Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Episode VII

In 1977, George Lucas brought an expansive story to the big screen. Tatooine was huge, with places such as Mos Eisley far from the moisture farm Owen and Beru Lars operated with the help of their young nephew, Luke Skywalker. Jawas roamed the distant reaches, and Tusken Raiders patrolled the Jundland Wastes. It took time to get from point A to point B, and a lot could happen in that time.

The two sequels took us places just as vast, just as open. Each gave us new characters whose names we came to know: Lando Calrisian, Yoda, Boba Fett, Wedge Antilles, Jabba the Hutt, Wicket. They all had motivations we understood, lives we could comprehend. Even in Episode IV, Jek Porkins’ heroic-but-doomed fight to maintain control of his X-Wing let us care about him. And then came the prequels.

In Episode I we wanted the little brat to go away (and in later movies more deeply regretted his failure to get killed, though not because he would grow up to become Darth Vader). We felt how terrible was the racial stereotype that was Jar Jar Binks. By the end of Episode III, the maudlin romance, if we could ever call it a romance, was over, and the interminable chatter of politicians and trade representatives had finally died down. Each entry into that trilogy continued the slide into drudgery, but we had been told that there would be no more. This time that was good news.

But now we have Episode VII, the purported savior of the franchise. Many have called it a reboot, but that is a misnomer. It is a continuation, and as such it is starting nothing over. Especially plot. There is no shortage of words out there about how this latest installment is a rehash of Epsiodes IV and V (and, let’s be honest, VI). Too many lines—and not even the better ones—were recycled, yet this time came up feeling even less interesting than before. But all is not lost.

Episode VII gives some wonderful action sequences, as far as that goes. There are explosions, space battles, chases, and even a little touch of lens flare (Abrams couldn’t help himself, it seems). There are familiar faces peppered in with the new, and a too-short appearance by Max von Sydow, who captures better than anyone that sense of the original that somehow escapes the grasp of even Ford and Fisher.

What we have here, then, is a series of action scenes, interspersed with introductions and a passing of the torch to a new generation of characters. Does it work? In a word, no. As with the prequels, it tries too hard to be a movie for the fans, but never succeeds in being a movie for itself. It is Star Wars fanfic writ large and in (optional) 3D, but it cannot stand on its own, nor does it take up the mantle of the movies that came before. To be sure, it exceeds the last two prequels, and perhaps equals Episode I, but in every way that matters it really isn’t s Star Wars movie.

By contrast to every other movie in the series, Episode VII is claustrophobic, putting us in tight spaces and compressing distances. The galaxy feels like little more than a solar system, where 30 minutes is enough to hop between systems, and five minutes is enough time to blow things up, run away, and hop into a ship perched high above on a cliff top.

Worse, while the filmmakers have thankfully spared us any continuation of the discussion of midichlorians, now one need have no training in the use of the Force. It just, as the title suggests, awakens. Need to get out of a tough spot and have no knowledge of the force? Give it a shot. Need to read the emotions of the most powerful adherent of the Dark Side? Just do it. Duh. Not sure how to use a lightsaber? Just take a moment to breathe, and all will be revealed.

Ultimately, this entry in the series comes off as little more than a skeleton, and an incomplete one at that. It is a pile of bones arranged into some semblance of order, but lacking any connective tissue. Characters populate the screen, but not one lives on it. A sudden attack of conscience, apparently unheard of in the stormtrooper ranks, kicks things off. Scavengers starve, yet somehow remain fit enough to keep up with the toughest of allies and opponents. Resistance pilots shoot and die with nary a name between them, except Poe Dameron (because he is the greatest among them). But even if this story had a real plot and engaged in meaningful character development it would still lack that one piece of anatomy that the original trilogy possessed: heart.


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