I’ve just returned from an early show of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with my wife and son. Like everyone else on the internet, I’m writing a review!
In 2000, Vin Diesel teamed up with director David Twohy to create one of the best sci-fi/horror movies ever made, Pitch Black. For fans of that great, great movie, you probably already know where I’m going with this Star Wars review. The movie was relatively low-budget, outperformed mixed reviews, and became a huge cult hit.In 2004 the two teamed up again to make a sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. This movie did not fare nearly so well as the beloved progenitor, although I myself liked it. It was a sprawling, messy, baroque that did enough things well to be interesting but was too flawed to be a success.
But Diesel loved the material, loved the character, and really wanted to get the story told. So in 2013 he used every ounce of leverage he possessed, mortgaged his house, and teamed up with Twohy to make a another sequel: Riddick. “Sequel” is a bit generous: with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder, Diesel and Twohy went back to what made Pitch Black so popular and amped it up to 11.
The opening scene of the movie is a meta-repudiation of the second film and the choices they made in constructing it, much like the X-Men have done recently. Riddick is half-remake, half-sequel, half-reboot. I loved it, but only because I loved Pitch Black and meta-repudiation amuses me. If it were a stand-alone movie, it would be a slick, decent film. Naturally it has set up a fourth film, which I will dutifully watch should it get made. Love ya, Vin.
And that’s Star Wars: TFA for you. The parallels are rather uncanny; I doubt I’m the first on these here interwebs to draw the comparison. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. But it was very difficult to lose myself in the film with the writers constantly elbowing me in the ribs and asking me if I got it. How many “easter eggs” can you put in a film before it’s Halloween?
The other component here that is “new” is the video-gamification of the franchise. It’s no secret that most of the Star Wars saga has been told in print and video games for 20 years now. I have read those books and played most of those games with a fanaticism bordering on maniacal, and even felt a twinge of nostalgia for KOTOR and SWTOR as I left the theater. That’s because everything that’s new here–everything that is not re-hash from the Pitch Black phase of the saga–is from the games (and to a lesser extent, the books). It may be that Star Wars gamers know a bit too much for their own good here. I certainly felt that way. Every setting, every story idea, every gimmick, every…well, everything, is from a game I have played or a book I have read. I can hear theme music from the games firing up in my head, which is ok because that’s how the film is scored anyway.
I will go ahead and agree with friends and other reviewers that the characters and their relationships are pretty interesting. I’m not so sanguine as the Darwins about the romance angle–I think it’s just muted here, and will emerge to torment in the sequels. I do like the reversal on the parent-child conflict, and I think it’s handled quite believably. And man, I’m just a plain old Star Wars Nerd Sucker for when the hero closes her eyes and uses the Force. That theme music plays and it’s time for Dark Side Punks to get rekt.
I asked my son Gregory (age 10) what he thought about the film. He was not blown away, but his reactions to most things are pretty muted. I poked and prodded as neutrally as I could. He thought it was not as good as RotJ, which is his favorite ending (because it is mine, I suspect). When I asked him if he noticed that most of the cool stuff was already in the earlier movies, he suggested that George Lucas had used all the good ideas and there were none left to try. Attaboy, fanboy!
RotJ seems like a good benchmark. It and RotS scored almost exactly the same on Rotten Tomatoes, at around 80%. That’s about how much I liked TFA, maybe just a tad below. The early metacritic scores in the 90s are pure wish fulfillment. No way is this in the same league as ANH or ESB–unless you count it as a remake of ANH, of course.
Slickly done, and Star Wars Nerds like me will rejoice, but it failed my ultimate movie test–I stopped to wonder how much longer it was going to go on (the Pitch Black comparison occurred to me mid-movie–talk about immersion failure!). Still, good to hear the fanfare again!
I forgo my wonted J.J. Abrams tirade so as not to appear a crotchety old man.