Rinse, Repeat, Rip Off…Oh, and Hooray!

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterThere may be a spoiler or two here, folks. Read at your own risk.

Like so many, I grew up infatuated with anything and everything even remotely attached to the Star Wars universe. It’s hardly a unique badge to wear, but I wear it proudly.

The original “Star Wars” was, without a doubt, the movie that got me hooked on the movie-going experience. The opening battle on Hoth in “Empire Strikes Back” remains, to this day, one of my favorite movie sequences ever. And when “Return of the Jedi” came to the Isle Theatre in Cumberland, WI in 1983, I attended the 7 p.m. showing every evening during its two-week run, going as far as picking up yard work around town each day to earn the $1.75 ticket cost each night.

Decades later, the newest installment of the franchise, “The Force Awakens,” has sent a shock wave through movie lovers young and old. It’s been showered upon the anxious masses with special trailer releases, humorous talk show parodies and 43,000 or so promotional tie-ins with various fast food chains. Normally, this is the type of over-exposure that annoys the living shit out of me, but I decided to pass on that instinct this time around. After all, it’s fuckin’ Star Wars, man! Tie off my arm, find a vein and inject me with as much of it as you can.

So, what does this new chapter to the series bring? Well, I hate to say it, but not all that much in the way of originality. Stop right there! I’m not saying it’s a bad film. Not even close. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much that I’d like to date it for a little while, become nervous when it becomes a bit clingy, tell it we need to take a break, and then get back together with it a few months later.

“The Force Awakens,” for the most part, is what we all hoped it would be. It’s an amazing mix of action, artistic visual effects, sly humor and just plain fun. Unfortunately, it’s the same mix of those things that was birthed nearly four decades ago in a galaxy far, far away. Yes, my friends, “The Force Awakens” is an unapologetic, or naive, rip off of its native son — 1977’s “Star Wars.”

So, what’s ripped off? Where do we start? The story. Countless plot devices. The dark villain. His overlord who likes to appear via hologram. The cantina with funky characters and music. The chirpy droid providing comic relief. A scavenger getting hunted down by the bad guys on a desert planet because she is in possession of a droid with secret digital information. A weapon of mass destruction that destroys planets. The way the good guys blow up said weapon of mass destruction that destroys planets. Oh, and about three dozen other things I don’t have the patience to write about. Hell, even Daisy Ridley, who plays a great lead protagonist, is a complete rip off of Keira Knightley (a decidedly good rip off, in my opinion).

All of that said, the film far exceeds any of the prequels that George Lucas pushed out of his anus. It may not be all that original, but damn, it’s fun. And I’ll see it again…and maybe again.

What Works?

J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair. I love what this man did with a floundering Star Trek franchise. I love what he did with “Cloverfield.” I love what he’s done on television. Yeah, the film wasn’t very original, but Abrams made it feel fresh, even when it wasn’t. The guy obviously gets it, creating the movies he wants to make and not trading in a franchise’s legacy for the sake of his.

Daisy Ridley as Rey. Ridley is quirky, beautiful and able to put a fair amount of emotion into a sci-fi character — no small accomplishment. I was a little leery about having a no-name actress take the lead, but it turned out to be the right move. If the next couple of movies are on her shoulders, I feel pretty confident that she’s up to the task.

Han Solo still kicks ass. Funny, gruff and manlier than a cowboy shaving with a fence post, Solo has always been my favorite character in the series. Ford plays him perfectly. Sure, he’s no spring chicken, but I can’t imagine another character holding up quite so well over time as he does. I want to hang out with him in my free time. Maybe start a fantasy football league where we’re the only two members and I let him win every week. Yeah, that got a little weird. Sorry.

Star Wars shivers. I used to get the shivers during key moments of the original trilogy. I guess I assumed that wouldn’t happen as a cranky adult, but I was wrong. When those X-wings flew to the rescue across the water, shivers. The first time I heard the TIE fighter scream, shivers. When Rey snatched the lightsaber from the air, shivers. Sure, it was all rooted in childhood memories, but I was glad those shivers still lived in me somewhere.

What Flops?

The wussiest villain in the history of the Star Wars universe. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren spends most of the film failing in front of his boss, getting talked down to by a no-force-having general, and getting his ass whooped by a 105 lb. woman who doesn’t even know she has the force flowing through her veins. If Darth Maul were alive, he’d puke. I was just embarrassed for the guy. Oh, and keep your fucking mask on, dipshit. Nobody sees the goofy guy who had sex with Lena Dunham on “Girls” as a serious threat to the light side of the force.

John Boyega as Finn. Full disclosure: I really wanted to like this character. Early on, he injected a little humor into a movie that really isn’t a stomping grounds for comedy. Unfortunately, the character wasn’t that interesting beyond that. Boyega was all that bad playing the role (wasn’t that great either), but it seems like a relatively empty character. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong over the long haul, but for now I wish Kylo Ren would’ve made sure he was dead before moving on to his next fight.

The Millennium Falcon’s transformation from a plucky pelican into a graceful humming bird. Yes, I’m a dork. I grew up watching the Millennium Falcon bang, clutter and basically clumsify it’s way through the original trilogy. It was the Energizer Bunny of spacecraft — reliable, strong and ready in a pinch. What it wasn’t, was nimble. Then, 30 minutes into this film, it’s dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and dodging like it’s a fucking aerial ballerina. Gliding on the snow, floating and falling like the Neo in the Matrix, and turning corners like it’s on rails. Some things are sacred. Just stop it.

The Verdict?

As I’ve beat to death here, I really wish the powers that be could’ve created a film with a bit more uniqueness. Not Jar Jar Binks unique, but something that wowed me in some of the same ways that the original films wowed me as a young boy.

In the absence of originality, though, Abrams and crew did create a action-packed, visual keeper of a film. They were also able to make audiences care about new characters, while still cheering on the arrival of the old. At its core, “The Force Awakens” is an escapist experience that transports old dorks back to their childhood days and introduces new dorks to a universe that holds infinite possibilities (and countless new toys). I only hope that the next film doesn’t start on a frozen planet and introduce Rey to a creepy little dude in a swamp. That may just end the dream for this guy.

Grade: B


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