The Force Awakens: An Old Hope or A New Hope?
Well, here goes... I suppose there was never really any fighting it. Like so many grown men and women with pressing responsibilities and priorities, and several other big “-ies”, I’m going to speak at length, nay, PROFESS! to the ether all of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Now that my bombastic run-on teaser sentence is out of the way, let’s begin. I don’t think any devoted Star Wars fan could tell you what they thought of this movie without also listing all of the things they were worried about in the months or really YEARS leading up to its release, and neither can I. So here we go.
Fear #1: Sequel or Remake?
Anyone paying attention to pre-production chatter already knew that much of the non-film canonical universe was tossed in the shredder. This may be heretical to some, but frankly that didn’t really bother me much when I found out. This is partly because personally I feel that the original trilogy of films are the only sacred texts in the galaxy, but I will expound on why that is later. Mostly I trusted in the pure intentions of the creative team. You can’t have a film franchise as monumental and revered as this one and then staff writers, designers, crew, etc. that have anything less than an unhealthy obsession with Star Wars. That is what I assumed was happening from the get-go and I found comfort in that assumption. What we got was even better than I might have guessed. In addition to one Mr. J.J. Abrams (AKA J. Jonah Jabramson, AKA DJ Jazzy Jaybrams, AKA Abramham J. Japien?) the screenplay for SW:TFA was written by Lawrence Kasdan: the same Lawrence Kasdan who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, which of course is the greatest movie of all time next to The Lion King (don’t bother arguing with me on that. You will lose, kind madam or sir! I promise you.) And speaking of Disney, as if J. Jeezy and Kas Money weren’t enough, they pulled in the guy who wrote Toy Story 3. Toy. Story. Three. TS3 is the “Empire” of Pixar movies. The furnace scene captures all of the same intensity as Han being lowered into the carbonite chamber, and blends it with a skosh of fatalistic beauty. Michael Arndt wrote that shit and I like to imagine him as the Holy Spirit of this Episode VII trinity, wherein Kasdan is God and J. Jesus Abrams is God’s hip young rebranding made flesh. Don’t even tell me that doesn’t make sense. Just like JC, Abrams is super Jewish and he came here not to abolish, but to complete.
Getting back on target, (Stay on target…) my concern for the story wasn’t that it would be too removed from the Star Wars I know, but that it wouldn’t be different enough. Imagine that you’re handed the secret recipe for something that everyone just fucking loves. I mean people just go bananas for it. Oreos! Everybody loves Oreos. I have Type 1 diabetes and need to be extremely conservative with my Oreo intake, but they call to me in hushed seductive coos like the Dark Side to Kylo Ren. See, I’m still talking about Star Wars. (Stay on target…) Now if you give me the Oreo and say “Re-engineer this practically perfect sugar vessel” I will most certainly do what Nabisco has been doing for years: dye the cream orange on Halloween, red and green on Christmas, and count my money. Well, now that we’ve all seen it, (you’ve seen it right?) we know that’s basically what The Force Awakens did. It’s A New Hope. “But what about the…” No, it’s A New Hope. “But in the end, she…” Ok, it’s A New Hope and part of Empire, with Yoda all like “Who dis punk ass wannabe Jedi?” only now Rey is Luke and Luke is Yoda, and Yoda is still super dead. Prior to seeing the film, I feared an underwhelming monotony in IMAX 3D. With each new teaser, poster, and trailer I became increasingly dubious that TFA wouldn’t be just a nostalgia-wanking cash grab with it’s THIRD Death Star, emo Vader, and beach ball R2D2. With my prophetic nightmare fulfilled, I am at least happy to say that the fact that my second fear didn’t also come true is more than enough to redeem Epi Sev’s shameless self-reference.
Fear #2: I won’t care about anything that anyone is saying or doing at any point.
What was one plea that virtually everyone with an opinion could get behind during the pre-release speculation orgy? Please PLEASE don’t be anything like the prequel trilogy. While many critics of Episodes I-III have directed their ire toward Lucas’ unrestrained and clumsy use of CGI, it is really the lifeless dialogue and wooden characters that are to blame. I was only 11 years old when The Phantom Menace came out so I’m not ashamed to admit I thought the action and effects were DOPE. It took another several years to be irked by the lack of weight and tangibility of everything green-screened into Episode I and its sequels. The loss of luster that I did feel from the moment I left the theater in 1999 was all about the characters. Here I was, a kid, and I didn’t want to be Ani who on paper looks like a day-dreamer’s Michael Jordan. (Is he too dated of an idol in 2016? Drake, maybe? Kids love Drake.) This little bowl-cutted version of Drake can build droids, race against aliens, and we know he’s going to grow up to boink Natalie Portman and become the most powerful Jedi ever. But nevertheless… nothin’. The same went for Obi Wan, Qui Gon, and all the other white guys with vaguely Asian names. Lucas had assembled a truly stellar cast of more than capable actors, but he didn’t give them any character to convey.
Character. That is the real heart of the Star Wars universe. It’s the reason why even today when people faun over Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s criticism of any scientific inaccuracy in sci-fi, we’re ok with laser swords and sound in the vacuum of space. Because since 1977, it’s never really been about spaceships, monsters, and droids, but people. I’m not trying to discount the merit of the meticulous and breathtaking work that artists like the legendary Ralph McQuarrie put into building a fascinating and surreal world, but in my mind that world is worthless without people we can love to fill it.
For most of my formative years there were only three men I wanted to be like: My dad, Indiana Jones, and Han Solo. Two of them are Harrison Ford, and if you are somehow unfamiliar with Indiana Jones, my dad is not Harrison Ford. Han was quite simply and still is the baddest cat of all time. Although living a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, he is so quintessentially and timelessly American. Sure, his ship, his big furry buddy, his blaster, and his career as a space pirate are all great bonuses, but what I always wanted more than anything was his attitude. Even the most awkward, acne-covered, braces-sporting, 115 lb. version of myself tried to walk around with the kind of swagger that only Han “Biggest Dick in the Room” Solo could truly perfect. On top of all that I wanted to woo my own Leia, and every relationship I’ve had has been part of a lifelong quest to find her. I’m 27 years old now and I’m not a pilot, or a smuggler, or a freedom fighter, but I am just a few months away from marrying a tiny, fiery brunette who bosses me around. There is no mistaking that Carrie Fisher made an irreversible impact on my pre-teen synapses. For the record, my best friend is a pretty hairy fella too, but that is more of a coincidence I think. That’s the real impact of those unforgettable characters from the Orig Trig. And not just on me. They have imbued themselves into the collective psyche of multiple generations. Even people who have never seen any of the films are affected by Star Wars in ways they don’t even realize. It is the ineffable magnetism of the characters that make the 77'-83' years my personal Star Wars gospel. I never thought I would want to live in that world without them.
That is why Episode VII’s characters, the new more than the old, are so important. We already love Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and the robot Odd Couple. Now there are kids who could use characters from a new generation that they can carry with them throughout their life. Well, they certainly got some. Rey, Finn, Poe, hell even BB-8 could easily carry this new trilogy on their own. Like blasters, lightsabers, star cruisers, and tauntauns, the old heads have become a bonus themselves, but not the real story. Granted the old cast really delivered, especially Ford, but I think the new hope this time around is less for the galaxy and more for us fans. We get to be hopeful about where we go from here.
Fear leads to Anger…
So, are there any angry Forceophiles out there today? Sure, I can think of a few, and they aren’t necessarily dissatisfied for no good reason. I myself am torn between a lasting sense of movie euphoria and the sour taste of thinly veiled homage to a dish I’ve enjoyed a hundred times. But to those disgruntled few and to my most cynical self, I would ask “Didn’t you get some chills watching The Force Awakens?” I really did. When Poe and Finn busted out of Starkiller Base AKA Death Star III, I got some goosebumps. When Rey and Finn bantered through a chase scene and fought off tie-fighters, my goosebumps got goosebumps. And when Han and Leia finally came face to face after Han saw their Sith lord baby boy, my goosebumps got goosebumps and those goosebumps sprouted little gooseboners. I have seen the movie twice now so far and am itching for round 3, and in a time when it’s easy to be cynical about big blockbuster 2 hour-long toy-commercials like Jurassic World and likely the new Independence Day, it feels good to be genuinely excited about one of them. It’s good to have a new hope, even a very familiar one. Here’s hoping for a boldly original direction in the Star Wars films to come. It’s at least comforting to know that the Force really will be with us… Always.