Star Wars fever is sweeping the nation, and of course the excitement is understandable; Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is the first sequel since Return of the Jedi (1983), that’s 30 plus years! Sure, we got Episodes I through III, but they weren’t sequels, they were prequels, telling the story of how Anakin became Darth Vader. With The Force Awakens we’re getting a true follow up to the story, we’re moving forwards not backwards. We’re seeing what happened to the Rebel Alliance after they destroyed the Death Star along with the dictator known as Emperor Palpatine. I must admit I am extremely curious as to where it’s all going. Thinking about this new film and the excitement surrounding it (trust me, now EVERYTHING is Star Wars) I inevitably go back to the first time I saw Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), because yes, I was one of those kids who grew up with these movies. I played with that first batch of Kenner Star Wars toys. I remember waiting years and years and years for a new Star Wars movie, which Lucas just didn’t want to give us. I remember seeing Jedi beneath the stars at a drive in, with Jaws 3-D (1983) playing on the screen next to it. So after all the nostalgia and years of Star Wars mythology that have passed, we have to ask ourselves, why do we love these movies so? What is so endearing about these characters? How do these movies speak to us, what do they say about society?
If we get down to the nucleus of things, Star Wars is all about the people vs. the evil government and evil governments are a worldwide phenomenon, which explains why people from all over the world embrace these films, yes my friends, Star Wars is subversive. In these films the good guys want to kill the emperor and blow up his floating castle! Stop the dictator who masquerades himself as a leader to the people. It’s no surprise that the emperor’s servants look like Nazi soldiers, they represent oppression. The choke hold that Vader performs is symbolic of the kind of choke that evil governments can have on society. So of course people are going to embrace these movies, they are about what we all want, a good guy leading things, which sadly rarely happens. I screened Star Wars (1977) the other day for an audience and they actually cheered when the death star blew up. I mean, the Death Star blowing up, Palpatine falling down to his death in Return of the Jedi (1983), these moments all symbolize one thing, the triumph of good over the forces of evil. On these movies, the good guys win and it feels so good. But what happens after you debunk the evil government? What government comes in its place? Who will rule now? These questions are never answered which is why I’m so curious as to where The Force Awakens (2015) is going. I want to know what happens after they blow up the second Death Star, perhaps the build a third one? Obviously The Empire isn’t entirely gone, so more than likely The Force Awakens (2015) will be all about how evil simply changes its name and the farce that leads to oppression begins anew.
These films are also a coming of age story. When we first meet Luke he is just a teenager looking to follow his dreams. He is anxious to go see the world, anxious to live his life. Luke has that anxiety one has at a very young age, when you know you’re whole life lays ahead of you and it’s just getting started. He doesn’t know what it is, but he knows something’s going to happen! And same as all of us, Luke has to choose between the light and the dark, which is why I love The Empire Strikes Back (1980) so much. That whole sequence that takes place in the swampy surface of Dagobah, with Yoda giving Luke the fast forward version of Jedi training is one of the most pivotal moments in the whole series. Like Luke, we all have mentors in our lives; we just have to learn to listen to them. Yoda is wise in his ways, he warns Luke about the dangers of being “seduced by the dark side of the force”, which of course is something we can all identify with, that’s a danger that is out there, the dark path. It’s a choice we all have; we can choose to bring goodness into this world, help our fellow man, but we can also choose to be tools of evil. This isn’t just some silly movie logic, its real life advice that young people can apply in their lives during those formative years. As Luke learns in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), evil is sometimes so close to us that it could be our own freaking parents, sometimes it flows through our DNA. We have to be ready to shun it from our lives and move forward in search of our own particular destiny.
As for the films as pure entertainment and visual candy, there’s no denying their awesomeness. I watched the three of them back to back to back recently and had a chance to absorb the whole trilogy once again. The first one is the introduction, and it has a lot of gaping holes in logic that we can see only now, after years and years of being exposed to the Star Wars mythology. Like for example, if Luke is just a farm boy, how come he immediately knows how to fly an X-Wing? He’s never even set foot in one and they give him a whole ship! That’s like giving me a freaking F-14. I’d crash it in less than 12 parsecs. But not Luke, he drives it as if he’s driven one his whole life! Out of the blue he knows all about attack formations and whatnot. Obi One’s lightsaber “duel” with Darth Vader pales in comparison to the kind of lightsaber battles we see today, but what the hell, back in ’77, nobody had seen a freaking lightsaber duel, hell, the mere sight of a lightsaber was amazing! But watching these movies with a good dose of suspension of disbelief is necessary, more so on science fiction films like this one.
I have to agree that in terms of direction and tone, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is the best one. Its dark, it’s dramatic and not childish at all, which of course is something that Return of the Jedi (1983) is a bit guilty of, catering to the kiddies. But wow, that showdown between Luke and Vader on Cloud City is the stuff of legends! The battle of the gods! Han Solo gets frozen, the Empire is alive and kicking and Luke gets his hand cut off! I mean, they really wanted to make us feel unease with The Empire Strikes Back. Then we have Return of the Jedi, which used to be my favorite, but upon this recent watching realized that the whole Ewok village segment just slows the movie down to a big fat crawl. Sure the Ewoks are cute and all and true, there are a lot of revelations involved in these scenes, but it just brings the pacing of the film to a standstill, something that doesn’t happen as often in the other movies. The good thing about Jedi is that it has its many amazing moments and when it’s on, it’s on! That speeder bike chase sequence! The final epic space battle! And again, when Luke and Vader duke it out, it’s a show stopper! My favorite moments are those in which Luke is being tempted by the greatest evil of all, Emperor Palpatine himself, well, those are really intense moments. Luke is really put through the ultimate test. Will he break? Emperor Palpatine made an amazing villain. Sure he only sits on the throne, but man you can feel the evil power flowing through his every pore. You feel like Luke just might turn, you feel the conflict within him for sure. One thing is good about these Star Wars films, they paint a picture of ourselves, and it's not black and white. We have shades of evil that can surface if not kept in check.
All in all, I love all three movies for different reasons. Now all J.J. Abrams has to do come next Dec 17th (that’s when I’m seeing it!) is deliver what is commonly known in film buff parlance as “a worthy sequel”. Man, J.J. Abrams must be shaking in his storm trooper boots right about now! A legion of fans is waiting to judge his work! But honestly, I don’t think he has to worry, I think J.J. is going to knock it out of the park. He took the Star Trek franchise and made it cool, I mean, that’s no easy feat! He’s produced television shows that really entertain, like Lost and Fringe. Point is, the guy knows how to please an audience. He knows we want to be wowed, he knows we want that Star Wars magic back again, we want to feel it. Something not even Lucas himself was able to do with Episodes I through III. Plus, this film has all of Disney’s millions behind it, so we know that at least from a production value standpoint, the film should be solid. How solid? Well, they actually built real sets! I mean, that’s almost unheard of in today’s sci-fi films where the only thing that is real are the actors. See Jupiter Ascending (2015) to see what I mean, or better yet, don’t! Thank god J.J. and crew decided to go old school for The Force Awakens. I mean, those old films were made with sweat and tears, not inside of a computer. To me that’s real filmmaking. Sweat and tears. Locations, sets, props! Of course, I have my theories as to the mysteries surrounding The Force Awakens, the big question that’s lurking on everyone’s mind is will Luke turn to the dark side? I seriously doubt it. Whose kids are whose? Oh boy, I can’t wait to see the mysteries unfold. Well, that’s it for my take on the whole Star Wars craze! See you in theaters! I know you got your ticket safely hidden away in a secret envelope, to be opened only on premiere day, so until then. may the force be with you…always!
J.J. Abraham's directs The Force Awakens (2015)