Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Doesn’t Deserve Top Box-Office Acclaim

Rose-colored glasses describes the rosy lens through which we remember our past. Just look at one Facebook quiz for senior citizens asking them to recall good ol’ days. Quiz answers will not summon memories of the Cuban Missile crisis, segregation, or Khrushchev pounding a shoe while vowing to beat America into submission. The quiz will cast backward glances blind to harsh truths.

Perhaps this human tendency explains why J. J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Wars franchise for Disney has set new records at the box office. Even ten days after its opening, when I saw it, the theater was crowded and profits swelling. Many of those in seats were gray-haired seniors.

In those ten days from the reboot’s opening, the media seemed curiously silent about the film’s flaws, and they are legion. In fact, I’d like to have back those two plus hours so that my memories from 1977, when the original Star Wars exploded into pop culture, remain pure, intact, and good.

First, writers Abrams and Kasdan rest on Goerge Lucas’s laurels. Because we loved Luke thirty-eight years ago, we are supposed to care about his absence, explained in one short speech to the new generation in whom the Force awakens. Because we yearned for love between two of the three musketeers and found it between Han Solo and Leia, the writers count on us to wince when we find them apart. Perhaps they even hope we’ll shed tears for the son they lost to the Dark Side, but he’s a cartoon cut-out, Darth Vader on Halloween, a First Order drone.

The sun sets on Star Wars 2015--at least
for this writer. Photo provided by
Al Griffin Photography.
Not only do the writers fail to develop characters in favor of CGI battle scenes, they also rely upon tropes, including the tired Oedipal one wherein the son must kill the father in order to be his own man. In most uses of this Freudian trope, killing is metaphorical. Kasdan and Abrams give us the full Monty, the real deal; [Spoiler Alert!] mini-Vader runs handsome Han Solo through with a red laser beam, then lets him fall from a narrow walkway into an abyss like the one first imagined by Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones’s peril.

Another trope is the child left alone and in peril in a dystopian world. How Rey thrives is left to assumptions. She somehow knows how to fly complex machines and what to scavenge in order to sell for food. She, like all children left to make their way in the world, searches for a parent, a nurturer. We are asked to believe that a chance encounter with Han Solo is sufficient for her to think of him as a substitute father.

Rey and bb-8 are the most delightful additions to the reboot. She is the hero from beginning to end; she has the most complicated storyline and character development. Bb-8 is as cute, loyal and resourceful as R2-D2, a droid with answers if only it can awaken itself at the same time the Force does.

If only as much attention and love had been shown for all the other story lines and characters, I might not regret the time I gave to this film. The other story lines are as clichĂ© as some of the phrases I’ve chosen for this post and the characters as flat and two-dimensional as parts of Nebraska.

Reading Challenge:

“Read” Star Wars, the original from 1977.

Writing Challenge:

Write a critical review for the 1977 or the 2015 Star Wars.