I watched The Force Awakens from two perspectives. One as a die-hard Star Wars Fan (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and then it loses me), and the other as a concerned human worrying about what Hollywood is doing, what message they’ve been sending to young girls about their worth for a couple of decades now, in the wake of the impact of action franchises. Sure, the Hunger Games and other films like it are bringing the females into the theaters but there is still this idea that there is a separate world for boys and girls somehow decided as movies became more expensive and made more money. This will not do.
JJ Abrams did the unthinkable – he deliberately redirected the course of the Star Wars franchise away from what it had become under the thumb of George Lucas. Lucas was a genius when it came to movie making. There is no digital effect that can replace the human imagination and Lucas’ work with the series is proof of that. The one thing Star Wars did was birth a generation of movies and a generation of moviegoers that got comfortable with throwing women in the garbage as an okay thing to do. It was sanctioned, after all, by the public with blockbuster after blockbuster. It’s not hard to make a lot of money here or internationally. Just put a bunch of white guys in the lead, brand the shit out of it, fill it will dazzling visuals — which would include females as eye-candy and, for the most part, you have a hit. JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy could have gone that route with Episode VII and maybe toppled Jurassic World’s box office take, which would put it just a smidge below Avatar. Abrams and Kennedy, though, had a different idea in mind. If they’re going to “reboot” the franchise, bring in an already locked in audience, why not steer the ship in a slightly different direction?
That direction is, by golly, to put two people in leading roles who wouldn’t ordinarily be expected to “test well” with a worldwide box office bonanza. Wait, no central white male figure in the lead? Are you kidding me? Yet, that’s exactly what they did with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, two of the best reasons to see The Force Awakens. I sat there with my 17-year-old daughter and both of us were waiting for the moment when “the girl” did something stupid, or “the girl” needed to be rescued, or the plot refocused away from “the girl” so the boys could take care of business.
Astonishingly, that moment never came. No character is given the short shrift by Abrams, who lovingly takes care of old people like me by checking off all the boxes that made the original Star Wars movie so enjoyable, while also opening a few new doors, changing the tone in a few places, and doing what so many big movies like Fury Road, The Martian, Creed and Straight Outta Compton have done: bring the magic back to the movies. Not for the precious few who attend screenings for free and not for the precious few who sit in their comfortable seats at the Arclight, but for those of us out there in the dark, the real people who need movies to do what they are best at — helping to ease the burden of the terrible things going on “out there” and to wildly entertain us.
It’s a fun movie in every respect. But it is ultimately the performances of Ridley and Boyega, I think, that makes this thing the unexpected thrill that it is and that’s not just because they are cast as leads but because they are both actors who are exciting to watch. This isn’t a film that’s meant to go very deep. One of the problems with the Star Wars series is that it went so deep into inventing cultures that it drifted away from the fun of the original, which never took itself all that seriously, and headed into territory the material couldn’t sustain. JJ Abrams set out to make it fun again and that’s exactly what he’s accomplished here – with many an inside joke and familiar old face so we can remember the good old days.
Now, on to the Oscar talk. I think, even if The Force Awakens had come out earlier and become the highest grossing film of all time it would still have a hard time making the cut for Best Picture. That’s because of the Oscar ballot voters get with five nomination slots. The Producers Guild have ten and they might well put The Fore Awakens there. It’s conceivable, being Kathleen Kennedy and all. But I don’t think the Oscar voters will. It’s a long shot to even think they would put the better film, Inside Out, in their top five. That movie really is everything and a bag of chips to be called one of the best films of the year and could very well do the impossible and get a Best Picture nomination. It’s a longer shot for Star Wars.
The tech categories are, as usual, jammed. We know our man John Williams will probably get a nomination for score. Visual effects, sound and maybe production design are probably going to be in there. But I agree with Kris Tapley who said it probably ends there. Nobody knows everything and nobody knows anything – so take it all with a grain of salt.
This is a film to feel excited about. It’s a film that allows us to be unashamed about that excitement. One reason I’m not publicly criticizing another film coming out right now that I thought was terrible is that a lot of other people don’t think it’s terrible and are very excited about it. Why piss on their parade? That’s not something I feel is my place. So line up for the new Star Wars and enjoy the ride. It’s a ride worth taking. Or, as my daughter said afterwards, it’s definitely a “watch it over and over and over and over again movie.” As someone who saw the original about 100 times at least, I approve that message.