Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Star Wars The Next Generation

I have come to realize, from unfortunate experience, that there is truly only one spoiler to this movie (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, should you need reminding).


It was Christmas, I was among a mixed group of parents and kids, and we were joking around, coming up with the worst thing a person could conceivably say to any group of people queuing up for a movie. I'd already had a glass (or two) of wine, and thinking everyone within earshot had already seen this movie, I crowed, (SPOILER) "Han Solo dies!" (END SPOILER).

When I registered the sea of aghast faces I quickly added, "Actually, in the grand sequence of events, I was surprised by how unsurprising this was. And by how unmoved I was."

And that, also, is the truth. Perhaps it's different for other viewers -- perhaps there are those who shed tears when it happened -- but at least one other person in my group admitted she'd felt similarly. Said she, "In Star Wars movies it's almost like it kind of doesn't matter when the big characters die. I mean, Ben Kenobi or Yoda die, and it's like, 'Oh well.'"

Which is not to say I (or my interlocutor) think the movie is a dud -- far from it. I've seen it twice, and anticipate giving it a closer look and greater consideration when it is released in Blu-Ray format. But I realized early into the film that I was considerably more invested in the fates of the newer, younger protagonists than I was in the fates of the characters I'd grown up with.

There were a number of reasons for this. For one thing, I never quite got over the genuine surprise at seeing the class of '77 collecting for the same movie again. In the 35 years since The Empire Strikes Back (the last of the entertaining Lucas movies) I'd seen plenty of the actors, whose own innate characters have come to vastly outshine that of their script-written personae. Consequently, when, one by one, they took their places on the big screen and did the jig I couldn't help but think, "Oooo, Harrison felt that in his knees!" or "I guess smoking really is the most tenacious addiction of them all, isn't it?" And if you think that's me being catty, it's not -- it's me being old.

So, yes, I registered actors getting older, and putting in a day's work for a day's pay.

Not so the new kids. I felt something for them -- not all that deeply, to begin with. But I could definitely relate. Otherwise, why the lump in my throat every time Finn hugged somebody?

Is that a hug, or is that a hug?

Sure, it's a recycled plot. But the attraction at the core of '77 -- the unexpected discovery of who you are, deep down inside -- is very much alive in this film. At the fore of this is abandoned Rey, carrying dutifully on in her unrewarding toil as she waits for someone to come along and rescue her. Finn shows up, and . . . he's a clod. Worse, he's a contemporary. He clearly couldn't rescue a marshmallow from a campfire. The two of them get to work on Plan B, and, wonder of wonders, things start to gel for them both.

No longer separate entities, they are now a team -- a part of something larger and more exciting than their earlier lives as cast-aways. The adult parental figures help out -- a bit -- but mostly look on with an admixture of amusement and regret.

Watching the film threw a huge spanner into the pool of my psyche. For several nights running I had dreams of . . . That Job. The first job that didn't just pay the bills, but also introduced me to friends -- new friends. People I watched out for, in my clumsy-needy way, because they were kinda-sorta watching out for me in theirs. As for the work -- we were young, we could do anything.

Just point us in the right direction.

Of course, the other benefit this movie shares with '77 is a cultural tabula rasa. We don't know squat about these characters -- it could well be that the more the gaps between the lines get coloured-in, the less we find to like about the big picture.

And yet that dwindling vestige of me which still cares about such things remains hopeful, for a couple of reasons. 1) J.J. Abrams is only taking the reins for this one movie -- besides his apparent compulsion to play Vishnu, the destroyer of worlds, in every single space opera he directs, we also face his incapacity to tie it all together. The man wouldn't know a successful third-act if it followed him home and bit him in the butt. 2) Continuity is still heralded as a big deal to the film-makers. And in contrast to Disney's other continuity franchise, the Marvel movies, we see characters ageing in step with the actors who play them.

And they die.

Who knows? A future writer/director just might figure out the key to successfully exploiting this franchise facet, unique to the SW universe.

Experiencing genuine grief at the death of a beloved character? Now there's a "New Hope" for ya!

Alright -- other better links:

  • LĂ©onicka Valcius explains why Finn is the best character in SW:TFA.
  • Nerds, mass shooters, Anonymous . . . and Kylo Ren. This guy says, "The presentation of Kylo Ren as a whiny, insecure little shit is brilliant because, frankly, whiny, insecure little shits are people who become evil in real life."
  • What's the optimal age for Star Wars fandom? Joel wonders. Is it five? Twelve? I fall into the latter group, and it could be argued I was too old -- I queued up for and watched Return Of The Jedi the day of its release. And I hated it almost as much as the actors evidently did (re-watching it decades later, I was struck by the bone-deep two-weeks-out-of-rehab weariness the principles all exhibited). But by then I was 18-years-old, and there's no way you can persuade a guy that age that teddy bears saving the galaxy equals compelling drama. Expose the kids at five, I say. And brace yourself for the late-night discussions.
  • When I was 12 I fervently prayed I would live, and the Lord would tarry, long enough to permit me to see the second Star Wars movie. Today, if everything goes according to planthere is no conceivable way I will live long enough to see the final Star Wars movie. This news bothers me not in the least -- but it has generated a curiosity to check in on the various expanded universe (now non-canonical, but never mind) stories. Nor am I alone -- Locke Petersheim admits to similar obsessive-compulsive reading.
  • Speaking of the expanded universe -- Star Wars continuity cop Leland Chee is someone I'd dearly love to hear interviewed right now. But of course Disney and Abrams have sequestered him behind iron-clad non-disclosure agreements. Even his Twitter feed is a muted affair. Best Leland Chee Tweet:

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