director J.J. Abrams
viewed: 12/19/2015 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
I don’t know what I have to add to the overall universe of discussion and commentary on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but here are my two bits nonetheless.
First and foremost, it’s quite good. A lot of fun, promising, nostalgic, and successful.
With his work in the Star Trek universe, director/co-writer J.J. Abrams rebooted that franchise by reinhabiting its original cast by hiring actors to play versions of its original crew, rejiggering its universe with alternate timelines, and hitting the notes of nostalgia while laying the groundwork for an entertaining group of actors in the roles of the original gang. Whatever you think of either Star Trek (2009) or Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), it’s hard to argue with the casting of the newbies.
In Star Wars though, this isn’t a reboot and he’s not hiring actors to imitate originals. Instead, these are the children (literally and figuratively) of the original cast, and while the main characters are essentially all new, they are deeply imbued with echoes of the original trilogy. My daughter kept asking me if Rey (Daisy Ridley) was going to turn out to be Princess Leia. Because though her brown hair isn’t done up in anything like either Leia or Princess Amidala’s notable configurations, she’s a plucky brunette, sure to appeal to those who admired Carrie Fisher or Natalie Portman.
Likewise, it is easy to see R2-D2 in BB-8, our new model robot pal. And villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is actively looking to embody his grandfather, Darth Vader. He doesn’t yet need the mask/helmet that disguises his voice and face, but he likes it and models his entire being on the Sith lord of yore, if not yet quite so impressively.
A lot has been made of the diversity of the cast of the new film: putting a female in the lead hero role and a black guy in a stormtrooper costume outraged idiots somewhere on the internet. Diversity is good, but why it works is because this new cast, including John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron are all well-cast and are deftly drawn as characters that an audience will want to see more of. Worthy new additions to the galaxy of characters. I will say that Driver’s Ren isn’t necessarily a home run, though he shows possibility. And I will wonder aloud about casting the almost alien beauty of Lupita Nyong’o in a motion-capture character, utterly animated. That seems like a missed opportunity in more than one way.
The real heft of the film’s nostalgia is the return to the screen of Leia, Luke (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca, C-3P0, R2, and of course, Han Solo (Harrison Ford). While those entirely in costume haven’t aged a day, those human beings who haven’t reprised these roles in 32 years returning to screen as characters so near and dear to the hearts of so many is really the clincher. Sure, Leonard Nimoy graced Star Trek in a weird young-meets-old segment, but The Force Awakens shows us our heroes who have aged right along with the rest of us, introducing us to the next generation of Star Wars characters, but significantly invested in them.
When Hamill, Fisher, and Ford first took on these roles, it wasn’t in a franchise yet. The first trilogy virtually invented the modern franchise (I say virtually because there are certain precedents). The Force Awakens IS launching a franchise. I would argue that this is a significant difference. The wait for the sequel is already known. The opening date for the third film in the trilogy is already set for 2019, and Disney (now the parent of the franchise) promises a Star Wars film a year for as far away into the future as you could project.
My guess is this movie will make the money it needs to assure this without any doubt. And my guess is that Abrams has delivered a film that will satisfy and excite enough that these future films are already eagerly awaited.