Friday, April 29, 2016

Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi ...

When discussion in the Star Wars Minute Listener's Society Facebook group turned to definining moments in the Star Wars saga, it reminded me that prior to the release of The Force Awakens, I had mulled over what it would take for Episode VII to knock it out of the park.

My main hope, contemplating the arrival of the first new Star Wars film in 10 years -- and the first to advance the chronology in more than 30 -- was for the filmmakers to score a "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi" moment in the film -- an image and/or line transcendent enough to become an indelible part of film history -- one encapsulating all the elements of personality, history, theme and plot that bring a science fiction or fantasy movie to life. 

Empire, of course, has "No -- I am your father." Jedi has "I am a Jedi, like my father before me." But "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi ... you are my only hope" is possibly the greatest McGuffin in all of film -- mysterious, personal, instantly sympathetic, pulling us and our young hero inescapably into the action that follows.

My response to TFA was tremendous, and I considered it a whole-hearted success from my very first viewing. But I hadn't thought to measure it against my original bar until reminded by that Facebook discussion.

So how did the movie do, on those grounds? Is there such a pivotal, captivating, transportive moment?

As much as I love the film, I'm inclined to think the answer is, "No." And I suspect that's a big reason why it's dismissed as derivative by a certain corner of Star Wars fandom. There are tons of things in TFA that we've never seen before. But they're all part of the general flow of the story. None of them stops the action and hits you on the head with an understanding that film history is being made here. "Help me Obi-Wan" does that. "I am your father" does it so well that even people who've never seen a Star Wars movie know about that line.

The moments that define Episode VII don't have that same ability to stand on their own without context.

"I'll come back for you. It'll be all right!"

Rey licking her plate in the shadow of the fallen AT-AT's foot.

"Hey, I'm not the one who chased you down with a stick."

"The droid ... stole a freighter."

"The one I'm pointing to."

"You are the Han Solo who fought with the Rebellion. You knew him."

"This was a mistake!" / "Huge!"

"I never ask that question until after I've already done it."

"It's true. All of it."

"You. You're afraid ... that you'll never be as powerful as Darth Vader."

"It would take a miracle to save us now," followed by the cut to those blast doors opening up to reveal Han and Chewie.

Rey prowling in a circle around the defeated Kylo Ren.

Line for line and scene for scene, I think The Force Awakens is easily playing in the ballpark of the original trilogy. But its high points don't reach quite high enough to make that leap from art to archetype.

In a way, I wonder if that was actually a smart move, maybe even a deliberate one. By having TFA demolish so many records and fulfill so many people's expectations (though obviously not everyone's) without breaking any obviously new ground, they set Rogue One and Episode VIII up to go even bigger -- if those two movies top the artistic success of this one.

Whatever you want to say about TFA's lack of originality, there's nothing in the Rogue One trailer to suggest that it's going to be a retread of any Star Wars story we've seen before. Did it just sort of happen that way as a fluke? That strikes me as a bit unlikely.

Surprisingly, I'm fine with there being no "Help Me, Obi-Wan" moment in TFA. It shows that you can have a terrific Star Wars movie without resetting the bar for pop culture. My desire for the movie to reach that lofty achievement didn't come to fruition ... but then, Leia never ended up meeting Obi-Wan, either.

Instead, she met Han and Luke, just as we met Rey and Finn and Poe.

TFA, it turns out, was not our only hope.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Whatever You Do, Don't Stare

I went into the grocery store this morning to get some coffee and creamer, and what did I see the second I walked in the door?

The end-cap where they display the latest big release, with a big-screen TV over shelves of whatever DVD they're showcasing.

And what image was on the screen?


The Falcon's belly gun getting stuck in the forward position during the ship-chase scene on Jakku.

I stopped and watched for a few seconds, then had to force myself to move on before I got stuck in the forward position too -- because I could easily have just stood there staring through the entire rest of the film. Luckily, the sound was either off or too low for me to hear from my position in the doorway, with the entire row of registers between me and the television. I'd have been sunk if the music and dialogue had gotten their hooks in me.

All the Star Wars films bear rewatching. Even the bottom half (which for me consists of I, III, and VI) have plenty of set pieces and performances that never grow old.

But The Force Awakens may be the most beautiful of the films to date. Not the best -- I still put Star Wars and Empire ahead of it. But Episode VII has forty years of cinematic advances on those movies, and the overall film-making in TFA matches or beats anything else in the series.

Tonight I'm going to a friend's house to watch the movie on video for the first time. I have my own copy of the blu-ray, and I watched the deleted scenes reel, but I've so far maintained the willpower to avoid putting the movie itself on and watching it over and over. In part, that's because I knew my wife would mock me ("Aren't you going to Rick's to watch that on Sunday?"), but in part it's because I've had a bunch of stuff that needed doing, and if I'd indulged in my copy of TFA, I wouldn't have gotten anything accomplished since Tuesday night. Yesterday alone, I caught myself four or five different times and held back from putting the disc in. If my kids hadn't hogged the TV at a couple of crucial moments, I'd have grabbed it and been mesmerized.

And damn if Rogue One doesn't look like it might be even better.

I'm probably too embarrassed to watch The Force Awakens today while my wife is around.

But maybe I'll think of something else I need from the grocery store.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Guess You Don't Know Everything About Women Yet

A story popped up in my Facebook feed about "Star Wars fans" being upset that Rogue One has a female lead. I found this asinine for several reasons, chief among them the fact that all real Star Wars fans knew Rogue One had a female lead by last summer at the latest. No one acting surprised and disappointed now that the trailer is out is a real Star Wars fan.

More importantly, every day, millions upon millions of cretins and morons make sexist comments on Twitter and the Internet. The fact that it suddenly becomes newsworthy if Star Wars is involved is actually almost as sexist as the comments themselves. And making the headline a blanket statement about Star Wars fans pretty clearly shows that the media isn't really interesting in combating marginalization. 

I'm not linking to the story itself because I don't want to give more traffic to this clickbait, faux-righteous, fan-insulting trash.

Can't we all agree that giving trolls a louder voice, just because they latch onto something we love, is worse than useless?

As for whoever those dipweed trolls actually are, they're obviously in need of a lot more female advice.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

This is Gonna be a Real Short Trip

I'm pleased as Ponda Baba to have my Force Awakens blu-ray ... but dang, I thought there'd be more to the deleted scenes section!

On the plus side, Leia's deleted scene showed Carrie Fisher pulling out a pretty good performance. The scene itself wasn't amazing, but she was good in it.