Probably a spoiler or two. You’ve been warned.
I grew up on Star Wars. I’ve got a closet full of Kenner to prove it. Yes, they were all unboxed. Yes, most are missing light sabers, capes, the odd snake Yoda came with. And, sin of all sins, they were stored in the official collector’s case. The probably carcinogenic plastic managed to bleed the red color of the lining into Luke’s Tatooine toga.
When I went to Force Awakens, I wanted to reclaim the glory of those lost years. I think we all did. With the disaster of the prequels, the future of the franchise was anything but certain. But the media blitz kept hammering home the return to basics – models, practical effects, and Han. Han freaking Solo.
What I didn’t understand was how much I was asking of those childhood memories.
Due to the holidays, I didn’t make it to the theater until early January – I’m pretty sure I was the last person on earth to see it. I’d already noticed in the weeks following release, things went dark. Nobody wanted to talk about the movie lest they reveal spoilers. Even Facebook, FACEBOOK of all places where experts lurk in every corner and you’re always one like away from a fucking meltdown, the discussions were mild and uninteresting. People were holding their collective breath, waiting, and in that empty space, I headed to the theater.
Not long in, I thought I’d figured out the cause of the eerie silence. The movie sorta sucked.
It probably had something to do with seeing it as I did. Long after the buzz, in a mostly empty theater, there was nobody to cheer when the crawl exploded on the screen. Nobody to go apeshit with when the Millennium Falcon tore across the sky. No gasps of shock when Han dies.
In that lack of momentum, I could only see the flick for what it was: a shameless appeal to nostalgia. A safe bet on the tail end of a grievously wounded franchise. So much exacting thought and detail had been put into creating a simulacrum of those childhood memories, nobody stopped to give it a living, breathing soul.
It was a frozen, empty moment. Beautiful but hollow. I left the theater feeling decisively “meh”.
But this was Star Wars. I had to be wrong. I couldn’t hate on it. I’d keep my opinion to myself and join the silence.
It’s like when your Grandpa farts at the dinner table while saying grace. You just let it slide. Grace ain’t a laughing matter. And, I mean, it’s gross, but you love the ol’ guy and he can’t help it. Too many prunes. Medication. Whatever.
Yep, I’d return to the awkward silence and go on with my life.
Then I started to see strange signs. A 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. IMBD ratings on par with the original Star Wars? Complaints about no Oscar nod for Best Picture?
Best fucking picture?
<RANT> You want to complain about the Oscars? There’s plenty to complain about. Go watch Beasts of No Nation then try to explain to me how that’s not on par with, say, The Martian. Tell me how Idris Elba isn’t able to keep up with Matt Damon’s acting skills.</RANT>
Why did nearly everyone else seem to find this movie that amazing?
As a friend of mine might say, it didn’t “shit the bed”. It was watchable. Fun even. Though they could have at least tried to do more than film a montage from the A New Hope storyboards…
Check that – I won’t discuss how they took A New Hope, beat for beat, and simply recast it. I won’t even complain (too much) about poser Ren. What I do want to talk about is how the cannibalization of our childhood has to end.
As a writer, I get it. I understand that “all the stories have been told.” I also get how it is tough to take the sort of financial risks on movies which they require nowadays.
But to completely give up on storytelling? To resort entirely to engineering stories by cobbling together successes of the past and filling them with strategical musical swells or marginally more diverse casts? Instead of telling the a tale for a new generation we’ll just hand them the sloppy seconds? Is that our best answer?
I hope not. It says a lot about what our society has become. Soulless. Unimaginative.
Rey could have been the awakened Jedi. Instead, she’s a stand-in awkwardly filling Skywalker’s long empty shoes and returning his borrowed lightsaber. Kylo Ren could have been the next guy to top the list of all-time iconic movie bad guys. Instead, he’s a petulant poser unable to fulfill his potential. A near parody of something meant to be dark and sinister. (And I’m down with that kind of parody, believe me, only I’m pretty sure they didn’t intend it.)
No, the Force Awakens does not deserve a nod for Best Picture.
Than again, maybe it does. Maybe it’s the best we’ve got anymore.
I for one refuse to believe that. We can do better. For my part as a writer, I’m going to continue to toss out the expected tropes and the re-treads, the audience polls and the not-so-subtle manipulations. Forget what I’m supposed to do.
I will give zero fucks for the saving of cats.
Will it work? Most likely not. But that’s the thing – story is about taking risks, not recycling the same thing over and over and over again.
Just ask Kylo and team Starkiller how that brilliant strategy panned out.