Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015) revisited
Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens, to give it its full and exhausting title, 10 months ago, I was more involved in the novelty of seeing it in a theater and in 3-D than in commenting on the film itself. "I look forward to seeing the movie again, but this time in the comfort of my home and on a smaller 2-D screen," I said then, predicting that it would "play just as well there." So the time has come, and Starz is running it almost every day on one of its many channels, so I availed myself of the opportunity, and I think I was mostly correct. The flat version is less awe-inspiring than the three-dimensional one, but I've long since got beyond the excitement of having lightsaber beams waved in my face, and to my mind the added depth of the images is counteracted by a sense of their insubstantiality: Is it only the force of long habit and familiarity that makes two-dimensional films seem more like documented reality? The 2-D Episode VII stands up because J.J. Abrams knows the grammar of film: the cutting and pacing that has brought excitement to movies ever since Griffith and Eisenstein and other first learned to use them. In 3-D there's always going to be something a little disorienting about the shift from a close-up to a long shot, for example. Perhaps a grammar of 3-D will be developed that lets filmmakers use it as effectively as they do in two dimensions, but that time has yet to come. As for the film itself, it had to do two things: It had to tie the new material to the core trilogy -- I mean Episodes IV-VI, of course -- and it had to whet our appetites for more new stuff. It succeeds on both counts, partly by bringing back Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and, albeit briefly, Luke (Mark Hamill), and the leitmotifs of John Williams's score, but also by pretty much shamelessly borrowing from what's now called Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977). (I will always call it just Star Wars.) As I said in my first post, VII is pretty much a remake of IV: Both have "the young hero on a desert planet, the messenger droid found in the junkyard, the gathering of a team to fight the black-clad villain, and the ultimate destruction of a giant weaponized space station." VII also echoes the Oedipal conflict of the subsequent episodes of the core trilogy, with the conflict of father Han and son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) echoing that of Darth Vader and Luke. What we have to look forward to is some account of Ren's (or Ben's) fall to the Dark Side and some resolution of that character's patricidal act. We also have to find out who or what Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is. Is there a little old man lurking behind what seems to be a hulking hologram, like the Wizard of Oz? And what are the backstories of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley)? And what accounts for the luxury casting of the ubiquitous Domhnall Gleeson as the relatively secondary figure General Hux? And why waste a beautiful Oscar winner like Lupita Nyong'o in voicing Maz Kanata -- another character whose backstory needs to be told? So our appetites are whetted, and not just for further adventures of Luke Skywalker.