Monday, January 4, 2016

May The Farce Be With You!

I'm sure that title has already been used before, but it's incredibly appropriate to my work. As most of you know, not only was Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a major influence on my work, but the original Star Wars trilogy figured heavily into it as well. So it was with mixed emotions that I attended the latest movie, The Force Awakens. Oh, by the way, this will be a SPOILER-FREE review.

There was, to be true, a LOT of hype surrounding this return to the Star Wars universe. So many factors figured into the release - the new owners, Disney, had paid $4 billion to buy Lucasfilm and the future rights to all the franchise movie and even more lucrative merchandising (and, actually, a whole lot more - it includes Indiana Jones for instance!) To be fair, I think George Lucas got a fair price. There aren't many movie makers who can make such a deal and become billionaires overnight. In addition to that, J.J. Abrams would be directing the first film - there are haters and lovers of his work. I'm happy to report there was nary a lens flare in The Force Awakens. I think I can reveal that as a non-spoiler. Indeed, it wasn't spoiled by lens flares! There was also the big event of getting many of the original trilogy stars involved reprising their roles set many years after the events in Return of the Jedi.

There was so much to be excited about. Truth be told, I was interested to see what these stars brought back to the screen. I admired there contributions in the original trilogy. I'd watched there careers rise and fall, although I don't think Harrison Ford's ever fell, to be honest. I wasn't disappointed with their return - they all did fantastic jobs with their roles and I enjoyed seeing them again.

The new stars were similarly very adept and convincing in their roles. While I had heard some grumbling about the new stars, including people complaining they didn't know how to act, I didn't find that to be the case. Having been both in front and behind the screen (I won't go into that now), I can tell a bit about the job their doing, and they did superb work.

The look and feel of the movie were as promised - real sets, minimal digital effects as had clogged the "Episodes Which Shall Not Be Named!" (Thought I'd mix a little Harry Potter in there for good measure. I'm nothing if not abysmally non-linear.) I think the directing was good. The script itself had some nice bits in it.

So with all that wonderful stuff going for it, why did I not leave the theater shouting at the top of my lungs how great the movie was? Everything about The Force Awakens was executed competently, yet I felt as if something was missing that should have been there. I believe the root cause of this disparity has to do with the requirements this movie had to meet - and there were too many of them!

It had to marry the original trilogy with the new cast and story. This meant weaving in bits of the old story that everyone knew and delivering a new quest for the newer characters to embark upon. So, it wasn't exactly a new set of movies on its own, which Episode 1-3 didn't have to worry about carrying on. Not that I was thrilled with Episodes 1-3, they were the result of a man who no longer had the invigorating vision and enthusiasm of his youth and was too in love with technology and his desire to paint a grand picture. But this isn't a criticism of George Lucas' second Star Wars trilogy - there isn't enough room in my blog for such a treatise.

The Force Awakens had to deliver for both the old fans and the new fans. The bulk of this strategy meant compromise in so many ways with the story and bringing characters back in regardless of if they'd be meaningful to the overall story. Look, I love the nostalgic feel of bringing the old characters back, especially with all the original actors. But, I feel their inclusion wound up putting too many central characters in the film. Was there another way to do it? That's the clincher, I'm not sure there was.

The new story line had to be put in place as well. We got the new elements of darkness and light baselined very well in the movie. At the heart of it, though, it was too light. There needed to be more about the new characters and how they got where they were and what led them to change and start their road to redemption or damnation. Was there another way to do it? Yes, but not in the running time you need to create this new story while also including elements of the old. In short, there just wasn't enough time allotted to do this story justice.

That, for me at least, explains why I wasn't as thrilled with the movie. It was the actors, it wasn't the execution, it wasn't the direction and it wasn't even the screenplay itself. The main problem was, it simply had too many things to do and, I'll be darned if they didn't manage to cram them all in. But to me, it felt a little crowded and not as clean as I'd like.

Who do I blame? Actually, I blame us, the fans. We demand a certain due when it comes to characters we love, and there was really no way to pull this off without including a welcome return to the old characters while also introducing the new ones. After all, the original franchise was never really written with the intention of bringing the old stars back to reprise their roles. It was written to be a trilogy with a beginning, middle and end. This new trilogy, if I can actually call it that since I'm certain there will be quite a few more than just three additional films, has started off a bit crowded, but I have hopes it will streamline into something new and more dynamic. I am cautiously optimistic.

While I won't go see it again in the theaters, I will definitely be watching The Force Awakens again when it comes out on DVD. I think I might like it better the second time around. Honestly, I did enjoy the film, just not as much as I'd expected. It is still awesome to see, so don't let my review stop you from checking it out.


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