So I’m going to try something a wee bit different here today: I am going to use my opinions to openly (but politely!) disagree with someone else’s opinions. *Gasp!*
A little while ago, Andrea Johnson posted her “not a review” of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As I had recently seen the movie and I usually find much of agreeable interest in her reviews, I read it.
GOOD PEOPLE, SHE WAS GRIEVOUSLY WRONG. *Thumps podium*
*Clears throat* Spoiler alert.
The Force Awakens: A Geek Debate
So it is perhaps already clear at this point (assuming one has clicked on the above link) that Ms Johnson is “against” the movie in question. I, in my turn, intend to make a case “for” the aforementioned movie. To that end, I will address Andrea’s pertinent concerns regarding it, and put forth my counter-arguments in its favour, before a final summary statement of defense.
… If you’re still here after all that formal windbaggery, let’s debate!
Quote (these will henceforth be marked in blockquotes as below):
No way around it, your experience with the new Star Wars is directly connected to your past with Star Wars. Kids who have never seen a Star Wars movie will experience this new one completely differently than people who grew up watching episodes IV, V and VI as kids.
My past with Star Wars:
I grew up watching Star Wars. In the mid 80’s I was old enough to put a movie in the VHS player and hit play, but I wasn’t old enough to have the comprehension to understand a long story. We had episodes IV and VI on VHS, and I liked watching them. I didn’t understand the storyline at all, but I liked how I felt when I watched them, the music really stuck with me. I wondered why Luke went from wearing white and tan to wearing black. Han Solo was my first crush. I wanted my wedding dress to look like Princess Leia’s long white dress during the medals ceremony at the end. I wouldn’t realize it for 15 years, but I was taking my first steps towards a love affair with the Campbellian Hero’s Journey. Much later, when I finally saw episode V, things really started making sense.
I can attest that Andrea’s first point is a good one – though I feel there is also room here for (yes they exist as well) The Indifferent Viewer when it comes to the original trilogy. (Sidenote: in the interest of not digressing too hard, I shall be disregarding the prequel trilogy here.) I was, prior to seeing The Force Awakens, more or less an Indifferent Viewer myself. I had seen the movies, though not as a child, and though I certainly didn’t dislike them, they never stood out as something really special.
I posit that this is OK! Might not one also be allowed, upon witnessing what the original trilogy had to offer, consider it as a whole and declare “eh, it’s all right”? Regardless, this was the baggage of opinion that I carried upon seeing The Force Awakens. (I mention it because I feel that this is also important, not merely valid – as I will try to explain at a later point.)
Star Wars, like The Princess Bride, offers fans a sort of cultural secret handshake. If I say “are there rocks ahead?” and you respond with “if there are, we’ll all be dead”, I immediately know we are of the same tribe. Star Wars references (and Spaceballs references) serve the same purpose.
… Do they?
I can absolutely understand this point coming from a longtime fan of the movies, one whose childhood is indelibly stamped with Star Wars geekery – but at this point, popular culture itself is so indelibly stamped with everything Star Wars that I suspect the whole “secret handshake” aspect might be redundant. At this point, who doesn’t know that the ‘correct’ response to “I love you!” is “I know”? Who doesn’t know that a Darth Vader impression must come complete with the whooshy mechanical breathing noises? Rearranged sentences, a Yoda impersonation is.
This is not an attempt to belittle the fandom – far from it. The popularity of these movies being so massive doesn’t necessarily cheapen it; it means there’s more to share, more to discuss, with more people who might hear such a line and wonder about the movie(s) it came from…
It was a very JJ movie. Lots of action, neat special effects, some nice nods to the originals. Other than the obvious storyline nod, there were subtle and well done connections using color, clothing, and cinematography. From an artistic point of view, I appreciated those. But when it came to the movie itself, I felt no emotional investment towards the characters. Zero. If the new characters died at the end of the movie, I wouldn’t have cared. There was no hook to get me invested. The movie felt like a stand alone, like it wasn’t connected to anything, like it’s creator wanted to stand apart instead of be part of something larger. There was no Hero’s Journey here. Not in the music, not in the plot, not in what the characters went through. It felt flat.
(Emphasis is my own.)
“No emotional investment” – Right here, I think, is where Andrea’s and my opinions of the movie really and truly diverge. As I mentioned before, I was never truly swayed by the original trilogy. I enjoyed the story, I liked the characters, I can definitely appreciate the artistic effort that was put in – but all of this is coming from my adult retrospective point of view. I don’t see much, aside from maybe Yoda and the Ewoks (shush and let me finish!) that would have interested Child Me at all*.
Cut to today and to The Force Awakens, and suddenly everything is different for me, because suddenly I am finding all of this exciting! These characters are interesting to me! I would have LOVED to have smart, daring, sympathetic scavenger Rey to geek out over as a kid. She would have brightened so many dull days. She’s certainly brightened the most recent ones.
Finn, likewise, makes the faceless, disposable Stormtroopers more than just fodder who can’t shoot worth a damn. He’s not the best hand with a lightsaber, maybe he’s not even really the Hero – but to touch upon countless feminist arguments that have undoubtedly been made better than I could do… Isn’t that sort of the point?
It’s sad that the best thing I can say about The Force Awakens is that the Pilot guy was really hot.
Don’t be sad, Andrea. Poe wouldn’t want you to be sad. Look at him. Be happy.
(Yes, I really will take any excuse to post his picture. No, I’m not ashamed.)
The original three Stars Wars movies made viewers feel something deep inside. It made us feel like we were something larger than ourselves, made us want to be better people, to stand a little taller, to be worthy of being part of something larger than ourselves. The Force Awakens made me feel none of that. That’s what frustrates me. I won’t remember this movie in 10 years, I won’t be quoting it’s lines, I won’t be using dialog like a secret handshake. Star Wars is no longer what defines a generation…
With all respect due to fans of the original, while I can absolutely understand why Andrea feels this way – God knows I’ve certainly dug my fannish heels in over other films/stories I’ve held so dear over the years, in the fear that they’ll be handled poorly – I don’t agree that The Force Awakens, and perhaps even what follows, can’t be seen as something special to a new generation of fans. Little girls with no interest in Barbie dolls and tea sets are going to (and already do!) love the hell out of a character like Rey. They can boo and hiss with enthusiastic abandon at Kylo Ren (though hopefully that may change, Darth Vader-style, before the end…), who dared to try to tell her he could teach her anything. (Can you see where I’m going with this point?)
I don’t say this often, and for good reasons, but I’ll say it now – Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie I wish I’d been able to see fifteen or twenty years ago. It could have changed so much of my perspective, and so many ideas about what a girl could be capable of. If it does this for a new generation of young girls (and boys!), then how can that be bad?
And if it sways an Indifferent Viewer to the proverbial Light Side of the Force, then surely that’s another reason to appreciate it…
*Child Me always did love a good Henson-esque puppetfest, and Adult Me will fight anybody who puts them down. But that is, perhaps, another debate entirely…