Why the New “Star Wars” Made Me Shake My Head
(Before you continue: if you HAVEN’T seen “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” then stop reading. You’ve been warned. And will continue to be warned. But basically if you go beyond this point it’s your fault.)
The first thing I had to do after watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was text the other hard core “Star Wars” nerd from this website.
“Well…I guess it’s better than the prequels. That’s about it for me.”
In the time it took for him to reply, all the reasons why I DIDN’T like it started flooding in. But first, let’s set the scene:
Like a million other kids out there, ever since I can remember I was a huge “Star Wars” fan. “A New Hope” is one of the first movies I can recall scenes from, and I’m pretty sure I wore out the tape of “Return of the Jedi”. The showdown at Jabba’s palace and then the massive 3-way battle at the end was some of the coolest things in a movie I had ever seen. For a time, “Return of the Jedi” was the most amazing movie ever made in my young opinion. (I’ve since grown up and realized what we all know – “The Empire Strikes Back” is the best movie in that trilogy.)
“Star Wars” weren’t just movies. I had action figures. Posters. A model X-Wing that I built and painted. Computer games. (Ever played “Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II” or “Star Wars Rebellion” for PC? Some of the best games I ever had.) “Star Wars” magazines. Card games. Micro Machines. Books. All three soundtracks. We had the original movies taped off the tv onto VHS. Then when then Special Editions came out, (which I clearly saw in theatres) bought those on VHS. Then when DVD’s became the norm, bought the same three movies again. I know I’m not the only one who used to have lightsaber battles with the cardboard tubes that wrapping paper came on. My friends and I used to ride our bikes and pretend we were on the speeders from “Return of the Jedi”. “Star Wars” was ingrained in my childhood, just like so many other people around the globe.
Now like I said, that doesn’t make me any different than any other “Star Wars” fan of my generation out there. What HAS set me apart from most, are my expectations. I remember watching interviews with George Lucas about the work he was doing on the prequels, and how new “Star Wars” was something I had literally been waiting for my entire life. I stood in line opening night of “The Phantom Menace”. (Not in-a-tent- for-a-week kind of line. I guess that is a whole other level of fandom I’ll never reach.) I think we all know where the story goes from here, as the prequels were mostly a massive disappointment and that could be a whole post in itself.
Once the credits mercifully rolled in “Revenge of the Sith”, I had come to terms with the fact that “Star Wars” was finished, and if they were going to be anything like the prequel trilogy Lucas had just done, perhaps it was for the best. I couldn’t take anymore embarrassment of something so near and dear to my heart.
Fast forward and Disney has just bought Lucasfilm and the rights to “Star Wars”. More movies are going to be made and some of the stars of the originals are going to be in it. Woah!! Okay! This could be something! I can get on board with that. A continuation of the story would be great especially if that means we’re going to see Luke, Han and Leia again. I couldn’t tell you what exactly I wanted from a new “Star Wars”, as long as it was made with the same tone as the originals. A gigantic “space opera”, as Lucas had once put it so many years ago. Drama, tension, action, suspense, humor, all beautifully and seamlessly woven together.
Lights go down, picture goes up. “Star Wars”! Opening crawl. First scene. Poe gets captured. (I’m paraphrasing here) “Who talks first, I talk first? You talk first? – You talk first.”
I slouch back into my seat.
“Well…I guess it’s better than the prequels. That’s about it for me.”
If you’re wondering whether I was being serious or joking in that text, it was the former. I felt that disappointment again that I had felt after the prequels. That once again my hopes were dashed. To elaborate, it just didn’t feel like the original ones did. What bugged me the most was the “Guardians of the Galaxy”-like humor they kept cramming in at (seemingly) every turn. Those kinds of jokes and laughs work perfectly in that universe, but for me it just didn’t fit in the “Star Wars” universe. The original three movies took themselves much more seriously, and weren’t interested in making jokes about “who talks first” or how much Han likes Chewie’s crossbow. (Are Han and Chewie a comedy team now? Do they go on the road and do gigs?) I can’t think of one example in the originals where the cheap, low-brow, slapstick humour like Finn being dragged around Han’s freighter by an overly- computer generated “monster” occurred. In the originals, the writing was smarter, the acting was better.
Speaking of those “things” Han and Chewie were transporting. With the absolute millions and millions of dollars the producers knew “Star Wars” was going to bring in, could they not have spent more money on the makeup department? Why did the scavenger who paid Rey for her parts have to be CGI? What made all those aliens and monsters so believable back in 1977 was because they were (essentially) REAL. You could TOUCH the masks that were used to create these characters. You could feel and handle their costumes and props. Yes, CGI is cheaper but you’re sacrificing believability as a result. (Try and tell me the CGI Jabba they added in the Special Edition of “A New Hope” looks as good as the actual puppet of the character they created in “Return of the Jedi”. You can’t. Because it doesn’t. ) CGI ships and landscapes are fine, they are harder to spot. But CGI-speaking characters? You mind as well throw a cartoon character in there, it will be just as convincing.
You know what else wasn’t convincing? The villains. How am I supposed to care about the heroes when they are in danger if the villains that are threatening them are a joke? Snape, Snope, whatever the new “big baddy” is, what is that? A shriveled peanut? (Why did he have to be CGI too?) Yes, I get that Kylo Ren (who has daddy issues and throws temper tantrums like a 12-year-old; very intimidating) is wearing a mask because he wants to be like gramps, but Vader had a functioning reason for wearing his. Besides hiding that haircut, why is Ren wearing that thing? With the exception of a tease in “Empire”, it took almost three full movies to see what was finally under Vader’s mask. It created a mystery & wonder, and added to his intimidation factor. Ren has that thing off in what – an hour? And while we’re on the subject, how lazy is that design of his mask? They bend some metal around and call it a day?
Lastly, can I say something about originality? (Or lack thereof?) I’m all about head-nod’s and tips-of-the-hat to the originals. Subtle acknowledgements to what came before, like Finn accidentally activating the holoboard on the Falcon. “Starkiller”, the name for the new Death Star. (It’s a Death Star, admit it. This one just works a bit differently and they’ve upgraded how many targets they can hit, but it’s another. Freaking. Death Star.) For the uninitiated, that was the original name of the hero in George Lucas’ extremely early versions of “Star Wars”. Very cool. Well done.
What wasn’t well done was still having the rebels fighting the Empire but trying to mask it with new names like the Resistance and the First Order, another cantina band, another character with insight to the Force who is short in stature, another trench battle scene with a pretty familiar way to destroy this massive threat, another father-son dynamic…can we really come up with nothing new at all?
Cliché commanders giving “rousing” speeches to his troops, Miles from “LOST”, and (with the exception of the themes we all know and love), a forgettable soundtrack. (In absolutely NO way am I putting that on John Williams though. This is the seventh movie they’ve asked him to score, you can only go to the same well so many times)…no, no, no. You’re doing it wrong.
I know I sound like I’m in my 30’s going on 80, (you kids stay off my lawn!) and perhaps I just need to relax and enjoy the ride but…I can’t. I was looking for “The Dark Knight” and got “Batman and Robin.” For me, the pedestal was just too high.
There WAS one thing I walked out of that theatre with, something I never thought possible:
An even GREATER love and appreciation for the original trilogy.
May the Force be with you. (But only in episodes IV-VI.)