A Not-review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Posted January 10, 2016on:
Everyone is talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so I guess I will too. When the next Star Wars movie comes out, I can come back and read this post to see what I thought of the first one. Funny how blog posts can act almost as . . . diary entries.
Warning: This post includes epic amounts of rambling and digressions. A few movie spoilers as well, but mostly rambling.
No way around it, your experience with the new Star Wars is directly connected to your past with Star Wars. Kids who have never seen a Star Wars movie will experience this new one completely differently than people who grew up watching episodes IV, V and VI as kids.
My past with Star Wars:
I grew up watching Star Wars. In the mid 80’s I was old enough to put a movie in the VHS player and hit play, but I wasn’t old enough to have the comprehension to understand a long story. We had episodes IV and VI on VHS, and I liked watching them. I didn’t understand the storyline at all, but I liked how I felt when I watched them, the music really stuck with me. I wondered why Luke went from wearing white and tan to wearing black. Han Solo was my first crush. I wanted my wedding dress to look like Princess Leia’s long white dress during the medals ceremony at the end. I wouldn’t realize it for 15 years, but I was taking my first steps towards a love affair with the Campbellian Hero’s Journey. Much later, when I finally saw episode V, things really started making sense.
Star Wars, like The Princess Bride, offers fans a sort of cultural secret handshake. If I say “are there rocks ahead?” and you respond with “if there are, we’ll all be dead”, I immediately know we are of the same tribe. Star Wars references (and Spaceballs references) serve the same purpose.
You know that thing about smell? that you won’t remember names or faces or locations from your early childhood, but you’ll remember the smell of your Mom’s shampoo, or the grass outside, or what your dog smelled like? John William’s original Star Wars score is like a childhood smell to me. It takes me back, it takes me somewhere. I don’t even need any visuals, that music takes me on a transportive journey. That scene in Interstellar where he’s falling through the blackhole and ends up in his daughter’s closet, and it takes him a few seconds to figure out what’s going on and it’s super trippy? That’s how I feel when I listen to John William’s original score. Williams is a genius of Wagnerian proportions, he took a hero’s journey and translated it into the language of music.
What about the prequels, you ask? They were ok. They were very pretty, but honestly the writing and acting were just meh. They only memorable thing was Padme’s kick ass wardrobe. Ewan MacGregor was pretty good. When people ask me my opinion about the prequels, I like to respond with “huh? there’s only three Star Wars movies” . Very similar to the response I give when people ask me what I think of the new Herbert/Anderson Dune books. I like to respond with “What are you talking about? the most recent Dune book is Chapterhouse”. If screwing with people is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. But I digress.
And now, we have Episode VII. I’m not a huge fan of JJ Abrams. I know he turns a lot of people on, but he “JJ’s” everything. I didn’t much care for his Trek movies either. I have a bit of an obsession with Star Trek II and III, and the best I could say about Into Darkness is that the villain was cool and confident. Sure, it was a fun action-y Sci Fi movie, but it didn’t feel anything like Star Trek to me. I dunno, JJ Abrams is like kale. Everywhere I look, it’s kale salad and kale smoothies and kale ice cream and kale hummus and “don’t you just loooove kale? I can’t get enough of it!”. I get that kale is popular, I get it. I just don’t like kale unless it’s covered in bacon. Lots of bacon.
I saw The Force Awakens because of my Dad. One evening, he sent me a text message along the lines of “Just saw Star Wars. I cried at the end”. Now I had to see the movie, and as soon as possible, so we could talk about it. I figured there was only one Star Wars thing that could make my Dad cry. I wrote down my guess, and put it in the kitchen junk drawer, so I could pull it out later and see if I was right.
So hubby and I go to the movie. I’d been avoiding reviews, so other than knowing there was a character named Finn and that there was a round droid, I knew nothing about the movie. Not knowing much about the movie was a smart move.
It was a very JJ movie. Lots of action, neat special effects, some nice nods to the originals. Other than the obvious storyline nod, there were subtle and well done connections using color, clothing, and cinematography. From an artistic point of view, I appreciated those. But when it came to the movie itself, I felt no emotional investment towards the characters. Zero. If the new characters died at the end of the movie, I wouldn’t have cared. There was no hook to get me invested. The movie felt like a stand alone, like it wasn’t connected to anything, like it’s creator wanted to stand apart instead of be part of something larger. There was no Hero’s Journey here. Not in the music, not in the plot, not in what the characters went through. It felt flat. It felt like fan-fic. It’s sad that the best thing I can say about The Force Awakens is that the Pilot guy was really hot. Oscar Isaac is super handsome as Poe, but if that’s the best I can say, that’s sad. (Wow, that sounds so similar to what I said about Into Darkness. Funny that.)
When Han said “Chewie, We’re Home”, I had a moment of feeling like I was home too. But it wasn’t home. It was a paper mache room, with cheaply painted walls and light switches that didn’t work. I wasn’t home, I was in a doll’s house full of forgettable paper dolls.
The original three Stars Wars movies made viewers feel something deep inside. It made us feel like we were something larger than ourselves, made us want to be better people, to stand a little taller, to be worthy of being part of something larger than ourselves. The Force Awakens made me feel none of that. That’s what frustrates me. I won’t remember this movie in 10 years, I won’t be quoting it’s lines, I won’t be using dialog like a secret handshake. Star Wars is no longer what defines a generation, it’s become what ensures the toy manufacturers make a profit. Something inspirational has become a common place commodity, something specially designed to make the most amount of profit from the most people. I think that’s what saddens me the most.
oh, and my guess about what made my Dad cry? I was right. I like that I know him so well that I could guess. After we saw the movie I texted him back that he accidentally spoiled it for me.