OK, so tell me I have an axe to grind with Hollywood.
$528 billion in box office the first weekend (not counting China!) is impressive, but as we left the showing of Star Wars, The Force Awakens, my wife remarked, “That gives Americans what they want. Plenty of shooting, without a single idea.”
She soon corrected herself, acknowledging that the obvious fresh idea was the emergence of a female Luke Skywalker, haha, a heroine, Rey (Daisy Ridley). Oh, also there’s the Black guy, who might be around for future sequels.
Rey is cut from the same cloth as Skywalker in the 1977 version of the same plot: an orphan eking out a living among the miscreants of society in the galaxy’s forgotten backwater. Hard to understand why she hasn’t been eaten alive already. It’s important to note that she does exactly the same things as Luke in the original version: all the steps of the hero’s journey. The highlight of this progression sees her literally rejecting, then accepting the sword, in the form of Luke’s original hallowed lightsaber.
Spectacle it has, complete with storm trooper minions who dutifully left-arm salute (Seig Heil) a swaggering bully who’s exhorting them to the dark side in front of a red-draped acre of stage featuring a black emblem reminiscent of a swastika. Oh yay, black on a field of blood. Not too difficult to recognize. But hey, for what reason other than to grandstand in front of a Nazi-esque backdrop does Emperor hopeful Hux gather every available stormtrooper? Was his email down?
And why does the blast on Maz Kanata’s home planet have so little emotional impact? At least the bustup of Alderaan in 1977 meant something to the characters. The ‘disturbance in the force’ was felt throughout known space by the various peeps. For me, this instance of planet-busting was a mere light show.
Oh well. At least there is plenty of shooting.
The major trope of the 1977 version is Luke calling on his growing control of The Force to dive his X-Wing into the Death Star’s ventilation shaft to fire the fatal light-torpedo. That entire scene is lifted whole and placed at the same plot point in the 2015 version, as a dwindling number of tiny X-Wings buzz around a new death star that viewers can easily tell is more modern, because it’s bigger.
Abrams would have done well to lift the title from another movie, because “The Force Awakens” is only in evidence as a theme during the 20 seconds that Rey “gets it” that if she simply thinks about The Force, then It Will Be Hers, so she can suitably injure the Son of whats-his-name before that pushy chasm opened between them. (That superior title, IMO, is South Park’s Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.)
Did anyone notice, as the film progressed, that Rey’s outfit gradually became more low-cut on top, and tighter on the bottom? Yes it did. Did anyone notice the stand-in butt shots for Carrie Fischer’s character, who apparently did not get down to fighting weight as General Leia? Oh well.
So the time capsule aspect… they successfully waited 38 years to exhume and re-enact what is arguably the same story, even though some of the characters did move one or two spaces to the left.
Sigh. What did we even expect? But all of that shows that Abrams and Lucas understand a core fact about pirate movie-making: they have to be about the search for Power and Things.
The big thrill I got out of the whole experience is knowing that George “Luke” Lucas sold the entire Star Wars franchise to Disney for $4 billion, then DONATED that entire sum to education reform.
That, to me, is a hero’s journey.