It may have been a rip-off of another film, and it may have come out years before I was born, but Star Wars looked and felt like a quantum leap forward in filmmaking at the time, and that’s what mattered.
And, for all his manifold sins, you have to admit that nothing George Lucas ever did was safe. Even at their most prequel-y, the prequels never felt like an attempt to appease an audience that (as all audiences do) had long since passed the point of assuming that they, and not Lucas or anyone actually involved with the films, knew best.
So when I walked out of The Force Awakens feeling content, relieved that it didn’t suck, and mildly curious about where Episode 8 was going to go, it was a strange experience.
I’ve left previous Star Wars installments feeling angry, joyful, disappointed, and laughing at how awkward they were at times, but this time it just felt like a box had been checked off.
Don’t get me wrong: The Force Awakens it is a good film, and it is a good Star Wars film. There are lightsabers and X-wings and droids and Chewbacca and stormtroopers and giant spaceships and another giant spaceship/planet thing that can blow up other planets and BIG IMPORTANT DEATHS and weird-looking aliens and weirder family dynamics and tortured anguishy emotional wrangling over whether the Light Side or the Dark Side of the Force is better.
But it has the same problem as all the other remakes, retreads, reboots and rewrites we’ve had to endure since Hollywood started cannibalizing itself for fear that they would offend someone and consequently lose money:
It’s too safe. It’s far too clean.
Yes, there was a bunch of annoying and irrelevant political stuff weighing the prequels down. Yes, all six films had their share of hokey acting and silly dialogue. Yes, there were Ewoks and Jar Jar and Jake Lloyd and Darth Vader shouting NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
But, like it or not, those are the moments that made the fans react. Those are the moments that stuck with us just because they pushed our buttons. I can’t remember a single moment in The Force Awakens that stuck with me the way Hayden Christensen’s “Only because I’m so in love with you” speech did, or the ridiculous moment in Return of the Jedi where Leia realizes she French-kissed her brother before pretending she always knew the truth.
J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon and the rest of the super-directors who produce these reliably lucrative reboots of classic properties have a formula, and when you have a formula, all the flaws and defects, all the excess emotion that comes with a film that is a labour of love which may or may not turn a profit, is removed almost surgically.
Maybe that’s why, as I write this column, I recall an incidental scene from The Force Awakens where R2-D2, who (we are told) has been sitting silent for years, suddenly comes back to life and projects a map of the stars for all to see before his spiritual successor -- a much smaller droid named BB-8 who is pretty much like R2 in all respects except he has a basketball for a body -- projects the missing map piece, completing the puzzle.
For you see, the creators of these films know that they will never surpass the originals because they are afraid to take the risks their predecessors did. Ironic, considering they used to go to the movie theatre to let their imaginations run free.
What was that that Master Yoda said was the path to the Dark Side? Oh yeah…
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