I vividly remember standing in line on a rainy Friday in May, 1977, in front of the old Coronet Theater in San Francisco, awaiting entrance to what is thought of as the first "Star Wars" film (Episode IV, "A New Hope") and being blown away by the film.
Like two other films, "Shrek" and "The Wizard of Oz", that initiation into the "Star Wars" universe is striking visually and moves at such a pace from scene-to-scene that we are never bored (in fact those movies still race by for me). More to the point, they are fairly smart films that break new territory within the genre of film in my meager opinion.
Similarly, I loved "The Empire Strikes Back," and though I am "Luke"-warm about "Return of the Jedi," and then the first three films that help represent what is thought of as "The Rise and Fall of Anikin Skywalker," I do like the whole of the six for a few reasons.
As a student of literature, I appreciate George Lucas' understanding and appreciation of two stalwarts of book and film.
The first of these persons is the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, whom Lucas and his mate Francis Ford-Coppola both admired and worked with. In fact, "A New Hope" is indeed based largely upon Kurosawa's breathtaking film, "The Hidden Fortress," not just in plot, but down to details with how scene cuts are presented, among other homages.
The second is the great scholar, Joseph Campbell, who wrote the seminal modern books and treatises on myth and hero in life and literature.
Though "A New Hope" borrows from "The Hidden Fortress," the rest of the first six films are really an epic look at family and fate and good and evil and right and wrong in the context of Campbell, and in a manner that is also similar to J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring Trilogy, and also to Richard Wagner's "Ring Cycle" operas, as examples.
With that context in mind, I like how someone tried to tell a grand tale on a large scale, and make it entertaining and fun. Not that I don't believe there are flaws in the first six films.
-If Obi Wan says only "Imperial Stormtroopers shoot with such precision" after he and Luke come upon the slaughtered droid salvaging Jawas who find 3PO and R2 in the first place. Too bad they never hit anything again, ever.
-Never for a moment did I believe Jake Lloyd's portrayal of young Anikin, let alone that his character would ever be one that Pad Mai would fall in love with.
-Lucas might be good at visualizations and storyline, but dialogue is not his strength.
There are a few more, but they are minor in the context of if watching the six films is like reading "Les Miserables," there will be ups and downs, but the effort expended will be worth it.
So, I was more than looking forward to seeing "The Force Awakens," although since I rarely go out to the movies any longer, I figured I would see the film when it hit HBO in a year or so.
Fortuitously, my friend, sometime band mate, and guitar teacher Steve Gibson told me he had an extra ticket for last Friday night, and asked if I wanted it (he knows I love the series), so I jumped at it.
It was a perfect set-up for I knew Diane had no interest in the film, and Steve was going with his kids Willa and Guy, and our friends Mark Rosenberg, his son Julian, and another bud, Jeremy Steinkoler and his wife Michele and their son Evan.
So, we met, got our seats, and then waited through a good 20 minutes of coming attractions for the Force to arrive.
And, arrive it did, and everything looked and sounded "Star Wars," but it wasn't.
Nothing of the fingerprints of Lucas (save appearances by Luke, Hans--also out of nowhere--and Leia) that were within the story or characters, let alone Campbell and Kurosawa (save the established cut techniques) was anywhere.
Meaning the characters had the Star Wars set, but the script might as well have been part of "The Matrix" or "The Hunger Games" or whatever.
For instance, Kylo Ren has obviously been seduced by the dark side, but aside from a few almost throwaway comments, we never know why, thus we don't know what motivates him. Is he rebelious? A psychopath? Delusionary? Bipolar? Or, clear on a path to order that we cannot see?
Rey is tough, for though we get to know the geneology of Ren, Rey just comes out of nowhere. Not that we cannot imagine (there is a flash of experience she gets when she touches Luke's light sabre), and the character herself is just fine, but she is more a creature of reaction, hardly someone who suddenly can summon the Force when it doesn't appear she has a clue as to it. Well, maybe.
I thought Poe Dameron was a dumb character. He appears, he disappears, and he might be the best pilot in the universe, but again no introspection or thought that I got from his character, unlike two other such pilots of their time, Luke and Anikin. And, though I knew he would survive an early crash, Poe vaporizes and materializes with little explanation, kind of like the Coyote is always resurrected after the Road Runner dispenses with him.
But, my real problem is with the character of Finn. Again, not that John Boyega was bad in the role, but first, over 50 mythical years of Stormtroopers going from the start of Episode 1 to the opening of Episode 7, there was never an inkling that Stormtroopers could think, let alone make moral decisions. So, how Finn suddenly decides whether something is right or wrong with no rationale is unsatisfying. I mean, if he had been wrestling with his conscience for awhile, and we had a way to know this, well, that would be one thing. But I never got that from the character.
But, my real gripe for this is with the writers, for I don't understand Finn's existence.
If you know the series, you would know that the Stormtroopers were an army cloned at the behest of an ancient Jedi (Sipho Dias) who anticipated the coming of the Empire and their clone army. Dias went to the council and suggested this threat and requested an army be built to potentially defend against the foreseen clone force, but the request was rejected.
Covertly, Dias has an army created by the inhabitants of Kamino, an army of clones modeled off bounty hunter Jengo Fett. But, if we remember, Jengo has his head blasted off in Episode II, and it turns out he is a droid, or is at least mechanical.
So, when did a cloned droid, all of whom should look exactly like their "genetic" source (Fett), evolve to human form and have feelings and start bleeding and such? I mean, before Finn, we didn't even know Stormtroopers could take their helmets off (ever seen that?) and Finn is clearly the only Stormtrooper who has ever huffed and puffed while going about his work. But, 90 minutes later Finn knows how to channel the Force and use a light sabre (Yoda is probably turning over in his spiritual ether over this lack of formal training).
Maybe there is a reason for the transmogrification of the Stormtroopers from Kamino, who was artificially replicated as male only to evolve into who we know as Finn, but I never got an explanation. And, maybe something is coming, for there will surely be an Episode 8, but well, there could have then been a hint for this change.
I do understand that it has been almost 40 years since the first appearance of Star Wars, and just like hip hop and texting and beer pong, the next generation of movie watchers has their own interpretation of the arts than I did, just as I did from my folks. And, I understand that action is more of what draws the crowds and money over plot and character development.
And, if that is the idea, to really push towards the old Saturday serial format, fine. It does seem that with a film heritage so rich in character and family secrets, working history and character motivation into the production would be more interesting and long lasting.
If the series follows the current path, however, I will pass on Episode 8.