My boyfriend is quite a bit younger than me, so he grew up on the prequels of Star Wars, not the original films as I did. As such, he doesn't have the warm, fuzzy, nostalgic love that I feel for the Star Wars franchise, mostly because those films are not, in the traditional sense, "good." But while I was a huge massive all-encompassing Star Wars fan as a child -- particularly the toys that came out of the films -- at some point in my adulthood, that fandom waned and I did not become a "Star Wars geek" like so many others my age. I can't even remember the last time I revisited the original films before these past few weeks, other than maybe "decades ago". Films I watched as a teenager rather than as a child -- the Indiana Jones movies, Terminators 1 & 2, Aliens, Jurassic Park, Ferris Bueller, these are the movies that I watched over and over in my teen / college / young adult years and recall fondly as my "favorites", more than Star Wars. For my boyfriend, it is literally an afterthought in a world of Avengers and X-Men and other comic book franchises that dominated his teen years. Not Star Wars.
So we watched A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back in recent weeks (or I did and he kind of played on his phone while half-watching and remarking on the bad special effects) and each film was as good as I remembered. I didn't think they would have aged well (and yes, some of the effects didn't) but largely, both movies brought up so much nostalgic joy, and Han Solo is such an amazing character, that I could forgive the long stretches of people walking on Tatooine in A New Hope or the horrible claymation snow monster in Empire because the plot and the story and the characters, my god what great characters, make these movies great. I didn't get to Return of the Jedi yet, but I plan to. And I'm glad I own the box DVD set of the original Star Wars, although I don't really know when I got it or if I ever even watched them because, like I said, it's been "decades" since...
Then we saw The Force Awakens, which I'll get to. But the following night, as a favor to him, we revisited Episode I: The Phantom Menace for my boyfriend. It was bad. Like really, really bad. Like one of my worst movie experiences in recent months and we see pretty much every movie that comes out these days -- including The Last Witch Hunter starring Vin Diesel, which you probably didn't even realize was a thing that existed but it is and it does and it was better than Episode I. I mean the movie starts with this extended sequence in which the "Viceroys" from the Trade Federation (and just uttering those phrases sends chills up the spine of any diehard Star Wars fan) attempt to kill two Jedis (Obi-Wan and Liam Neeson) with droids who are about as difficult to kill as ants, all while talking with a racist version of an Asian accent. The action isn't good, or interesting, the dialects are super-offensive, and the "plot" revolving around the Trade Federation taking over Naboo for "some reason" makes no sense. And this is the opening to the first Star Wars film made in 15 years (at the time). Boy it was bad. And frighteningly, the next sequence is worse... when they meet Jar Jar (cringe) and he actually says "Ex-squeeze me" (yes that's dialog in a Star Wars movie) and makes more bad jokes in his horribly racist accent (cringe even more) which is all followed by an underwater chase sequence that is so full of CGI it's almost embarrassingly obvious that Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are just sitting on chairs in a Green Screen environment trying to "act" around nothing. It actually looks like a cartoon, but a badly animated Saturday morning cartoon from the '90s, and it has not aged well. I fell asleep sometime after we meet the worst child actor on the planet playing a baby Darth Vader on Tattooine.
Which brings us to The Force Awakens. (I know, sorry for the long buildup). It was great. No spoilers here so feel free to keep reading but it was great. The new cast sparkles. The old cast is a welcome addition. The action sequences are as strong as ever and it's beautiful on screen -- even from the third row in an IMAX 3D theater where the edges of the frames were blurry because I was too close, but it was beautiful. We got there early for a 10:30 pm show, but not remotely early enough, and the line wound through the theater and then outside along the building all the way around the corner. There were showings every half hour or so but the IMAX screenings were only a few (there was only one screen) so yeah, Friday night IMAX showing when I had to wait outside in the freezing cold was not a wise idea (it's been unseasonably warm all December here in NJ so this was bitter cold and I wasn't dressed for it). But it was all worth it. Fuck it I need to tell some spoilers, or at least some plot details so stop reading here and I'll put the rest below the jump.
So. Wow. I just wanted to say how much I loved Daisy Ridley's character "Rey" and for all the glory of the original Star Wars trilogy, on rewatch Luke was kind of the weakest point -- I know he's the hero and all but Han Solo made the movie and that's why everyone loves Empire, it's more Han's story as Luke goes off on his Yoda adventure sort of sideways to the real plot. But in this story, the Luke character who is actually played by a female (Probable Jedi) is brilliant, just fun and unassuming and wide-eyed and bad-assed. I like that John Boyega's character was sort of her Han Solo, but really instead of Han saving Luke, it's her saving him over and over again. I liked Boyega's arc just as much, and the two of them are the strength of this movie -- the plot and Jedis and The Force and all that crap is an afterthought. I just loved being able to spend screen time with them, along with BB-8, a bigger star in this movie than even R2D2 in Star Wars, and it's just a thrill to watch. The other two major new characters were less successful - Oscar Isaac's pilot is secondary to the plot and not given enough time to connect, and Adam Driver's Kylo Ren didn't work for me. Sort of in the way Anakin never worked for me as the budding evil to be Darth Vader. It's just not as fulfilling to see a conflicted young man trying to be as evil as Darth Vader especially when it's the goofy guy from Girls... I don't know -- once he removed his imitation Darth Vader mask it didn't work for me anymore. But that's the only reason I would compare the movie to the prequels. The rest of the film definitely harkens back to the original trilogy, some might say too much so as the plot points from A New Hope are repeated with impunity in this film, but for some reason that didn't bother me. And Han Solo is back, with Chewbacca, reprising their roles over 30 years later and not even missing a beat. And somehow those performances, as central as they are to the story and to my enjoyment (the crowd cheered when it first saw the Millennium Falcon) I'm mentioning them so late in this review because there's just so much else new to enjoy. A lot of the movie did feel like a setup for the next film, as we are only re-introduced to Luke Skywalker at the very end (in fact, the "A" plot in this story revolves around the search for Luke by both the Dark Side and the Rebellion) but I didn't mind, it's almost like we need something to cleanse our palettes after the debacle that was The Phantom Menace and its sequels. JJ Abrams, job well done. You've awakened this "fanboy" from 30 years of not caring so much about something that used to rule my childhood world.
And one late final note -- the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters, which also opened this weekend and that we watched last night was better than Star Wars. Like literally laughing my ass off through half of the movie and almost crying from the extended umm... windup ballerina scene. The whole crowd in the theater fully lost its shit; I don't think I've laughed that hard at a movie in a long time. So bravo, Tina and Amy. As always, you rock my world.
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.