I willfully waited for the fervor to die down.
So I wouldn’t have to deal with ubergeeks in Wookiee masks and errant lightsabers up the nostril, while trying to sit comfortably surrounded by idiots wearing Imperial armor or a three-man rancor costume. I succeeded, and EVENTUALLY saw the movie whose hype exceeds its content, in a bare cinema where I could stretch out naked and dictate openly to my intern Marnoo.
You changed your hair. Same jacket.
Abrams has never exactly been a visionary artist, but he’s a master of elevating the familiar.
— David Sims, “The Atlantic.”
No Lucas. No Christensen. We’re on the right track from the get-go.
In STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS, co-writer/director Jar Jar Abrams continues the gospel of Mayhew, Mark, Luke and Ren. It’s 30 years after the events in RETURN OF THE JEDI and the marketing department was having trouble moving its Prequel Trilogy dolls, so… a terrifying corporate deal with Disney, crossing the streams with the director of STAR TREK, and an advertising campaign that had Jesus calling the Walt Disney Co. and hiring them for his Second Coming in 2027.
Everything is different. Everything is the same. A message hidden in a droid, a man in an iron mask chasing a teen smoothie, a battle station attacked like a womp rat, a hero in white, a villain in black, a droid without arms and a Wookiee without pants, rebellions and generals, visions and destinies, fathers and sons, a black stormtrooper— wait, what? Are Republicans okay with this? They want to see the test tube certificate. Aren’t all stormtroopers clones of Django Unchained?
That fanfare; John Williams takes us back down the wormhole, into, through, above and beyond. It all makes sense now…the force awakens… the text crawls…
Luke Skywalker has disappeared… The First Order have risen from the ashes of the Empire… will not rest until the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, is destroyed. (I can’t think why. He’s not causing any trouble – he’s disappeared!) Leia, desperate to find her brother and restore peace and justice to the galaxy… (wait! Who’s in charge around here anyway? Isn’t that YOU, Leia?) sends her pilot to Jakku where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke… blah blah Why are we reading this? We know it will mean NOTHING once the movie starts…
Oscar Isaac is Princess Leia Poe Dameron, charged by Max von Sydow to take this chip and shove it. Into this movie’s R2-D2, a droid called Bowling Ball 8 (voiced by Bill Hader and Jean-Ralphio). Poe avoids saying, “Help me, Obiwan Kenobi! You’re my only hope,” only by the barest of margins.
First Order ships land, and the jackasses of the galaxy spill out – stormtroopers! Yeah, my jaw was on the ground too, when they shot at people and actually HIT them. One of them can’t take the slaughter and would become the defector known as Finn (John Boyega, who would prove to be eminently hilarious in press junkets).
Striding from the ship – a man in a black dress with a duck mask. Kylo Ren, played by Marilyn Manson lookalike Adam Driver. As Darth Vader demonstrated his power when he first strode onto the screen in 1977 in a black dress, so too this dark master of the Force demonstrates his, by stopping a blaster beam in midair! Now that is BADASS! …and kidnapping the bowling ball’s master, Poe.
BB-8 escapes into the Jakku night with his precious informational cargo, blipping and poinging like an R2 unit to remind us he’s the Cousin Oliver of STAR WARS…
As you might have guessed, THE FORCE AWAKENS hits all the same beats as A NEW HOPE. We’ve just seen the setup beat where the villain is hunting a piece of information. We will be hit across the head soon enough with the farmboy beat, the forced offworld beat, the Mos Eisley Cantina beat, the this-is-your-destiny beat, the Force Is Strong In This One beat, the father-son conflict beat, the Death Star beat…
Strangely enough, the Prequel Trilogy boasted many new ideas and was executed poorly; THE FORCE AWAKENS is executed brilliantly – and has NO original ideas. Not one. The fangeeks know this, but refuse to pipe up, except to body-shame Carrie Fisher. The rest of the world suspect it, but wallow in the glow of Harrison Ford. And the under-20s? Well, how can we trust a demographic going around “discovering” artists’ 15th albums and thinking they’re the artists’ first?
BB-8 is scooped up by young Rey (Daisy Ridley, the successor to Keira Knightley‘s square-jawed sex and the sauciest spinner in four star systems). Spending her days scavenging from a star destroyer graveyard, her home is in the shadow of a fallen AT-AT Imperial Walker…
That’s one of the coolest things about this Episode – we see familiar icons in wholly new visions: x-wings coming in low across the water, TIE fighters swoozing overhead like a scene from Pearl Harbor, the Millennium Falcon taken through its paces in spectacular dogfights; even the killing beams from Starkiller Base arcing across outer space to decimate four planets. (The new Death Star analog, carved from the skeleton of an ice planet like Hoth, now with more leg room for the whole family).
Finn rescues Poe in the manner of Luke rescuing Leia. (One day, some supernerd is going to make a split-screen video comparing VII to IV and fangeeks will be forced to admit there’s more to complain about than Carrie Fisher’s capacious waistline.)
Finn, Rey and BB-8 run from First Order ships, Daisy Ridley man-running into my heart with that trained “movie-run” style. Those tennis ball ta-tas under that bra-less robe – oh, Supreme Deity! Notwithstanding the sexual tension between Poffy and Rey, Finn and Rey definitely share imminent-intercourse chemistry, and we wish they’d just do it bantha style already and get it over with! But later when Finn returns her lightsaber, she says, “Thank you, my friend–” Whoa, pushing him into the Friend Zone? That’s not supposed to happen when you Run From Danger Together! And when Finn “comes back for her” in Starkiller Base, she gives him a Disney Hug (i.e. Hips Not Touching)! Then again, in Disney parlance, that hug is hardcore reverse cowboy, a condition I’m sure these two have engaged in during their press junkets, as we see stars sparkling in Daisy’s eyes every time she’s around Boyega’s warm black dingus… (Poffy very sad…)
Suddenly – the Millennium Falcon! Regarded as a last resort, a “piece of junk,” Rey hoves it into space amidst a dogfight, where it is captured by – Han Solo and Chewbacca!
“Legacy players” Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew (sadly, unable to walk well – Fuck old age! – his double, Joonas Suotamo, taking much of his screentime) reprise their roles as the coolest, cruelest smugglers in the galaxy, with Solo still the unreliable rogue, still owing money to thugs across the cosmos, still shotgunning excuses that are really just funny lies. Yes, we all dig Han Solo – but really! If we actually had to do business with this scruffy-looking nerf herder, we’d want to kick his head in for continually letting us down, ripping us off, and making us yearn for his man-love against our better judgment. He still has all the best lines though. And Chewie is still his regular Saturday night thing…
Rey is starstruck that the Original Trilogy actually happened. She blurts about “the Kessel Run in fourteen parsecs” to which Solo sternly corrects her, “Twelve parsecs!” (After all these years of people correcting George Lucas for misunderstanding a parsec as a unit of time instead of distance, JJ Abrams panders to the dopes who don’t realize a parsec is 3.26 light years, and is derived from PARallax arcSECond, involving the orbit of the Earth in relation to distant stars— what am I doing?! Inserting science into a kid’s movie devoid of science?— Too many questions need answering in how Han made a flight that turned light-years into space-time. I smell another prequel in the offing: STAR WARS: EPISODE IIIa – THE KESSEL RUN ANOMALY.)
And we sense the perverse pater-sexual chemistry between Han and Rey as well, as she is a hot pilot herself [incoming pun was intercepted and deleted for your safety].
Han touches down and meets – another legacy player – Carrie Fisher. And the internet breaks, because she looks as old and fat as any NORMAL HUMAN BEING HER AGE. Not eternally youthful like a Botoxed mannequin (i.e. Nicole Kidman). The fact she is now commanding x-wing fleets as General Leia Organa doesn’t make it any easier for her to talk through her dentures. He says to her, “You changed your hair.” She says to him, “Same jacket.” A meta-summation of the movie? You decide…
On THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW (Dec 2015), Fisher relates a story to Ridley, of a male fan back in the day who confessed he “thought of” Princess Leia every day from age 12 to 22. She replied in amazement, “Every day?” and he admitted, “Well, four times a day.” Ridley goes “Euurw!” as any good girl should (even if she’s secretly hoping for a four-timer), and the ever-entertaining Fisher confirms, “Well that’s what you’ve got to look forward to!”
Of course, the joke is that no one really looks forward to attention that zealous. But is that entirely correct? I can’t help but imagine that Fisher (self-admittedly past her Due Date) yearns for those salad days in some dark corner of her being. And Ridley – about to enter those days – should not fear we zealous cucumbers desiring her during this era; it’s the NEXT era she will truly fear, when she’s old and irrelevant, and the acting jobs dwindle, and the social media knives come out, as they did with Fisher.
Society still acts amazed that men look desirable into their old age and score their fair share of bantha-pantha (even though – paradoxically – their lightsabers might only be operating at halfmast), while women look used and discarded or desperately plastic. It’s such an easy explanation, I still can’t understand why more people cannot accept the Earth Truth of it: once you lose the ability to procreate, your body doesn’t need to advertise itself as a viable specimen any more. Women lose the ability to procreate in their 40s, while men can procreate into their 80s. That’s why men remain attractive longer, because they can still potentially breed, so retain the physical attractiveness for potential mates. It’s the way Life on Earth has operated since before our species, ladies. And you’re all for the green, right? So stop complaining!
Han and Leia share a tender moment; apart too long, we feel their laconic yearning. And Kylo Ren is their son— Let’s talk about Spoilers: STAR WARS seems to exist in only two states: pre-release where NOTHING is known, and post-release where EVERYTHING is known. So I’m just gonna talk, and if you don’t wanna hear anything, go back to living under that rock…
Leia implores Han to save their son’s soul. Luke tried before he went missing, but “Luke was a Jedi; you are his father.” Sad, serious, sober. Tempered by – more legacy players. The bowling ball uncovers his precursor, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), and goldenrod C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) motormouths onto the screen with his right arm inexplicably red instead of gold. [Joke about beating-off bionically deleted because of the children.]
In this Episode, for some reason the gender of the droids comes into question. BB-8 was originally written as a girl, but somehow transgendered into a boy over the course of the production. (You can do that now; just ask Caitlyn.) I think it was the moment Rey “straightened his antenna”… Well, R2-D2 is definitely a boy droid. That’s why that gay golden one likes him.
The Dark Side is represented not only by the basso-voiced man in black, but also by General Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who displays his incredible character-acting skill by being able to assimilate into nerd (EX MACHINA, 2015 – with Oscar Isaac), frontiersman (THE REVENANT, 2015), and now Hitlerian blowhard. His raves sounding like David Wenham in 300, the scenes showing his amassed First Order army with their red and black flags look closer to WWII Nazi rallies than even modern Republican conventions.
And there is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in characteristic mo-cap suit). His name sounds like a character from The Cat In The Hat – and he looks like one too; a towering Gollum hologram of a burned penis. A Movie Maniac friend pointed out that wholly-CGI villains are less than threatening – like Azog the Unbearable from THE HOBBIT – because they’re just [to paraphrase Oliver Reed] “shadows and pixels, gladiator; shadows and pixels…”
Which is one of the reasons Kylo unmasks before Rey. He captures her and puts her on the slab where Poe and Solo himself were irradiated with red hooker bulbs. And though we can read into it the Freudian aspect of exposing himself before the hot chick, Kylo unmasks to reveal his humanity, and to remove the novelty of him unmasking in front of his father later, where a more urgent plot point should not be overshadowed by said unmasking.
Strangely enough, though Kylo’s favorite bands are obviously Rites Of Spring and Fall Out Boy (i.e. Emo Alert!), he bears a tidy resemblance to Marilyn Manson, which looks incongruous when he’s tearfully reporting to The Cat In The Hat that Rey is extremely powerful with The Force and doesn’t know it yet. “We’re disposable teens. We’re disposable teens!” Waaah.
A plethora of supporting players pad out the film behind masks of varying silliness: GAME OF THRONES’ Gwendoline Christie is stormtrooper Captain Phasma (at 6’3″ she probably should be Chewie’s love interest); Daniel Craig is stormtrooper JB-007 (ha! Get it?), who is Jedi-mind-tricked by Rey (oh! Force ME! Force ME!); Simon Pegg is Unkar Plutt, the junk dealer (hey, no fair! He’s in STAR TREK AND STAR WARS? That means his name will be seen by every single person on Earth. That’s just cheating, buddy!); Lupita Nyong’o is Maz Kanata in the Mos Eisley beat; and – “It’s a trap!” – Admiral Ackbar is in the war room! Those bug-eyed pupils, those bulbous lips and that caca-brown fishface looks good after 30 years; he hasn’t aged one– oh, sorry, I’m looking at Carrie Fisher.
Surprise exchange between Solo and Finn (who doesn’t quite know how to address Han, hilariously calling him “Solo” in misplaced familiarity, almost like fans who think they can just walk up and interrupt his meals), who reveals that while he was a stormtrooper, he worked in sanitation – which recalls that conversation from Kevin Smith’s CLERKS (1994), about the Death Star being maintained by independent contractors; that the people who resided on it couldn’t have all been soldiers. Therefore, Solo pointing out that Finn can’t really fight and “The galaxy is depending on you.”
“We’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force.”
[Annoyed] “That’s not how the Force works!”
When Han steps out onto the catwalk to face his son, we have arrived at the crux of STAR WARS once again – fathers and sons, dark warring with light, nature versus nurture. And I have a bad feeling about this…
Though Rey and Finn initially opt to run from their destinies, now they find they cannot, as they battle Marilyn Manson with lightsabers and the Force that they don’t know they possess.
CUT TO: Exterior – Space. Poe leads a fleet of x-wings attacking Starkiller Base’s weak spot, a designated exposed area no bigger than a womp rat. At least many Bothans didn’t die to bring them that information this time, as the descendants of the Empire still don’t know how to build a planet-destroying space station without a weak spot that just screams, “Take me roughly from behind!”
THE FORCE AWAKENS is brilliantly made, with excellent direction, lean editing and even some passable dialogue, with singular attention paid to background props, callbacks, framing, with references to all the other films in the series and the Extended Universe media. Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the best STAR WARS film – Episode V) co-writes with Abrams and Michael Arndt, and the sorcery of composer John Williams conjures the epic, the playful and the ominous.
The production design is intelligently purveyed. Filmmakers do not make the same mistake the Prequels made, where everything was more advanced than the Original films. It’s 30 years after JEDI, yet the technology has developed very slowly, as per a dying economy. The Republic/Resistance – whatever they call themselves (the political machinations are as confused as ever) – use ships and machinery that looks battle-weary; there is still widespread poverty, and the evil 1% – as they do in real life – shoot planetary death beams at the 99%.
Of course the film sets up its sequel – with a cameo by Mark Hamill as Luke Obiwan Kenobi – but we know too much about this series to wonder where the plot is going. The last frames see Rey holding out Luke’s lightsaber to the old man from the cover of Led Zeppelin IV. Wanna bet Luke will say to her, “Keep it. It is your destiny” (or some such mystical shit)? Wanna bet Kylo Ren will be reconciled at a dramatic moment of sacrifice? Wanna bet Daisy Ridley will have my little cucumber babies?
JJ Abrams found the perfect opening line – von Sydow’s “This will begin to make things right” – hitting a sweet spot that frames the story’s import, and in a meta sense, promises to regain the franchise’s status in society after the abysmal Prequels. Abrams is in a unique position as a director – in a loving threeway with Spielberg and Lucas. He’s done STAR TREK proud. He’s done STAR WARS proud. Wanna bet his next project will be resurrecting Indiana Jones?