***ATTENTION READERS*** : I have not yet been able to see the new Star Wars film, Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Awakens. So I have no review to share with you. Instead I have something much, much better. A great friend of mine, Dr. Jeff Boehm, has agreed to share his thoughts on the film with you. Who is Dr. Jeff Boehm and why should you care what he thinks of Star Wars? Whenever there is a topic of which I am not well-read or well-versed, I always try and get informed by someone who is an expert in the field. Trust me when I tell you that Dr. Boehm is an expert, generally, in all things science fiction, and, in particular, in Star Trek and Star Wars. How much of an expert? Well, Dr. Boehm has two Master's Degrees from Starfleet Academy University, an M.V.A (Masters of Vulcan Administration) and a Master of Arts in Kobayashi Maru Studies. He got his PhD in Galactic Travel with an emphasis on the Kessel Run from the University of Kashyyk at Kachirho. Add to that his "Duel" Degree from the Jedi Academy and, YES…you can say he's an expert. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the very well informed musings of our guest writer, Dr. Jeff Boehm!!
(In "reality" Jeff Boehm is a great friend of mine, a fantastic actor and a terrifically smart, insightful and interesting guy who also happens to be a huge (maybe the hugest?) fan of all things Star Wars. So I am proud to share his thoughts on the new Star Wars film with you. That said, it is time for a DISCLAIMER : Jeff Boehm's views are his own and may or may not be shared by me…we won't know until I see the movie!!)
****WARNING : THIS POST CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!! ****
For the geek & fanboy/girl cognoscenti, there is a fine line between homage and sacrilege. The consensus is that J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek was the former while its sequel, Into Darkness, was firmly the latter. With Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (with Michael Arndt also getting a credit for his early draft) do a tremendous job satisfying fans’ thirst for nostalgia while introducing a new generation of characters and adventures into Star Wars lore.
While the original heroes with whom we are so familiar are integral to the story (with varying amounts of screen time), Abrams and Kasdan smartly put a new young trio of protagonists front and center. And the three are a wonderfully diverse triad – both in character and race, not a white male among them. Along with scavenging loner Rey (Daisy Ridley), we meet Finn (John Boyega), a fallen stormtrooper, and Poe Dameron, an ace pilot (the always excellent Oscar Isaac). Poe plays a smaller, though vital, role here but no doubt will play a larger role going forward. The new trilogy rests in good hands with these three.
Much has been made of the film’s many similarities to the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope). In my opinion, this was the right way to go: give audiences something familiar while also ushering in the new. The idea of a “soft reboot” works. Besides, the first film – Luke Skywalker’s story – closely follows the Hero’s Journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell. And there is just one hero’s journey, as it were, so of course there will be some similarities with our new hero’s path. Mythological archetypes abound, but this is a strength of the film, not a weakness.
Daisy Ridley is a revelation as Rey, our new hero. She is a strong, self-sufficient protagonist who is a survivor and has the skillset to reflect that. Ridley’s Rey is tough but relatable and easy to root for. There are hints of her ancestry throughout, though we are never explicitly given her familial connections. Pieces of the whole…
As for the Dark Side, there is new blood, as well. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is one of the more intriguing and complex villains in recent memory. The filmmakers were smart not to try to make another Darth Vader. After all, how could there be a more badass Vader? However, there are some very real reasons why Kylo admires and aspires to be the famous Dark Lord of the Sith.
But instead of being cold, calculating and controlled like Vader, Kylo is impulsive, imprudent, and immature. He is arrogant, but insecure. Powerful, but easily frustrated. As we begin to learn about his background, these personality traits and internal conflicts start to make sense. I’m very excited to see where this character goes.
Anytime something is successful (commercially, especially), there is an inevitable backlash; it suddenly becomes hip to be contrarian. And the response to The Force Awakens is no different; Monday Morning Quarterbacking and criticism already abound on the interwebs.
Likely the most seen – and dimwitted – of the bunch was the HuffPost’s “40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’.” “Unforgivable”?? By a guy who then claims, “I loved the film.” Hmm… Rather than getting red-faced and spending several paragraphs responding, I will leave this post HERE, where a man named Matty Granger, though a bit vitriolic, quite adroitly addresses most every “plot hole” mentioned in the HuffPost piece.
Conveniences! Unanswered questions! Gaps in narrative logic! Oh my! It is especially funny – and ironic – when these claims come forth from “superfans” of the original Star Wars movies. Those classic movies had all these in spades:
Just like those wonderful films, The Force Awakens is a 2-hour science fiction space opera, and there is an all-powerful Force making things happen in the universe; a little suspension of disbelief is needed, and an ability to connect-the dots is essential. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Plus, using your imagination to fill in some of the blanks is part of the fun – How did Maz Kanata come to possess that lightsaber last seen tumbling down a shaft in Cloud City?
The Force Awakens laid a solid foundation for a new trilogy; while some goals were achieved, so many questions ARE left unanswered, details not put right out in the open, many loose ends not tied up. But for me, that does not detract from the movie. Instead, it adds to my appreciation, encourages me to re-watch, and makes me look forward to future episodes, anticipating what might be revealed next…
Especially with the gigantic weight of 40 years of Star Wars devotees and mythology on his shoulders, I think Abrams came through with a funny, entertaining, nostalgically sound adventure.
One more thing to mention about J.J. Abrams’ deft touch with this material: he excels at working with actors and directing for comedic timing (things his predecessor, George Lucas, was not known for). Both these skills are on fine display in The Force Awakens. And, in tandem with Abrams’ and Kasdan’s clever writing, they are most apparent during the key moments of levity sprinkled throughout. These scenes, sometimes just lines or actions, fit perfectly within the narrative and reveal much about the individual characters. The laughs are earned and welcome.
A word about the movie’s commercial appeal – Box Office isn't everything certainly, but it can be used as a barometer for a movie’s reach and resonance. In setting a new domestic box office record in less than three weeks with great word of mouth, scoring many returning customers, and earning a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, one could reason that Abrams and Kasdan did a pretty bang-up job of giving the people what they want. That's an art that has been pretty stale in Hollywood (save for Marvel) since that magical time from the mid 70's to the mid 90's, when Spielberg reigned supreme.
Lest I be accused of seeing the film only through rose-colored glasses, I must admit that I did have a few minor quibbles with the film. One scene in particular - involving alien beasts and bounty hunters soon after Rey meets Han Solo - doesn't seem to fit the tone of the movie. Also, Captain Phasma struck me as giving in a little too easily, and I wouldn't have minded a bit more backstory during the Maz Kanata sequence. but any tiny issues were far outweighed by the propulsion of the grand adventure and the moments of sheer joy I experienced watching X-wings coming in hot over the water ?! A lightsaber battle in a snowy forest?! Yes, Please!
The Force Awakens might not have been perfect, but I was not disappointed at all. That in itself was a great relief after the pain of the prequels (and another more recent slap to the face of my youth, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull). Indeed, I was walking on air as I left the theater, feeling like an 8-year-old kid once more, ready to go back and see it again.