Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Who's The Girl?"

A desert planet, an abandoned child, a cute robot, an experienced mentor, a cantina scene, a rescue that ends in death, a planet blown up, a dogfight with bombing runs—sound familiar? It should. The Force Awakens is like a remix of the original Star Wars (aka A New Hope), with all the Lego pieces of the original rearranged to create something that tries to be a remake and a sequel at the same time. And pretty much succeeds, if you don’t think about it too much, because for all its echoes (and it is indeed an echo chamber that sounds like it’s talking), the one thing it doesn’t feel like is a reboot. It honestly feels like a continuation. 

And the fact that it’s also a remake—the kind of remake that extends down to a fractal level, where every piece of this movie is identical to something else in the original trilogy—adds a mythic level to the story universe in which it takes place, a level that got lost (or was deliberately ignored) in the prequel trilogy.

So—by returning to the original trilogy and treating it like a mythical journey—the creators of The Force Awakens have tapped into what made those three movies so likeable and (yeah, why not) important. They’ve also made this one different enough to stand on its own, by mixing and matching the Luke/Han/Leia triangle into the Rey/Finn/Poe triangle—staging a rescue where the female captive is more than capable of escaping herself, setting up a fighter pilot with Han’s swagger and Luke’s skill, and (the best twist) creating an I-am-not-a-free-man-I-am-a-number stormtrooper who will (of course) find out and become who he truly is in the course of this trilogy. (There’s also the Hunger Games echo, with Finn as Peeta. Because it seems like whenever you have a Strong Female Character, one of the boys winds up being the damsel in distress.) 

The other big improvement is the dialogue. One can speculate about how much this is owed to the involvement of Lawrence Kasdan in the script-writing process; Kasdan (along with Leigh Brackett) wrote The Empire Strikes Back, which was parsecs light years beyond the script of its predecessor. (There’s a great story about the original movie, where Harrison Ford complained about the crappy dialogue by saying: “You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.”)  

Is it a great movie? I think it’s too early to tell. Is it everything Star Wars fans have wanted? Hells yes. Which is not necessarily a good thing, because if you satisfy your fan base without giving them a little something extra, or pushing them into a place where they feel surprised (and yet comforted) at the same time, then it’s not art, it’s fan fiction, and art always lasts longer. The weird thing about this universe is that the prequel trilogy, even though it was made by the universe’s creator, feels more and more like bad fan fiction as the years go by. 

This film doesn’t feel that way. Yet. Despite the fact that it’s a total dish of leftovers, and deeply and deliberately unoriginal, it feels fresh, it feels right, and—because it celebrates and loves everything that made the original trilogy work—it feels honorable. 

Even though it also feels like somebody at Disney is whispering “May the box office be with you.” 

Spoilers and stray thoughts: 

Ben dies in the original; Han dies in this one. Yoda trains Luke in the old second one; Luke is now Yoda, so he will train Rey in the new second one.  

If it’s a Republic, then what is the Resistance resisting?  Trade agreements from the prequel trilogy? 

Admit it—you secretly wish Adam Driver could play Annakin Skywalker in a remake of Revenge Of The Sith

"Trash compacter."

And seriously—there was so much fan service in this film that I totally expected Han to say: “I ALWAYS shoot first.” 

It sure is a shame when planets full of billions of people are blown up. Especially when they’re the heart of the Republic.  Oh well. 

Speaking of which. If you’re going to suck all the energy out of a sun, and you’re, say, about as far from it as Earth is from our sun, doesn’t that mean the moment you see the sun go out, you’ve had that energy for eight minutes? Because that’s how long it takes the sun’s light to reach you, right? Which means, not, “Oh no—we only have seconds to save the day!” but this:

I thought the direction failed at two crucial moments: Han’s death, and the final reveal of Luke. Rey barely knows Han, but all the attention was on her when he got skewered. That didn’t do it for me; it was too much of an echo of the original film, and it didn’t feel as earned as Ben’s death, which was a sacrifice. What I wanted to see was the growing awareness and helplessness in the one character who’s known Han pretty much all his life—I wanted to see a series of slow close-in shots of Chewy as it all goes down. That would have broken my heart. And that flyaway helicopter shot at the end totally took me out of the moment. I thought it was unnecessary, and a let-down. All you really needed at that moment was to hold on Rey and Luke, and then wipe or iris-out to the credits. 
Speaking of Han’s death. I really liked the silent reaction of Leia, but I have to confess that it made me anticipate a reaction from Luke. “This is it,” I thought to myself, “this is where we first see Luke—reacting to his friend’s death because he, too, felt it in The Force.” Wouldn't that have been cool?  We wouldn’t even need to see his face.  Just a hooded man in gray, walking on a cliff.  Then stopping. Looking up into the sky. And slowly lowering his head while his shoulders slump with grief.
So who the hell is Rey anyway?  Is she Luke’s kid with one of the trainees that Kylo Ren killed? (And was that trainee Mara Jade? Talk about fan service!) Is she Ben Solo's twin sister? Is she Palpatine’s kid? (That would be interesting, right? If chronologically impossible. She appears to be about Kylo Ren's age, which is more grist for the twin mill.) Or maybe somebody's clone? (Which would tie in the Clone Wars.) 

Whatever her history, Han knows exactly who she is. You see it in his face when she tells him her name.  “Who’s the girl?” asks Maz Kanata in the new cantina, and the movie cuts away before Han’s answer. I’m calling it here—we get a flashback to Harrison Ford revealing who Rey is in the next movie.

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