Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The long awaited seventh chapter in the STAR WARS saga, THE FORCE AWAKENS, alternates between feeling like a certified entry and a fan's version of one.  After the widespread disappointment with EPISODES I-III, legions of fans expressed excitement while simultaneously holding their bowels when it was announced that stubborn Lord George Lucas had sold the franchise to Disney, thus paving the way for the completion of the originally planned nine films.  Lucas selected J.J. Abrams, a true blue fan, to oversee the new one, and more daunting a cinematic task I can't fathom.  You think you've had butterflies in your stomach?

I've been let down by so many greatly anticipated "event films" of this type over the years that I tried not to let expectations get the better of me.  But it was futile.  The possibilities were infinite for this new film.  The aftertaste of the prequels would, should all go well, be washed away by a mind blowing fresh perspective that at the same time held a deep reverence for the beloved far away galaxy.  Abrams was a promising choice with his self-professed love for the series. And he had created the loving Spielberg/Lucas tribute SUPER 8, of which I am a fan.  As I've mentioned in previous STAR WARS summaries, many of the great talents who made the original trilogy so special were back on board.  Not just the actors but also writer Lawrence Kasdan and conductor John Williams.

So while waiting in a (expectedly) ridiculously long line on opening night in Manhattan, my excitement reached a crescendo.  I had plenty of other reasons to be excited - visiting family, being in NYC at Christmastime, etc., but my attempted suppression of watchfulness over the past weeks was pulverized as I listened to people behind me voice their theories and watched a few costumed fans make their way.  There was some disorganization with the line at the theater but nothing really chaotic.  Inside, it was amusing to watch people frantically running through the halls that had at least four auditoriums dedicated to the movie.  No doubt hurrying to make sure they didn't end up on the front row.

THE FORCE AWAKENS takes place thirty plus years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI.  The Empire was defeated but the First Order, who've created a new Death Star like weapon that is actually an entire planet, has since arisen.   The movie introduces the characters of Poe (Oscar Isaac) a fighter pilot for the Resistance, Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who experiences a change of heart and later joins Rey (Daisy Ridley), a drifter who discovers she has the raw materials of a Jedi in her fight against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a masked villain who also has ties to the Force, though like at least one before him he chose the Dark Side.  Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa, now a General (Carrie Fisher), and Mark Hamill (Luke Sykwalker), the heroes of Episodes IV - VI return, though to what degree is left for you, invisible audience, to discover. C-3PO and R2-D2 also return. A new cute 'bot, BB-8 makes his debut.   There are so many potential spoilers within this film, and to reveal them should be some sort of felony.

Is the film a "passing of the torch" to the young bucks? Not exactly.  One of the original characters will evidently drive as much if not more of the narrative in the next chapter due in 2017.  The rethinking of the new trilogy (Disney discarded Lucas' original treatments) is another effort to meld the old with the new, and time will tell how successfully.  In THE FORCE AWAKENS, the poignancy of seeing an elderly Han Solo (still full of vigor) springboards many themes that older viewers will appreciate, if they aren't overcome with depression over it. Younger audiences are digging the X-wing battles and light saber duels, just like we did back in the '70s and '80s.  Good to see them appreciating a piece of celluloid with minimal CGI.

Quite encouragingly, current audiences are also cheering Rey, a self-sufficient young woman who is not merely some caricatured male fantasy, or a damsel needing rescuing.  At one point she even releases Finn's grip from her wrist as they flee their enemies; it's a nice antidote to the thousands of times we've seen females pulled along like rag dolls by male heroes.

I mentioned that this new STAR WARS is like a fan's idea of such a movie, from the scrolling opening summary forward; there's even a visit to a saloon filled with weird creatures that will remind you of EPISODE IV.  Upon reflection it really does feel more that way than an official chapter.  I can cite a certain hollowness with the story that more than seems recycled.  But maybe that was the idea.  History does repeat itself across generations.  Offspring stand in large shadows, wondering if they'll possibly measure up.  I happened to really enjoy the movie and will certainly see it in the theater again.  But likely not as as many times as that 8 year old did a long time ago..........

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