Still hiding out from rampant internet spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Never fear! We here at Midlife Crisis Crossover know your fears. I spent part of Thursday and all of Friday hiding out from social media, shunning all peer contact, and busying myself around the house until it was our turn to see it Saturday afternoon. At last I can rejoin the cool kids’ kaffeeklatsch, already in progress.
But that doesn’t mean I have to ruin it for anyone else. Thus I’ve split my thoughts into (at least) two entries. First up: the light summary of impressions from my first showing, written in a manner that hopefully doesn’t compromise your own first screening.
Short version for the unfamiliar: Attack the Block‘s John Boyega and newcomer Daisy Ridley are loners in a strange universe, living their lives in separate ruts. Then bad things happen, they meet and team up, there are EXPLOSIONS, and a cute droid captures a lot of attention. Our Heroes have the pleasure of meeting Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, and they also make a movie together.
Lightsabers! Spaceships! Aliens! Evil overlords! Aliases! Dark secrets! Single-climate planets! Star Wars nostalgia! Merchandise sold separately!
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: In addition to the Big Three, the real Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are back. Art-film star Oscar Isaac is a good guy. Girls‘ Adam Driver and Brooklyn‘s Domhnall Gleeson are bad guys. Other famous people are buried under CG or helmets.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? Prevalent themes include the legacies we don’t know we’re shouldering, the importance of keeping history alive, the eternal struggle to exercise free will and choose our own moral paths, the damage that secrets do, and how cool it is to work with Star Wars people.
Because it is Star Wars, we also have space dogfights, space swordfights, monster fights, and 600 new action figure designs.
Nitpicking? Always a pleasure to see director JJ Abrams at work, but here he takes far fewer chances than he did with the Star Trek reboot. TFA is largely about proving that Star Wars movies can be made without George Lucas, and that Step 1 is to photocopy large portions of his films in lieu of the man himself. Entire lines, subplots, villainous weapons, themes, and scene ordering could be said to resonate with echoes of their predecessors, albeit blurring the line between salutatory homage and straight-up copycatting. If all you want from Star Wars movies is exactly more of the same, then you already like TFA even if you haven’t seen it yet.
My wife noted several similarities between TFA’s “new” contents and various Expanded Universe works from years past. Those hundreds of novels used up so many SW-based ideas over the decades that perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising to notice some overlapping — not in knowing tribute to the books, but in thinking along the paths that those authors already thought through. Some authorial name-checking in a “Special Thanks” end-credits section might’ve been nice.
So what’s to like? So far I’ve only seen TFA once, but that’s all it’s taken to confirm it’s better than the entire prequel trilogy. Overall the film achieved its thrill-ride objectives, the new characters are largely fascinating without a Jar-Jar in the bunch, the old friends are a welcome sight, and not everything is cribbed from the original trilogy. I’ll go into lots of random details in the next entry, but for now I love that Abrams has shepherded Star Wars into a strong comeback so that, pending the results of Episodes VIII and IX, a new generation of Jedi fans can call this their Star Wars trilogy.
How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after TFA’s end credits, though for us the biggest discussion starter was the revelation that BB-8’s chirpy, emotive beeping is linked to two “Voice Consultants”, SNL’s Bill Hader and Jean-Ralphio from Parks & Rec. Now we need to hear “THE WOOOO-OOORST!” sung in BB-8 tones. I also noticed the new alien songs in the film are the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the dynamo behind the runaway Broadway smash Hamilton that New Yorkers won’t shut up about at the moment.