanding audience. Who ever made the They Live mashup of the poster for this film was a genius.
My take-away The Force Awakens, Han Solo and Princess Leia are pretty good at saving the universe by the seat of their pants, but holy crap, WORST. PARENTS. EVER. Some people just shouldn’t have children. And *Major Spoiler Alert* The death of a certain roguish smuggler is botched to the point of it being more of a rote plot necessity than an emotional beat. Later in the film, Carrie Fisher’s Leia seems to barely react to the news. And that is how I feel about this new film, it is less about imagination than obligation at this point for me. Sad as that may come off. Maybe that is why I enjoyed Pixar’s Inside Out so much, as it attempts to honestly tackle this feeling. After 40 years, you cannot ‘go home’ by stepping on the set of the Falcon, because home is an idea, not a place, and one that nostalgia cannot sustain, but has to be pushed forward by pressing ideas. Fan culture has tarnished the adventure blockbuster as surely as the Dark Side makes bludgeons the galaxy to submission. Ridley Scott’s R-rated Prometheus, with its corporate mission full of schemers and fuck-ups is looking better and better in hindsight of safe Marvel-Disney pandering for box-office. As the new VW Beetle and resurgence of 70s fashions in the 1990s were to Baby Boomers, the lack of critical appraisal and nostalgic glee in the response to The Force Awakens is to Gen-X’s a little too desperate to relive their childhood in the cinema. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
For the sake of going forward in a constructive manner, I hope our creative empire stops giving us what we think we want, and instead gives us what we are unaware we need. And to re-ignite the flicker of hope that I personally have of getting great Star Wars films in the cinema again, it will take an artist with ideas a sense of risk and adventure, not just a snappy sense of polish.
Help us Rian Johnson, you’re our only hope.