I repeat . . .
My brother and i stood first in line by 4:30 pm on Thursday December 17th. It had become a tradition of sorts and while there were countless people across the world who had already seen Star Wars The Force Awakens, being first in line for the advanced show in my home town was like being the first one to see it ever. Like so many others, i grew up on the original trilogy. Being a Jedi in the back yard of my imagination grew into a desire to be a good person as an adult. Lines like “Never tell me the odds.” and “Do or do not. There is no try.” became lessons, mottos of sorts, in the Schoonmaker home. Unlike others, i was able to tolerate the prequels. Admittedly, they were the huge, terrible tasting vitamin your parents made you take. But you knew you needed them. Somehow, if i saw one of those fifty year old sex ed videos from health class, as long as it had ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far far away’ in front of it followed by the swell of that epic John Williams score, i would love it. At the front of that line i was fifteen again and it was the happiest i had been in a while.
It is easy to give a little too much credit to the speed of social media. As fast as the world is today compared to the era of VHS, land lines and dial up, i was still surprised the internet in the the form of Facebook was not on fire with what i believed to be the unmitigated, unavoidable truth; STAR WARS The Force Awakens and A New Hope were the same movie. Where were the memes? Where were the negative reviews? Was this the work of Darth Disney? Did Bob Iger wave his hand in the spirit of Obi Wan to hypnotize Star Wars fans en masse in a kind of Jedi mind trick? There was nothing. It was very possible that i was just being picky. But that huge moment toward the end must have ruffled a few feathers. Someone must be talking about the climactic death of such a major character. Even now as i type this at the close of opening weekend i have a hard time typing it. Han Solo is dead.
Let me start in a place closer to the beginning and make sure to tell you i loved STAR WARS The Force Awakens. My honesty might at times mask the genuine love i have for this film. But another thing worth mentioning is that you don’t need me to tell you that. A reviewer for BuzzFeed had a great article that suggests that the movie doesn’t even need a review. I am not so sure i would go so far but i like the sentiment. All of the fans have one thing in common, we make Star Wars our own. You are going to see this movie no matter what i tell you. But be sure on one fact: i strongly advocate seeing this movie.
As i sat in the theater i knew the movie had a pretty tough job. First and foremost, it had to bring Disney into the galaxy far far away. As the first Star Wars film after Disney acquired the rights from George Lucas a few years ago, it has to successfully show fans Disney is up to the task of communicating with the vast fan base. Secondly this movie has to spoon feed a new era of Star Wars to fans still trying to wash the bad taste left by the largely underwhelming prequels. Episode VII also has the job of fitting well into the pantheon of movies that preceded it. As limitless as the Star Wars universe is, this movie could be white noise if it doesn’t borrow from its deep history. But lastly. The Force Awakens must offer something bold and new as well going forward into episode VIII and IX that Disney has confirmed for release in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
The Force Awakens hits the mark for most of these. JJ Abrams brought one thing for sure to this movie before he was even hired as Director. The Director famous for his Star Wars fandom brought a real love for these characters and adventures. Abrams also brought his eye and one of the best things about this movie was its visuals. This is a man who did two things at a near perfect level, he knew what we wanted to see and he knew how to make it look in-fucking-credible. A transient Star Wars fan would love the use of the Millennium Falcon, and the mind trick gad in the last third of the film. But there was something for the more hardcore fans too. The serious fan knows these aren’t just fun adventures. Lucas’ original trilogy especially used the repetitive themes found in mythology; the old mentor, the wise old man on the side of the road, good and evil, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, a heroes journey, destiny. These things would repeat themselves across episodes IV, V and VI as they often do in life. Abrams and Kasdan seemed to appreciate this from the old movies. As the Director, and co-writers, it makes sense that they would. Themes of good and evil, fathers and sons, the old mentor, heroes journey, all rang clear in this. As a slightly more than passing fan, this is what i ultimately wanted to see.
The other thing i wanted to see was all the Star Wars-ey references. Locations, people, battles, creatures. This was another area i was not disappointed with. Even if there weren’t too many for me to list here, i wouldn’t just because its a subtle part of the fabric of this movie. With these characters being MIA for so long it made sense that there would be new locations and battles. And yet as the story unfolded, as the new characters met the old, and as the epic new landscapes glistened on the screen before me, the one major flaw in this movie started to come into focus.
Here is an experiment: i will give a description of a Star Wars movie and you try and see if you can guess which one it is. WARNING: DEPENDING ON YOUR POINT OF VIEW THIS MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS
‘A small band of freedom fighters try to free the galaxy from the clutches of a powerful enemy. A droid with a secret mission escapes the bad guys to a desert planet. Meanwhile, a young orphan hero is pulled reluctantly into the adventure when the hero discovers the droid. The hero doesn’t want to leave the desert world that has become their home, but they escape on the Millennium falcon with Han Solo stepping closer to their true destiny. They hero ends up apart of the freedom fighters mission to destroy a massive super weapon that can destroy planets.’
You guessed STAR WARS A New Hope. And you are right. But, SPOILER ALERT, it also perfectly describes The Force Awakens. It isn’t just a matter of retelling a story familiar to Star Wars fans. As a matter of fact that was to be expected. Like i said before, Star Wars at its core is the cyclical repeating of mythological themes present in even the oldest story telling. But its more than that here. The Force Awakens has all of the plot points of A New Hope, but it also has the same characters, the same type of locations, as well as the same associational structure. Emperor/Darth Vader/Grand Moff Tarkin = Snoak/Kylo Ren/Hux. Leia/Han/Luke = Rey/Fin/Poe. Death Star = Starkiller Base. Hell, the climax of the film is the charging of the weapon as it prepares to destroy the resistance base. Sound familiar?
The unnecessary similarities worried me as i saw them on the screen. What would worry me later is how little anyone else seemed to notice or care. But i had more to worry about by the end of the film. Two thing happened. One was catastrophic and its consequences were potentially limitless. The other was indescribable. It was fantastic, epic even. The death of Han Solo was catastrophic. I am not saying i have a problem with it. But it was a little flat. It was not totally unexpected either. So to save it from being meaningless, the usefulness of Han’s death must be cemented in the next films. It was a clear attempt to connect Ren to Han permanently for the fans. I can forgive it as an example of my previous complaint taking so plainly from Obi Wan’s death in A New Hope considering how visually compelling it was. And even though i saw through the clever word play, it was still clever. But the death must be given meaning in the next movie other wise it was nothing more than a stunt.
Where Han’s death was miserable, the following sequence was something else all together. A three character fight scene managed to juggle multiple arcs. As far as effects, it was simple. As far as dialog, it was light. It wasn’t long or over the top. But when Fin defends an injured Rey against Kylo Ren, and then Rey finishes the job . . . i was in awe. At the same time, you see the unhinging of the new franchise bad guy, the true blind courage of the worst Stormtrooper ever, and the actual force awaken. Replete with nods to other movies (pay attention to how Rey gets her lightsaber), great choreography and a location for a lightsaber duel out of every fanboys wet dream, the climactic fight will stick with everyone for a long time. It might be one of my favorite moments in the film.
Somehow i got home, went to bed and fell asleep. A moment i spent a long time waiting for passed in a heart beat, and my life started to settle back to normal. But by the next day i was left with those petty complaints. And they were exaggerated by the angry mob of Facebook Star Wars fans demanding The Force Awakens not be spoiled. How could you spoil a movie every Star Wars fan has seen already? It was a crass question, but a good one. How is it that no one else seems to notice or care that this was a scene for scene rip of another movie? Along with my complaints were my questions; why was Luke in hiding? The reason we were given seemed utterly pallid. Everyone talked up the Knights of Ren that Ben Solo got his name from, but where were they? With the super weapon gone the way of the death star, why do we give a shit about the First Order anymore? Is it because Snoak has something else up his sleeve? But the big question lingers for me. Does anyone else realize how important the next two movies are? Star Wars fans as a whole might be able to accept A New Hope part II. But if episode VIII takes place on Bespin with Yodas long lost sister where Fin gets frozen in carbonate, they might start to see through the curtain.