Spoilericious THE FORCE AWAKENS Review / Speculation

The Force Awakens is the firstcringe-free Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.

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SEMI-SPOILER “The Force awakens” can mean “the Force itself wakes up” or “the Force wakes up others.”

SPOILERICIOUS AFTER THE JUMP

A really good movie, tho not quite a great movie.

Well worth the effort, however.

It falls short of being great because out of necessity it has to offer a certain amount of fan service while simultaneously trying to set up the background for the next batch of movies.

Whereas the very first Star Wars (i.e., real Star Wars a.k.a. Han-shot-first Star Wars) was complete in and unto itself insofar as that while the menace of the Empire still lurked out there, that particular story was full and complete unto itself, The Force Awakens must by necessity end with a cliffhanger. (And boy, what a cliffhanger: Somewhere in the Great White Way of Heaven there are scores of far greater actors asking themselves “How the hell does Mark Hamil rate a movie that’s essentially a fncking two hour build to his fncking close-up?!?!?)

‘Scuse me, let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. Back to the topic at hand.

Starting with The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars movies became less of a series and more of a serial with cliffhanging moments to lure us back to the next adventure.

(We really really didn’t like that back in the day but came to accept it.)

This one is the first part of The Story Of Leia And Luke’s Kids (I think we can safely bet the heart transplant money that Rey is Luke’s long lost love child), but it’s really much more than that: It’s a conscious attempt by Disney and J.J. Abrams to remake the original Star Wars trilogy into the new Star Wars brand, and in the process not formally abandon Eps I – VI but encourage people to not think about them that much.

I mean, they’ll be there on the shelves and available for download, but all in all I think everybody -- fans especially -- will be happier if they think of the original theatrical release as ur-Star Wars and just conveniently forget the details included in all the other films.

‘Cuz the cold / sad / dark / bitter truth about the Star Wars franchise is this: George Lucas is not a very good storyteller.

Oh, he has great ideas and can do some truly inventive films, but he’s never made a good movie where he didn’t have talented collaborators pushing back.

The reason The Empire Strikes Back is the last cringe-free Star Wars movie is because Irvin Kershner had the chops and expertise and resume’ to tell George to back off when necessary.

Starting with Return Of The Jedi and then on into the prequel trilogy, Lucas told the story the way he wanted to tell it.

And the story he wanted to tell was dreadful.

Seriously, this franchise has been coasting along on the impact of the first movie in 1977, bolstered but not truly surpassed by The Empire Strikes Back (a superior film to the original, but not a better movie if you know what I’m saying).

And truth be told, Lucas does not have a very good track record as a creative director / producer.

Remember Twice Upon A Time? Radioland Murders? More American Grafitti?

You remember Howard The Duck only because it’s a Marvel movie.

Lucas and his company have a tendency to disappear his collaborators from his successes and to disappear his failures entirely. Go visit Charlie Lippincott’s Facebook page and see what he has to say about key Lucasfilm personnel who now don’t even rate a mention in the official studio history.

Now, this is not to say Lucas lacks creativity, or that he is incapable of coming up with interesting ideas and characters.

What he lacks is taste and the ability to tell all by his lonesome an interesting story.

When The Phantom Menace was released, Lucasfilm flooded the various news outlets with press releases in which Lucas bragged about sending his script to several prominent screenwriters and all of them telling him it was perfect, not to change a thing.

Yeah. Right.

How many scenes in The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones ended with some variant of: “I can’t think of anything else to say right now so I’m going to have to ask you all to leave?”

F’r cryin’ out loud, George, once you say the last important line in a scene you just CUT TO: the next scene!

That’s basic screenwriting / film making / storytelling 101.

And I’m picking on that because it is the least complicated example to set before you to explain the obvious: That Lucas is a gifted / creative but extremely lucky guy who unknowingly was instrumental in creating something much bigger than he imagined.

…and we can argue that once he realized his creation had turned into something bigger than he had imagined, he then strove vigorously to cut it down to where it could fit back into his head again.

If you’re this deep into this commentary, then there’s no point in re-iterating the confused ethics and muddled morality of Eps I – III and Ep VI.

A genocidal murderous selfish shit gets to go to heaven because he selfishly saved his own son by betraying the guy who made his success and power possible.

That’s like the Pope making Hermann Goering a saint because he was kind to his dog.

So how does all that affect The Force Awakens?

Simple: It’s clear from the story shown none of the prequels are considered to have occurred in the form they were released.

Rather, ideas and concepts from those films are being reimagined and reworked -- remade, actually -- into a new Star Wars brand that will be the gold standard for all future films.

We will be encouraged to forget all about the events in Eps I – III just as we are encouraged to forget all about The Star Wars Holiday Special.

And don’t be surprised if there isn’t a “special edition” video release of The Empire Strikes Back than has Han’s rescue and the subsequent destruction of Jabba’s sand yacht from Return Of The Jedi edited in so audiences can skip the rest of Ep VI.

Consider: On a remote desert planet, a young adult encounters a droid carrying vital information for the gallant freedom fighters opposed to a galactic tyrant. Escaping the tyrant’s storm troopers, the young adult and droid team up with a notorious smuggler and his hairy co-pilot to flee the desert world. There’s an entertaining scene in an intergalactic dive bar, a mystical weapon gets handed down to the next generation, and the young adult begins to learn about the Force.

Meanwhile, the tyrant uses a planet sized weapon to destroy a largely symbolic political enemy, then searches for the freedom fighters’ home base to destroy it.

Luckily the young adult and some friends manage to destroy the planet-sized weapon before it can be used against them by blowing a heat vent. The tyrant’s chief lieutenant gets away to link up with the tyrant, and the young adult is sent off to a distant planet to begin training with a legendary Jedi master (although one of the young adult’s friends is left in a state of stasis).

Quick: Did I just describe the plot of Star Wars / The Empire Strikes Back or The Force Awakens?

What Disney and Abrams are very consciously attempting to do is strip mine Eps I – VI for all salvageable material and to deliberately reforge them into a better / more coherent / more thematically consistent new Star Wars background that will supplant Lucas’ bad ideas (and steer away from its early unfortunate WASPy boys’ own adventure vibe).

Kylo Ren masterfully evokes Darth Vader from the original film, both figuratively and literally.

He’s a handsome pretty boy under the mask (because frankly Anakin Skywalker in Return Of The Jedi was a doughy disappointment, and anything more extreme would either run the risk of having been done before by others or else being ridiculous). He’s got daddy issues and is resentful his Uncle Luke doesn’t want to follow Grandfather Vader’s goal of conquering the galaxy.

Because of that he (off screen) massacres Luke’s trainees (viz. Anakin Skywalker killing baby Jedis in Revenge Of The Sith) and joins the dark side. He is reported to have been seduced by Captain Phasma, a silver clad storm trooper captain whom we have yet to see unmasked (expect whatever’s underneath to cause the next generation of Star War fans to forget all about Slave Princess Leia).

So basically, Vader’s problematic “redemption” at the end of Return Of The Jedi has been shoveled down the memory hole and his status as emblematic villain has been returned, even if just as an ideal of Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is young Anankin Skywalker from Eps II & III only without the annoying kid from Ep I getting involved in pod races with thinly disguised ethnic stereotypes. Because his temptation to be returned to the light side of the Force is openly brought up in this film, it’s going to make any stab at redemption he may have later seem more bonafide. He has the opportunity to arise to towering supervillain status, not see that status get torn down by providing him with a weak after-the-fact origin.

Rey will probably turn out to be his cousin. One thing about Lucas’ original development of Star Wars was that he and his crew went through a lot of ideas but were careful to keep track of all of them.

One short lived idea was that Luke Skywalker (nee Starkiller) was to have been female. Somewhere along the line that got split off into the Princess Leia character, much to the advantage of the original Star Wars film.

But now there’s no need for a princess to be saved (even a princess who then turns around and takes charge of her own rescue). Rey is this generation’s young hero, and she’ll carry the banner quite nicely.

However, even in the first film it was obvious that the Force was not equally strong in all individuals; Luke clearly had it and both Vader and Obi-Wan recognized it in him, but there was also the idea that any sentient being who truly wanted to learn how to use the Force could, with enough discipline and practice, acquire that skill.

The Phantom Menace urinated all over that egalitarian idea, of course, with their midichlorians concept which basically said, We’re special and you’re not.”

There’s none of that in The Force Awakens: Rey can use the force without training, but Finn can also wield a light saber, a Jedi-only weapon previously. Rey without training can stand up to Kylo Ren.

So if there’s a strong Force-compliant bloodline from Vader to Luke & Leia to Kylo Ren (oh, yeah; in case you haven’t seen the movie yet, Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Princess [now General] Leia) and if Rey is Kylo Ren’s equal or superior re matters Force, then the chances of her being part of the Skywalker bloodline are pretty certain.

Which would conveniently explain both the title of the movie and the astonishing coincidences that bring Finn / Rey / Solo & Chewbacca together : The Force is literally awakening both itself and those who can use it (and that does not preclude Luke Skywalker hizzownself sending out the call from his self-imposed galactic exile).

Let’s talk about Finn, the former storm trooper. In Attack Of The Clones it was pretty explicitly established that all the storm troopers were clones of Jango Fett (Boba Fett’s father). The Force Awakens says storm troopers are children kidnapped and impressed into warriorhood at an early age.

Finn’s story of being torn away from his family is echoed by Rey’s memories of someone she loves leaving her behind on Jakku, the desert world that thankfully isn’t Tatooine. Whether that person chose to leave her there or was forcefully taken away is not yet clear; we’ll need to wait for Eps VIII and IX for that.

Depriving them of their clone origin does make the storm troopers far more human than previously depicted in Eps I – III (they were more human albeit militaristic in the original Star Wars and only gradually evolved into soulless killing machines that could be destroyed with impunity).

The Force Awakens established there was an Old Republic that was overthrown by the Empire and replaced by the New Republic which is now under siege by the Nazi-like First Order.

And, yeah, there were Nazi parallels in the first Star Wars movie but this time the analogy is really hammered home hard.

Instead of destroying Alderaan as a show of force with their new Death Star Starkiller Base (which, in a remarkable display of common sense and practical economics, is a planet converted into a weapon instead of a constructed weapon that’s the size of a planet), the First Order blasts the New Republic’s homeworlds, bringing an end to their government (boy howdy!) and freeing up the next trilogy to go into less politically confining directions.

Now, instead of a firmly entrenched Empire battling gallant rebels, or a crumbling Old Republic being overthrown by a younger and more vigorous Empire, we will presumably see two more or less equally matched sides trying to consolidate their hold over the scattered remnants of the Republic.

(Sidebar: Apparently the planet where Starkiller Base is located and Takodana [where intergalactic mama-san Maz Kanata runs this film’s version of the space cantina] and all five or six Republic homeworlds and the Resistance’ base are not only located in the same system but apparently in the same orbital plane so that it only takes minutes for a bolt from Starkiller Base to reach and destroy any of the others and yet somehow the Resistance and the First Order are unaware of each other’s location! This is as close as The Force Awakens gets to a cringe-worthy moment and is forgivable only because there’s no fnckin’ Jar-Jar Binks in this movie.)

Bottom line: What Abrams and Disney have set up is a Star Wars universe where competing branches of the Skywalker family are going to struggle for control. Luke will probably use Rey as the basis of a new Jedi Order (possibly an all or predominantly female order). Leia, who managed to compartmentalize the destruction of her family and the rest of Alderaan so well that we should question her sanity, wants to lure her son Kylo Ren back from the dark side while meanwhile Captain Phasma (who has yet to be revealed) and Snoke, this film’s supreme baddie, struggle to keep him good & seduced.

Han Solo is apparently dead but as comics writer Roy Thomas once pointed out about superheroes & villains: “They’re only dead if you have a body and even then only maybe.” Chewbacca (and this is his character’s best movie) is now Rey’s co-pilot on the Millennium Falcon, R2-D2 awoke from a long pause in sleep mode to go off with her while BB-8 is hanging around with Leia and the rest of the cast to see if Finn will wake up intact or not after getting lightsabered by Kylo Ren.

C3-P0 is back in his fuss budget exposition delivery mode; frankly we never need to see him again because his job of translating R2-D2’s squeaks and squawks is no longer necessary and his presence only reminds us of that gawdawful Phantom Menace movie and all its attendant problems so if he can’t ditch him then hopefully Abrams will reduce his participation in all future films to an absolute minimum.

So we are, approximately, at the same point we were at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, the last good Star Wars movie.

Only this time we have no George Lucas, but we do have a team that can sift through his ideas and separate the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dross, the midichlorians from the manure.

Congratulations, J.J. Abrams & Disney: You’ve got me looking forward to the next one now.

"The Risk Of Birth, Christmas 1973" by Madeleine L’Engle

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