Monday, January 11, 2016

The Force Awakens

At some point, and I think the point is when a movie makes $1.7 billion dollars in less than a month, it's safe to take the cone of silence off Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be lifted.

A few of my friends haven't seen it yet. If you're one of them and you've wander here and don't want things spoiled, feel free to drift away.

So, first things first...I liked the movie. I liked it quite a lot. Is it the best Star Wars movie ever? Well, no. I would put it third behind A New Hope and Empire. It's certainly not the best movie of the year, as an over-excited critic of the Toronto Star wrote in his review. I haven't seen some of the major contenders like Spotlight and the Big Short yet, but I can say with certainty it's not better than Mad Max: Fury Road.

But it's a good Star Wars movie. It's been a long time since we've had one of those. I had to see The Force Awakens a second time because I'm pretty sure I was holding my breath for most of its running time the first time through praying it wouldn't start to suddenly suck. And it didn't. There were wobbly moments, like when Han, Finn and Rey gather at the bar. That just felt a little flat and draggy to me. And the big Super Weapon was almost as stupid as Star Trek's Red Matter (almost, but not quite. Do not get Abrams to head your weapons development program).

But there are so many other genuinely great emotional moments - the first time you see the Millennium Falcon, the great swooping chase scene through wrecked imperial Star Destroyers, Han's "Chewie, we're home", "The Scene" (which I will not spoil here, but had me muttering "Oh no. This is bad. Very, very bad."), pretty much anything Rey does, but especially the first time she fires up a light sabre. I remember saying to Cathy "I feel a great disturbance in the Force. As if a million geek girls squeed at once and said 'I'm cosplaying the shit out of that.'"

It's good fun. It's obviously very retro, and deliberately so. Look, you don't hire JJ Abrams to give you something you've never seen before. His whole career has mostly been about taking other people's properties and making tweaks to them. Fox wanted him to do something like the X-Files, so he gave them Fringe. Super 8 was updated Spielberg (not good Spielberg, but he tried). Star Trek. Ok, Lost was its own thing, but I've never been so glad to bail on a show after its first season given how frustrated I've heard so many fans get over that show.

So yes, get Abrams to do his own take on A New Hope. Which was needed for the franchise. Desperately.

It's interesting to hear George Lucas snipe at the movie, basically complaining that it's too retro and he would have done something new and different. Which is not necessarily a wrong point of view to have. Episode 8 is going to have to do something different. It can't just be a retread of Empire. Which is why I'm so very, very glad Abrams is not directing it given what a disaster Star Trek: Into Darkness was.

But here's the thing about Lucas sniping...he couldn't have done that "new direction". I'm sure he had ideas, but I guarantee you, it would have been over-produced, with actors who would have been miscast and given no support and dialogue that you would need a jackhammer to chew through. Go take a look at Lucas filmography on IMDB. He's literally directed nothing of any value since the first Star Wars.  He's been involved with creating nothing worthwhile since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He'd never be able to admit that, of course. Not with that much money and ego.

Lucas is practically the poster boy for catching lightening in a bottle. He's the father of this series. I will grant you that gives him a wide latitude to express his opinions. That doesn't mean they're right. Lucas is more a clever marketing genius than any kind of cinematic one at this point.

The Force Awakens had to be the way it is, with so many retro touches and throw backs to A New Hope to ease the mental trauma so many Star Wars fans had from the prequels. Honestly, if The Force Awakens had been as bad as the prequels (I rewatched them for the first time in years in the weeks before The Force Awakens. There's maybe half a good movie in there of the three of them) then I think we might have had to put a couple of million people into counselling.

The people behind the scenes remember that it's not all big flashy CGI battles we love about the movie. There's probably never been a better space battle than the one that opens Revenge of the Sith for spectacle. And yet it's hollow and boring. All CGI flash and no heart.

No, the folks with The Force Awakens remember to bring the fun. And there's a ton of it in there. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments (my favourite remains the Stormtroopers turning around when they hear Kylo Ren's temper tantrum). The dialogue is really good and, as an added bonus, the acting is also quite good. I say added bonus because most of the Star Wars movies have not exactly had Oscar calibre performances.

The other way you can tell the movie is good is the fan reaction. The prequels often lead to spirited defence and trying to explain how they are probably, somehow, better than what they appear to be (they weren't). Or discussions on which order to watch them to cause the minimum psychological damage. With this one, there are fun cartoons on the internet. The relationship everyone wants to see isn't Rey and either Finn or Poe, but Finn/Poe (these shippers are hardcore. Don't mess with them). There's analysis about how Kylo Ren is actually a symbol for over entitled fanboys. It kinda works.

And, as an added bonus, when there was a distinct lack of Rey toys (because who buy toys with a girl character) #wheresrey? trended and shed a ton of light on the general stupidity in the toy industry when it comes to how they market and sell to women.

Oh, and a Men's Right's group claimed they cost Disney millions by boycotting the movie because none of the new characters are white males, which makes them feel persecuted. Which was good, because it brought together millions of people of different races, religions, sex and countries to mock some genuinely deeply stupid people.

So yeah, a good movie. A positive movie. A nice step forward for the franchise and fandom as a whole.  I worry that Disney is going to milk this to death, a similar worry I have about Marvel movies, but that's a worry for another day. At least with The Force Awakens, they managed to land a good movie, against all odds and ludicrous expectations. Not perfect, but pretty damn good.

And that's good enough for me.

Last Five
1. My winding wheel - Ryan Adams
2. I feel fine - The Beatles
3. If it works - Tokyo Police Club
4. Rains on me - Tom Waits*
5. The western isles - Josh Rouse

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