Star Wars: The Review Awakens
(Exhale) A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...my son walked across the stage at his high school graduation, and when he reached out to receive his diploma, a million wonderful thoughts and emotions flooded my mind: Dropping him off at kindergarten for the first time, his first crush, getting his driver's license, making the honor roll, and so many more. But there were also other emotions and thoughts I had to process - the times that weren't positive. Memories of some of his hurtful words and actions toward our family, and the fallout those actions left behind. At no time, however, did the thought ever cross my mind as to whether or not I loved my kid. In fact, regardless of the good times, or the bad times in our family, my son could tell you word-for-word my response to all of it: "There's nothing you can do to make me love you any more, or any less." I think life is kinda like that - there are parts we dig, there are parts we could do without, but it's the collective experience that we ultimately embrace.
For many of us, our relationship with the Star Wars saga is the same. It has become so ingrained in our minds and hearts, it would be impossible to extract and dispose of every ounce of our fandom, even if we wanted to. I mean, let's be real, here people: can you ever picture a world where you never again uttered the phrase, "I've got a bad feeling about this...," or never again hum the Imperial March when your mother-in-law calls (probably shouldn't have shared that one...). Nonetheless, you get my point - Star Wars is woven into the fabric of who we are, and while there may be things we like, or like-less, we unquestionably love this saga.
So, here we are - roughly 72 hours into this thing called The Force Awakens entered our lives, and here's my high-altitude breakdown of the Top 5 Things that Worked, and Didn't Work*
(I guess this is where I add the "Spoiler Alert," but c'mon, if you haven't seen TFA by now...)
- The Crawl is Strong with This One I mean, when you have to wordsmith three sentences to encapsulate an entire plot, I think it was extremely well done. The first sentence sets the tone. Enough said. (Though I will also tip my cap to JJ Abrams for the post-crawl downward pan - loved it.)
- The Circle is Now Complete Remember the tension between Obi-Wan and Vader, or Luke and Vader? That kind of palpable tension was lost in the Prequels. However, the tension between Kylo Ren and Hux, Kylo Ren and Rey, Solo and Leia, Solo and Kylo Ren, and Finn and the First Order all added to this film. This was believable tension, too - not like some of the poorly scripted "tension" between Anakin and the Council. (Similarly, the scene with Hux barking out his pep talk to the troops was cinema gold - so eerily mirroring Nazi Germany in every way).
- These Aren't the Storyline Holes You're Looking For If there's been a camp of TFA haters, most of their Dark Side feelings are centered around a "lack of development." Most notably - how does a girl go from dessert scavenger to pulling off Jedi mind tricks in such a short amount of time? Here's why this doesn't bother me: we've seen it before (and we didn't seem to mind one bit!). In the original Star Wars, Luke goes from whiny farmhand to using the Force to blow up the Death Star in roughly two days. In fact, Luke gets zapped in the arse by the training probe the same day he turns off his targeting computer and lets two fly! Which is more troubling - a rookie using the Force to blow up the Empire's big, powerful toy, or a rookie using a Jedi mind trick and holding her own versus Kylo Ren? C'mon haters - admit it - it ain't as big a deal as you're making it out to be! (1) Rey was obviously aware of the legends of the Jedi and therefore could conceivably know about what they were capable of; (2) Rey was more than capable of fighting before she overtly displayed strength in the Force; (3) Kylo Ren's, Snoke's and Maz Kanata's dialogue all point to this being conceivable. After all, isn't this what an "awakening" is...?
- You Always Said You Wanted to Be Around When I Made a Mistake I believe it was a brilliant move to kill-off Han Solo. I don't think I'm in the minority here, but I have read a lot of comments from fans who feel just the opposite. To be clear, I wasn't rooting for the character to die, but from a perspective of making a great movie, this was the correct call. Here's why: (1) One of the things I love most about The Walking Dead is the fact that ANYONE can meet their demise at ANY TIME. This is part of what makes the show so compelling - there is risk involved. This element speaks to the reality of war, and life, in general. (2) The character of Han Solo finely had a level of depth like we haven't previously seen on screen. (Ford himself has long bemoaned the shallowness of the character). And, here, we have a MOMENT - an actual MOMENT with Solo reaching out to his estranged son. The scene of Solo's hand gently caressing Ben's face as his final act is indelible - and it makes the film stronger. PLUS - it sets it up for an epic showdown in VIII or IX!
- Laugh It Up, Fuzzball There was humor - and plenty of it. And moreover, it was (fairly) well-written humor. Unlike some of the campy dialogue from the OT, there were some genuinely funny moments here. My personal favorite is Chewbacca detailing his heroics with the medic, and her response, but there were plenty more sprinkled throughout the film (i.e. just about every interaction between Solo and the Resistance's "Big Deal," Finn).
WHAT DIDN'T WORK...
- O Phasma, my Phasma! What happened?! I thought Captain Phasma was going to be a chrome-plated badass, but instead she easily complies with lowering the shields and GETS STUFFED INTO A TRASH COMPACTOR?!?! My heart and the value of my Captain Phasma collectibles collectively sank. I get she's coming back in Episode VIII, but how does the character rebound from such an epic build-up and subsequent letdown? Personally, this is even more disappointing than the quick demise of both Darth Maul and Boba Fett - at least they put up a fight! Seriously, why hire Gwendoline Christie for that role? Wasted talent. Booooo.
- Music to My Ears - But Not My Memory Banks John Williams is, well, he's John Williams! Pick your choice of positive accolade to place beside his name and his compositions, but this effort left me wanting more. Was the music emotive and on-point? Yes. BUT this is The Guy who gave us epic and hummable pieces from the Original Trilogy and even TPM! We're talking about the Imperial March, the Throne Room, the Asteroid Field, Duel of the Fates, etc., etc. And, yet, while the music in TFA was solid, it didn't send me away with a memorable tune to hum on the drive home.
- That's No Moon - It's ANOTHER F'ing Big Weapon (with really crappy defenses) I was uneasy going into this with the thought that Starkiller Base was going to be yet another technological terror...and I remain that way. I mean, it felt this way in 1983 as an 11 year old, and it just seems like someone can't move beyond this desire to have a really big super weapon. I don't know who's to blame here: the writing team for ROTJ and TFA, or the Empire/First Order for lacking vision in their attempt to takeover the galaxy. Either way, I find their lack of creativity disturbing.
- Go Get Yourself Strapped In While I Make the Jump to Lightspeed "And they're off!" Like the gates holding back the horses in the Kentucky Derby suddenly springing open, so too was the opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No more Fox Fanfare to warm our hearts and signal the beginning of the film. The LucasFilm flashed ever-so-briefly and then BAM! It was a little jarring at first, but it took only about 0.012 seconds for me to recalibrate as the shivers ran up and down my arms. I know this is minor, but it still had an initial jarring effect.
- (Insert witty TFA one-liner here. Oh, wait, there weren't any...) Similar to #2 above, I was saddened there weren't more walk-away one-liners. Look at the sheer girth of one-liners we have from the OT, and even perhaps a few from the Prequels. But nothing really stood out to me in this installment, with the possible exception of Han's wisdom to Finn, "Women always find out the truth. Always." And while this is certainly true, it's almost too real to actually use in everyday dialogue with any sense of fun or whimsy. Perhaps some will surface once the film has a chance to aerate.
What about you? What worked and what didn't work for you...?
*"What about...?" "How could you leave out...?" I get it, I get it. I could have easily picked different things to list here - but I didn't. It's not meant to be an exhaustive list... Relax. Exhale...