Just let it in…
Why, hello! How nice it is to be back on the pages of Cinema-Rant again. I’ve been away for a long time, nigh on three months, but finally I have returned.
I know people were anxious for this blog to re-appear. I could sense it, as if millions of voices were crying out to me. For the last few months people have been talking about how hyped they are to see a new instalment. They were, naturally, worried that it wouldn’t deliver after having been away for a long time. There was a fear of too many childish jokes or boring explanations like some other posts have had. Basically the fans wanted a return to the original intentions. Of course, you’ll be happy to know that I’m bringing back all your favourite characters: a, b, c, d…the whole alphabet is back! But, there will of course be a few happy surprises. Some characters will have changed- in a good way, of course. Some will be edgier, some are bolder. The whole thing will, of course, be underscored with familiar themes. Finally, I’m making a decision to favour the practical whenever possible, with GIFs like this one…
…which I’ll use in order to hammer home the obvious jokes and spoon feed the audience. Let’s face it, anything else would just be impractical!
Oh, you want to talk about Star Wars? Well, ok, if that’s what happens to be on your mind, then I guess I can chat about it. I was going to talk about Alvin and the Chipmunks 4: The Road Chip, but let’s just do all the thing that you want to do.
I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens several weeks ago, and there’s absolutely nothing interesting I can say about it. Everything I could possibly say has already been said. As a general rule, I try not to talk about big movies that everyone’s seen. Since The Force Awakens took over 1.5 billion dollars in three weeks, I’d say it qualifies…
…but then again…everyone’s talking about it! Even I’ve been talking about it ever since I saw it. I feel the urge to weigh in…but I can’t just give it a thumbs up or down. I need to write something more personal.
So, instead, I’m going to explain exactly why…
Until the very end of last year there were six Star Wars movies and I didn’t care about any of them. I didn’t hate them all, I just didn’t understand the obsession surrounding the franchise.
I remember seeing the original Star Wars (A New Hope) at a friend’s birthday party. They ordered pizza and pushed the mysterious VHS tape into the VCR without me having any idea what was going on. At the time I didn’t like pizza either, so it turned out to be a bummer of a party all-round. Wow, I was a grouchy kid, huh? Meh…hello world, I’m me, nice to meet you.
The next two hours I was subjected to a sappy mixture of soap opera tripe and goofy dad-jokes. I’m not even kidding, the first Star Wars is a terrible movie. It may very well be one of the worst scripts ever written. It’s like some fanboy finished reading Lord of the Rings and thought to himself “I can come up with names like that”. Everything about the original film that actually works is stolen from other, better, movies. Mostly it’s ripped right out of classic Japanese Samurai films like Yojimbo, Sonjuro, and Seven Samurai. Then George Lucas simply mixed that with a thick dose of Buck Rogers, while trying to outdo Tolkien in the “world creation” department. Boo! When your script reads like an index page you have failed at story telling!
Of course, I didn’t analyse it like that at the time. I just thought it was stupid. The ‘funny’ bits weren’t funny, the ‘tense’ bits weren’t tense. There was no ambiguity in the story, with good guys dressed in white and bad guys were dressed in black. The framing was flat and the camera hardly moved. Oh, and the script…by God, the script!
Exposition upon exposition! Nothing but dense explanatory dialogue and space-tech lingo so stupid that even Harrison Ford recalls telling Lucas “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it.”. It just went on and on and on…
I knew that it wasn’t the genre that kept me from liking it. I’d seen plenty-a-space movie and enjoyed them, including Starship Troopers, Independence Day, Armageddon, Lost in Space, Apollo 13, The Fifth Element, Starman, Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection. Whatever else may be true about that list, they were all clearly better than this silly Star Wars thing.
What I hate the most is the lack of internal logic. If the Jedi can use the force to push and pull things around, including people, then why do they bother with lightsabers? Every lightsaber duel seems to go on forever until one character realises “hey…why don’t I just force-push this guy?”. Also, why are mortal enemies sticking to good form? If somebody pulls out a glowing red laser sword, I’m just shooting that dark-hole right in his sith-eating grin. Indiana Jones understood this, why couldn’t Luke Skywalker?
While we’re on it, I hate the force! What the hell is it? Obi-Wan Kenobi says that it “surrounds us and penetrates us” like some sort of mystical orgy. It allows people to move objects telekinetically, read people’s minds, sense when something in the plot has changed, and…my favourite…lets living characters have conversations with dead ones.
I’ll tell you what the force is; it’s convenient! George Lucas invented the force as a narrative crane that can lift him out of the corners he paints himself into. If he needs one character to defeat another at a specific moment…well, then that character just uses the force. Want to bring another popular character back from the dead? Well, we’ll just shove him back onto the set as a ghost! Easy peasy story squeazy.
The children around me, at this birthday party, went nuts for it. “R2D2’s my favourite character! He says so many funny things!”, “Chewbacca is hilarious!”, “Ah, the lightsabers are vrooming, that’s so cool!”. These guys were literally being entertained by shiny objects and beeping noises.
I like to think that, even as a ten year-old, I had a somewhat more sophisticated taste in movies than that. Probably not, though. It’s likely that I just wanted to hate what everyone else loved. Whichever it was, these movies weren’t for me. Maybe it’s because they were old. They looked old and they sounded old, but then this thing happened…
Ah, yes! Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In spite of the ominous foreshadowing fact that no film should have two colons in its title, Episode I was hyped beyond belief. Everyone expected it to be amazing, and you know what…? So did I.
I saw the posters, then the trailers, and had to admit that it looked like a huge improvement. Keep in mind that I was 10 years old at the time. CGI anything was dazzling to me, so the pod racing sequence blew my socks off. The lightsaber battles were ten times faster and far more elaborate. The dialogue? The characters? Still shit. Colourful fun that I enjoyed and then immediately forgot.
I had no interest in seeing Episodes II or III, but each time I was dragged into the cinema by some random friend waving a glow stick and making ‘vroom’ noises. How could anyone care about this stuff? It’s so dumb that it borders on offensive. Worst of all, people complained about the prequel trilogy like it was somehow out of step with the original Star Wars. No, it’s not! There are just more characters and digital effects, but it’s as much of a snooze as Episode IV was.
So now we’re caught in a time loop. It’s deja vu of our deja vu! There’s a new Star Wars movie in theatres, and of course everyone’s gagging for it. Here we go…
In anticipation of The Force Awakens, I went back and watched the entire original trilogy from start to finish; A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.
Empire is clearly the best one, because George Lucas didn’t write or direct it. It’s darker, moodier, funnier, and even has the guts to mutilate its main character and freeze its comic-relief antihero in carbonite. It features the two best moments in any Star Wars film; Vader telling Luke “I’m your father!”, and Han Solo responding to Leia’s “I love you” with “…I know”.
Obviously George couldn’t stand for this. He had to make it boring and stupid again, and did so in the way that only he could. Return of the Jedi may not be as bad as A New Hope or Attack of the Clones, but it emulates them like a really good tribute-band. It starts off with the Empire creating…a new Death Star! Great. Thanks George, it’s nice to have your originality back. It wasn’t enough to copy everyone else’s ideas, now you’re copying your own. We get to witness the face-palming moment when a blind Han Solo accidentally kills the best Bounty Hunter in the galaxy, Boba Fett, by unintentionally knocking him into the Sarlacc pitt. Then the last straw is when we’re introduced to muppet characters, called Ewoks, and have to spend the whole last hour watching them bring down the supposedly insurmountable Empire. It’s…a horrifyingly bad movie, and set the scene perfectly for George’s next three films – which were, to put it kindly, more of the same.
So how the Hoth am I meant to enjoy Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens?
Oh, Yoda, you’re always so wise and green. If wipe all shitty Star Wars from my mind, I can, maybe enjoy the new one, I will.
As it turns out, I didn’t even have to do that. This man did it for me:
J. J. Abrams is today’s Steven Spielberg…other than the actual Steven Spielberg, that is. Is it wrong that I keep having to remind myself that he’s still alive and making movies?
No one but Abrams makes movies with the magical Spielberg touch anymore. He’s the only one who seems to be able to capture that sense of cinematic love that leaps off the screen and into your heart. It makes sense that the master himself is Abrams’ most significant influence, and it shows in his early work.
J.J. Abrams is a classic 90’s filmmaker. The 1990’s is, as you might suspect, my favourite filmmaking decade. Most film critics would point to the 70’s as the greatest decade in cinema on account of the American New Wave, but I disagree. See, those who were making films in the 90’s are the ones who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Ergo, you’re seeing a matured and considered selection from those earlier years. Think about Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, Guillermo Del Toro, David O. Russell, Spike Jonze, The Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Gus Van Sant, Darren Arronofsky, Steven Soderbergh…and, of course, Christopher Nolan. They’re all filmmakers drawing upon the movies they watched while growing up.
Well, Jeffrey Jacob Abrams is the one who never got a shot; the runt who didn’t get the nipple. For his first 10 years out of College he worked devilishly hard as a writer and managed to sell a total of four film scripts. Of course, no one would give him a shot at directing, because he was just a little novice with some writing talent.
He eventually found his way into television, due to his parents being TV Producers, and began writing pilot scripts. He had a hit as co-creator with Felicity, Alias, and then finally Lost. As a show creator, you get the opportunity to direct the pilot of your show, and boy did Abrams grab that chance. I remember not liking Lost, but the pilot was great…until he crashed on that island.
Anyway- I don’t blame Abrams for making Felicity, Alias, or Lost; three shows that I don’t care about at all. It was all a journey of fate that would lead him to one day meet Tom Cruise.
Cruise watched Alias and immediately went about hiring Abrams as the director for Mission Impossible III. MI3 is the second best film of the series, and attracted a fresh new audience. Next in line was Star Trek, which desperately needed to be made lighter and sexier. J. J. reinvented Star Trek in a way that made my jaw drop. I could not believe how much I enjoyed “the voyages of the Starship Enterprise”. I became something resembling a Trekkie in about 2 hours. What the- ? How is that possible?
Then it all became clear…
J. J. Abrams is clearly fanatical about Spielberg. Super 8 was a direct homage to films like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Everything from the poster to the music score was pure tribute. Now I suddenly saw all the recognisable elements; the humour amidst the tragedy, the smokey lighting, the uplifting soundtrack…and best of all, a great story with enjoyable characters! Spielberg always loved exploring the relationship between parents and their children, especially the role of a father, and J.J. had been tuned into that all along…
Fast forward a couple of years, and Kathleen Kennedy (The producer of all Steven Spielberg films, who is now in charge of overseeing the next Star Wars Trilogy) announces that she’d handed J. J. Abrams the chance to write and direct Episode VII.
If memory serves correctly, the internet exploded with equal parts joy, fear, and anger. Some were simply not a fan of Star Trek or Super 8, while others didn’t like the idea of Abrams having the monopoly on both major space fantasy franchises. William Shatner called Abrams “a pig” for hogging all the “Star” films. That’s inappropriate! That’s not what pigs do, is it? Do they collect everything of a kind for themselves? I’d say a squirrel or a hamster is a better comparison.
When Disney originally announced that they’d bought LucasArts and were planning to make another Star Wars trilogy, I could barely hear it over my snoring, but this was different. I knew that when Abrams got the gig, it was Spielberg’s apprentice taking on the task. This is the chosen one, who was trained by the master himself.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Spielberg had directed A New Hope? Well, wonder no more. We have our answer…
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a great film! I know that you already know that, but the fact that I’m saying it means more than you could possibly understand. Abrams has converted me; no mean feat. It’s like I’ve spent my whole life battling the light, and now finally I’ve seen the virtues in it.
Episode VII copies A New Hope almost beat-for-beat. The Empire, the Death Star, the meek orphan living on a desert planet- it’s all exactly the same…except it’s not. It’s better somehow.
The writing, the acting, the humour, the spectacle…it went from Hayden Christensen to Laurence Olivier. Suddenly I’m invested in the saga. Not only am I a Star Wars fan, I feel like it’s a shame that I haven’t been for all this time. I’m hoping, for my own sake, that Episode VIII doesn’t drag me back into the murky swamps of Dagobah.
J. J. Abrams will turn fifty years old in June, and he has arguably just become the world’s most successful director. The Force Awakens is well on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time. For the last forty years, that title has been swapped around by only three people; James Cameron, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. If Episode VII does as well as some are beginning to think that it will, then Abrams will become the fourth Jedi master. I cannot imagine a more fitting honour.
Whenever you next watch The Force Awakens, remember that it’s not just a Star Wars film…it’s a J. J. Abrams film.