1400 hours: this is a placeholder stub. At 1730 I will be stepping into the compound’s AAFES theater to experience the much-ballyhooed seventh chapter in the Star Wars saga. I’ll have more to say once I’ve left the show. But I will note that in an era of cultural balkanization within the United States, Star Wars remains one of the few common touchstones. Star Wars cuts across almost all tribal lines, across generational age divisions, and across the gender divide as well. Not everyone loves the franchise, but almost everyone has seen the original three (middle) films, and just about everyone agrees that the second bunch (first three chapters) missed the mark. Initial reactions to number seven seem overwhelmingly positive. I will report back with my reaction as well as a prolonged reflection on why Star Wars is an enduring success story even 40 years after its debut in theaters.
2000 hours: okay, back from the film. I can honestly say I think it ranks with the first (what became A New Hope) movie, and indeed, there is a lot of blood shared between the two. Many parallels. I was happy with the one potentially controversial choice the writers made, because at that specific stage in the plot, it became the only choice possible — at least if a particular character’s arc was to be completed. Likewise, another character’s arc depended on that choice, and this establishes that character for the remaining two films.
Also, did Porkins have a nephew? Because he’s flying with the X-Wing squadron. (wink)
Of course, seeing The Force Awakens as a jaded adult — whose brain has been painstakingly wired for proactive storytelling, over a period of twenty years — is not the same thing as seeing A New Hope when you’re single-digits old, and your imagination is a fresh field covered in newfallen snow. There were things my instincts told me were going to happen, long before they happened. And this (obviously) lessened the impact. I simply nodded to myself and said, “Yup, thought so.” Which is inevitably a let-down, because you want to be like the field covered in newfallen snow, but there’s never any going back. Now, there is context, with experience to boot. And this changes the storytelling experience (on the receiving end) tremendously.
There will be plenty of time in the future to dive into the specific details of what I liked, and what I didn’t like. I think The Force Awakens was a refreshing departure from the prequels, which were fatally flawed because Lucas had no intuitive sense for his audience anymore — if he ever did. The Force Awakens therefore felt far closer to the original three films, more than any of the prequels. Which probably points to the fact that The Force Awakens was perhaps the world’s greatest, most expensive piece of fan fiction. Everyone writing (and almost everyone acting in) the new movie, grew up loving the originals. That love is apparent in just about every shot. As well as in every bit of homage — and those were plentiful.
Does the new movie take liberties with science and physics? Oh, without question. To exactly the same degree as the originals did. Thus the new movie is bona fide pure Space Opera — something I am grateful to see, since I think pure Space Opera is a stupendously undervalued subgenre in an era where many critics, authors, and even fans, want to overthink and overintellectualize their entertainment. If the Battlestar Galactica reboot took a pure Space Opera concept, and lent it gritty realism (in some episodes, to a fault) then The Force Awakens stuck to the basics, with just enough grown-up subtext to account for 30+ years of interstellar bumps and bruises experienced by the original characters.
To probe a bit more deeply, I kept remembering the wisdom of Dave Wolverton, who has a marvelous grasp of what makes blockbusters tick. The Star Wars franchise has always relied on a heavy helping of family drama, and the new movie is more of the same. The nature of the drama is in some ways a mirror reflection of the original films, with some new twists thrown in to satisfy people who don’t want to experience a mere retread. There are also echoes of the events of the Expanded Universe stories — perhaps enough to satisfy fans who may be mourning the (inevitable, sorry) detaching of the Star Wars universe from that considerable body of literature. If Abrams was walking a tightrope with the new film, I think he got it about as right as anybody could.
The new film also walked a fine line between spectacle, and plot development. The prequels too often proceeded as if spectacle was an adequate replacement for plot development, which is not a mistake I think Abrams has made. In fact, I want to say Abrams learned some things from making the new Star Trek movies that may have refined his eye a bit. The Force Awakens gives us just enough visual marvel to make the new movie match the same level of visual marvel contained in the originals, but we get enough details — salted into the action — that the deeper story advances apace.
What fascinates me is the fact that the Star Wars saga is now a truly multi-generational phenomenon. People who are old enough to be my children, are themselves having children who will be just in the right zone to experience Star Wars episodes 7, 8, and 9, fresh. Likewise, people who are old enough to be my children are now having to grapple with the fact that seeing Star Wars through experienced eyes, is a different thing from seeing it through eyes that are truly young, and wide-open. (Insert sound of Grandpa Simpson shouting, “Welcome to my world!”)
You would think the disappointment with the prequels — let’s just admit it, we can now pretend none of them exist — would have doomed the franchise. But somehow, Star Wars keeps coming back. It’s unkillable. And now that we’ve got confirmation of spinoff films, Star Wars is liable to be bigger, and better than it’s ever been before. Presuming Abrams and Co. do not pull a Lucas, and get so far away from the audience that they lose sight of just what makes that audience have a pulse in the first place.
In the end, the mark of a good film (to me) is if that film makes me want to come back for more. The Force Awakens did that very well. Not without complaints, mind you. At my age, there is almost no movie that gets past me without my Back Seat Writer muttering, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda,” at various points. But I was happy to see Star Wars doing what Star Wars tends to do best.
So, happy camper. Didn’t ever catch myself looking at my watch. Over two hours passed in a flash. I haven’t had that kind of movie-watching experience in a long time.