Saturday, December 19, 2015

Snow Screen: Star Wars The Force Awakens SPOILERS


I warned you! Now that we got the pleasantries out of the way, let's talk real reel. I liked Star Wars: the Force Awakens. It's like a Marvel movie, well made, well cast, exciting, funny with a bit of heart. But I had issues with the film. Big ones. Usually when you get done seeing an awesome movie, you can't wait to see it again. In recent years I felt that way about flicks like The Dark Knight, Inglorious Basterds, Drive, Pacific Rim, Pain and Gain, Mad Max: Fury Road, etc. At their best films inspire you to better yourself, learn more, take you to a new world, whatever. But when Star Wars ended, I didn't have a burning desire to see the film again, even though we already had tickets for a repeat viewing two days later.

The first section of Force is excellent, we're set up knowing that a new order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, Luke Skywalker has gone missing and his sister Leia is leading the Resistance, etc. But new character Finn, a reformed Storm Trooper, rubbed me the wrong way from the get go. With hyper fidgeting, heavy breathing and nervous energy, Finn realizes he doesn't want to be a Trooper and escapes with rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). But you hear several Empire folks talking about how all Troops are trained from birth, Finn passed his screenings, etc but on his first mission loses his shit. I just didn't buy it. Kylo Ren felt Finn's traitorous impulses on their first encounter, Captain Phasma catches him hyper ventilating but makes little of it, etc. When you tell me that this guy has passed every test you've given him as a Storm Trooper and been brain washed and trained for at least a decade, I don't believe it that he suddenly freaks out and nobody caught it before. But that's what the story requires.

Then we re-meet Harrison Ford's Han Solo, after having a kid with Leia who was strong with the Force, young Ben was sent to train with uncle and Jedi master Luke who is rebuilding the mythical knights. But Ben goes bad, kills the rest of the Jedi hopefuls and Luke walks away, disappearing for 30 years. While it's good to see Han and Chewie, you realize that The Force Awakens is becoming a retelling/update of A New Hope. Complete with an orphan setting out to find their destiny, a cool looking villain (Captain Phasma) who doesn't actually do anything a la Boba Fett, a cantina filled with creatures and criminals then a climax that involves a literally bigger Death Star where a small party has to infiltrate and knock out the shields so the rebel fleet can drop off some bombs. Meanwhile Leia and Solo's son Ben becomes the evil Kylo Ren, a light saber wielding, Force using baddie inspired by grandfather Darth Vader and trained by The Beyonder/The Watcher knock off Lord Snoke (he's giant, bald and has a high collar).

But doesn't Kylo realize that Vader ended his life turning on the dark side to save his son? So what plan or prophecy exactly did Darth Vader not complete besides ruling the galaxy with his son Luke? Ren is played by Adam Driver, a young, interesting looking actor who is mysteriously experiencing a sky high career. I don't get his appeal, he's not interesting to look at or watch and he comes across a bit flat or just, not interesting or with any presence or gravitas. I don't want to keep following Ren's character as he was a shitty villain and is irredeemable given his actions. So all he can really become is a silent killing machine like Darth Maul. This must be what Steve McQueen meant when he first saw Dustin Hoffman and was dumbfounded a guy like that would one day supersede cool and handsome superstars like himself and Paul Newman.

Like a Marvel film, Star Wars negates any tension or drama with cheeky dialog and humor. Why are modern films afraid to be silent for 3 seconds? Do we really need a wisecrack at every turn to make sure the audience doesn't take the film too seriously? Now let's be honest, none of the previous Star Wars films were meant to be anything more than matinee escapist fare so I'm not looking at Force Awakens to be deep drama. So maybe my issue is just modern films in general. Because at the end of the day, this new chapter is meant to launch a business plan for Disney that includes multiple films, theme park attractions and tens of billions of dollars worth of merchandising sales. Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams is a talented guy as shown in his previous efforts like Mission:Impossible III and Star Trek. But unlike say a Quentin Tarantino who gobbles up a million influences, grinds them up and produces a familiar yet fresh product with a voice, Abrams seems to be stuck chasing others. His Super 8 was like an E.T. meets The Goonies light while The Force Awakens hits all the right chords of Star Wars to please the fans and capture new ones. So here's hoping now that the film is going to be a huge hit with audiences and critics alike, they can move forward, tell some new and interesting stories, change genres, introduce new casts and take some chances.

I feel a little bit like old man Jason Statham now, remember when he lamented about not liking Marvel films because they were just big budget, CGI, stunt double filled spectacles while he preferred old school real physicality? As movies get bigger, risks have to get smaller so you can't really get an ending that's anything less than happy unless it's awards season. Then it's the sadder the better. Today everything has to be explained and onscreen death really doesn't mean anything. Then seeing these young Thundercats along with the plethora of cool and pretty Chris' show up in every film makes me long for the leading men I grew up on. Guys with character, presence and machismo who built their own empires and did it their way like Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Charles Bronson, McQueen, Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ah well, let's see what happens with Luke in Episode VIII!

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