So…Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Saw it. And…
Whaat? I do like things–sometimes*. Yeah, I hated Jurassic World, a movie universally loved by people of questionable taste everywhere. I mean, seriously, people? Did we see the same crap fest of bad CGI, uneven (read: “adolescent”) plotting, and horrible characterization? Jurassic World was the “Let’s serve up a shit sandwich and see if the audience will eat it” kind of movie you’d expect from Michael Bay. Except, he didn’t direct it. (Or did he? Me, I suspect he stealth directed the fuck out of it.)
But, I digress…back to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s fun, fast-paced and exciting. Kinda fluffy and fun, in the same vein as the original trilogy. Back to the basics with a simplistic depiction of good vs. evil, and archetype-driven characterization (the loveable rogue, the reluctant hero, the orphan with a destiny, etc.). It even recycles the “droid is the McGuffin” plot. Back too is the “Scruffy, rag-tag rebels versus the mighty war machine” conflict.
With that comes the return to the dusty, lived-in, space opera feel of the original films, in particular, the first two. Before George Lucas developed a pathological fascination with overblown CGI and kid-friendly abominations like Ewoks** or Jar Jar Binks***. There’s plenty of CGI, as well as weird creatures in The Force Awakens, but it doesn’t feel like the director vomited every space alien in his imagination onto the screen. The sets have a realistic feel, instead of the overly pristine, cold cityscapes of the dreadful prequels.
And Abrams, unlike Lucas, knows how to direct real live actors, so gone are the wooden performances and holy-happy on a stick, so too is the stilted dialogue. Star Wars discovers contractions!
The quicky, no spoiler, premise of the story: Poe (Oscar Isaac), the Resistance’s bestest pilot, is about to leave a desert planet–that looks a whole lot like Tatooine, but isn’t–along with his trusty droid, BB8, who–wouldn’t ya know it?–is carrying a secret map to something important. I know, it’s totally ripped off from Star Wars (Episode. IV, A New Hope), but I thinks that’s point. Big chunks of The Force Awakens are an homage to the original films. Anyway, the evil empire, i.e., The First Order shows up, clever little BB8 escapes, but Poe is captured. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the requisite man in black, orders his troops to massacre innocents, causing one Storm Trooper to grow a conscience.
Next up, on The First Order’s battleship, Poe is being tortured–because what’s an evil empire without some torture? On the planet below, little BB8 rolls far and wide across the dunes until he has a chance encounter with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young woman living off what tech she can scavenge from the remains of crashed Star Destroyers and other wrecks in the sand. Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega), the Storm Trooper with a conscience, busts Poe out of jail, and they make a daring escape from the First Order’s ship; destination, the desert planet, so that Poe can retrieve BB8.
And thus our heroes will meet….
Their paths will also intersect with old-school heroes, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). I confess to being in the minority and way less than enthusiastic about the inclusion of the original cast. Actual lament was: “But I don’t wanna see an old Han Solo! I wanna remember him young.” Ambivalence aside, I concede that the screenplay manages to use them as more than nostalgic pander pieces. Their history informs the current story.
The Force Awakens is far from perfect. Like Star Wars, it’s thematically thin, but without the shiny newness that hid the lack of complexity in the first films. Adam Driver, as Kylo Ren, the new big bad, doesn’t have a tenth of Darth Vader’s menace. In fact, he’s a lot more young Severus Snape than Vader, an association that kept pulling me out of the story. (Snape, put down the light saber and get to potions class!) Supreme Leader Snoke, The Force Awakens‘s equivalent of Emperor Palpatine, looks like the lovechild of Gollum and Voldemort but without the sinister charm of either.
The biggest fault drops like a rock at the end, where an inexperience character manages, much too improbably, to beat a skilled and highly trained character. This being the age of the internet, there are already loads of discussions justifying and explaining how this is possible, but I’m not buying it. Nope.
I suspect that audience perception in part will be driven by whether or not one sees The Force Awakens as a blatant rip-off of Star Wars, or instead a competent reboot that trades heavily on the legacy of its predecessors. Me, I’m in the latter group, and my enjoyment of the movie is in no small measure buoyed by belief (relief?) that nothing could be as bad as The Phantom Menace, and the two atrocities that followed. (I’m taking The Force Awakens as an apology for the prequels.)
So…Yay, low expectations?
*In 2015 I also liked Avengers: Age of Ultron and love, love, loved Max Max: Fury Road. So there.
**Regarding Ewoks. This is where certain people, probably the same people who loved Jurassic World, send me hate mail, because, “How can you hate Ewoks?” Because I’m not six years old. Because it’s fucking obvious that they’re little people dressed as dead-eyed teddy bears in costumes that were made from peed-on carpeting ripped from daycare centers. Seriously. You can see the seams on their asses.
***No one ever defends Jar Jar, so no explanation is necessary.