Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Christmas is memory typecast as nostalgia, as long as we keep certain traditions alive: the tree, stockings, 24 hours of A Christmas Story, drinking problems and remaining mute around certain family members (it’s for the best really), the idea is that winter turns to wonder. J.J. Abrams embraces this idea with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All of the aspects of the original Star Wars that were diabolically erased by the cartoonish prequels: real sets, puppets, humor and a script, have all come back into play now.
*Note: I refused to see the three prequels due to my intolerance of the purely digital motifs and love and devotion for the original three (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). I saw the trailers and that was enough.
In The Force Awakens the idea is that what is old is new again and that nostalgia literally comes to save the day. The moment Han Solo (Harrison Ford) utters “Chewy we’re home” as he boards his now even more rickety and damaged ship, we realize there is no better man than Mr. Solo to provide a subtle fuck you to the prequels that damaged the franchise. Abrams starts the film just as the franchise began, on a desert planet where Rey (Daisy Ridley), a local scavenger, comes upon a droid, BB-8, who is being captured for parts. BB-8 (voiced by Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz) is the most adorable thing to hit the screen since Blanke in The Brave Little Toaster.
Rey lives alone, awaiting the day her parents will come back to her home planet of Jackku and as a result is resourceful, fearless and incredibly kickass. There will be no bikini and chains for this little spit fire (although nostalgia is abundant) her character makes it clear, this is a new era. Rey and her sidekick/love interest /stormtrooper/ trader, Finn (John Boyega) add a comfortable yet fresh addition to the plot which is good, but a bit trite. Planets get blown up and a man in a dark mask, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), trained as a Jedi now defies the force, stirs things up. If this sounds familiar its because it it. The plot is basically the same as the original Star Wars and it’s just a matter of two more Star Wars movies before the Ewoks and Yoda show up. Like the nostalgia of Christmas, sentiment has its strengths and its weaknesses. The film recognizes that not that much changes in the span of 30 years. The spaceships, costumes and sets only require a subtle updo. The whole film is an affront to the cartoonish prequels which relied on big name actors, technology and over-the-top costume design to recreate what was just fine. Like a nice pair of Levi’s Star Wars doesn’t need much tailoring.
The Force Awakens, however could have used less derivative plot devices. We get a glimpse of the potential of a stronger plot with a new character Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) who was inspired by J.J. Abrams High School English Teacher Rose Gilbert. An elderly woman with Coke bottle glasses, Maz is a mentor and Oracle in the same vein as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, but does not come off as ‘all knowing,’ more ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself.’ With a petite figure and a prunish putty-like face, Maz has all the trappings of an adorable stocking stuffer for decades to come.
For many of us Star Wars (like The Wizard of Oz and E.T.) was the birth of imagination itself and to tamper with that birth is an unforgivable act. The only way to bring it back is through the longing that memory creates. This is what Abrams did with Star Trek, the difference: the old Star Trek movies were pretty terrible, yet this is an effective way to preserve and protect the sanctity of remembrance. But more than memory, principle and integrity (like the force) saves the day.
“Everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed, that’s the way you want it to be really.”
-Mark Hamill, 2015 Comic-Con Reel