I thought I was a geek. I saw Star Wars IV: A New Hope 22 times before I quit watching it. I owned all the little action figures. I had the X-wing, a tie-fighter, a Bespin Twin Pod and a land-speeder. I had Luke, Han, Leia, Chewy, Threepio and R2. I had a Star Wars poster on my wall and a The Empire Strikes Back poster and a Return of the Jedi poster.
I got into film-making and read George Lucas’s biography “Skywalking.” I made 8 mm movies with my friends, wrote story treatments and scripts, got fascinated by history and used it as an impetus for story-telling and craft. To this day, my love of writing and teaching is born of a seed that started back there in 1977, somewhere amid Wookies and droids, star destroyers and rebellion.
I considered myself an expert on Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s films. I had the Time Magazine with Lucas on the cover and I kept it in a plastic sleeve and read it continually. I bought a book, whose title now escapes me, of the art of The Empire Strikes Back–a vast high-gloss paperback retreat where I looked at pictures of otherworldliness with escapist joy and wonder.
The day after I graduated high school, I got on a plane and flew to Philadelphia to live with my dad until college started. It was a boondoggle that wound up with me back in California three months later. In that time, I contracted mononucleosis and moved from California to New Jersey to Massachusetts—and every step of the way, I had the Star Wars posters with me. They adorned my bedroom wall in three states and they were a constant companion to me during a tumultuous and difficult time. As my heart broke, I wrapped myself in the Star Wars trilogy (and the Indiana Jones films) and read “Splinter in the Mind’s Eye” and other Star Wars themed books. I was the target audience–and the target was bright, clear and lucid on my back.
So when I went today to see Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, I went chastened by the last three films (I, II III), which I found simply unwatchable and at some point, grotesquely bad. I didn’t have high hopes, but the hopes I did have I pinned on J.J. Abrams. Star Trek in his hands was wonderful–and a film he produced called Cloverfield, ranks as one of my favorites of the past 10 years.
But Star Wars VII succeeded for me on only one level. I enjoyed seeing Han Solo again and I enjoyed that Abrams stayed true to the story of Han and Leia. I thought they were great to watch and that they have a son didn’t surprise me at all. And that’s it. The rest of the film dragged under its own weight with one-dimensional main characters who seem to be rushing through their hero’s journey story so they can join the Star Wars franchise in its merchandising fecklessness that belittles everything it touches and mocks the very children it seeks to attract as a fan. Star Wars cereal and Star Wars car ads. Star Wars fast food and Star Wars noodles. Star Wars occupies everything–it’s no longer fun and exciting to be a part of. You don’t have to work at it–in fact, you have to work to avoid it.
The film is slow–I found myself day-dreaming through it. I didn’t care a whit about Finn and Rey as characters and their sudden friendship, born in less than a few minutes in circumstances that required hardly any effort, is unbelievable. The story of their entrance to the franchise is incapable of clarity and while Abrams deftly handles his obvious love of the franchise by giving purpose and place to the characters as he sees it, the story never suspends disbelief enough to allow me to see what’s next.
Han Solo appears almost out of nowhere–the near incredible confluence of Finn’s, Rey’s and Solo’s life is unfocused and almost silly. But Harrison Ford, whose career I continued to admire all the way through it, is so good and so worth watching that I could not help but be enthralled. His reunion with Princess Leia is understated and written with restrained passion and I admired that.
But the last half hour of the film leading to a 45-second glimpse of Luke Skywalker, who doesn’t speak at all, is where it all fell apart. Abrams copies the plot of Star Wars IV: A New Hope and it’s simply the same story with new characters reliving what happened 38-years ago. Luke is Obi-Wan now–the good seem to retreat to a place of safety until enough people have died to get them to come back–and that is obviously where the next film will go. I’m left with more answers than questions–and the questions I do have are perfunctory and plot based.The beauty of Star Wars has always been that for the “geek,” the questions were about who was who and what was what. That has been resurrected somewhat with the question of Rey’s identity–who’s child is she and what is she about? But other than that, she is flat, one-dimensional and uninteresting. I never believed she cared for Finn and I never believed Finn could have cared for her. Both actors were fine–the acting was very taut in the film. No, the actors were not the problem. The story was.
I speak heresy and I know it. I will indeed watch the next installment of the film in a year. I’ll look forward to it and I’ll relish the chance to awaken my love of the story and its power to speak to all of us about rising above circumstances and evil and believing in something greater than one’s self.
But I’ll do it with the balance of age, perhaps. Maybe I’m no longer the geek I used to be. Maybe I’ve lost the connection to the story I once had. After all, Star Wars spoke to me about all those things when I needed it most. My own life unwinding as my parents divorced and the center of my universe just simply spun out of control, Star Wars was a reminder that one could balance faith in a Force greater than one’s self and be a beacon of good and kindness. But I am no longer that person and either I’ve forgotten what that felt like….
Or it has.