Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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I owe an enormous apology to all of you lovely people out there in the dark.   I have had a rather insane holiday season which has kept me from both my cinema appraisals as well as my plethora of activities in this business we call show.  It all began when the crew from King World Studios came to install the old Hollywood Squares set on the back terrace of Chateau Maine in preparation for my hosting a Republican Party debate later in the primary season.  The vertical arrangement was going to give some much needed pizzazz to the proceedings, besides giving room for nine podiums plus the press crew without having to suspend the moderators beyond the balustrade over the chaparral.  That can definitely cause vertigo in even the hardiest of journalists.

1951 White House Renovation PD

Sigh. This is NO way to spend a holiday!

Anyway, the crew plugged all of that neon into the electrical system of Chateau Maine at the same time that my annual fabulous living nativity was running full power in the front.  Needless to say, there was a major power overload, blown fuses, melted wiring, and my lovely family of Korean shop keepers who were providing atmosphere as Middle Eastern shepherds and such were left in the dark and silence as the continuous loop of my famous recording of ‘O Holy Night’ also ground to a halt.  I am nothing if not resourceful, so I quickly ran to Steve Lawrence’s house down the block and asked to use the recording studio in the basement.  (He hasn’t needed it much since Eydie passed on).  I quickly laid down a quick couple of verses of ‘Silent Night’ and ran back to the Chateau with a fresh pressed CD and put it in a portable boom box.  Normy came back from an emergency run to K-Mart with a bunch of flashlights and soon we were back in business.

When the electricians came the next morning, there was nothing for it but a massive rewiring job which involved much cutting of holes, sheet rocking and repainting which has made Chateau Maine a bit of an unholy mess at this holy time of year.  I’ve had to cancel our being on the annual Hollywood Hills Holiday Tour of Homes this year because of the mess, but we are letting HGTV crews in to document the renovations for a special musical holiday special for next year.  We’ve had a time finding a crew of electricians, painters and plasterers who can tap and sing in four parts but the results will be worth it.  They’re working  on the ‘I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’ number in the Grand Foyer later this afternoon as they put new neon stair treads in a rainbow of colors down.

Normy and I simply had to escape from the dust and noise so, like the rest of the population of the United States, we headed off to the local Cineplex to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the most anticipated film release since Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace more than fifteen years ago.  While most fans and critics found the prequel trilogy to the original Star Wars trilogy a disappointment, at best, the word on the street for this first of a sequel trilogy has been surprisingly good and we both looked forward to being transported again to a long, long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.  We were pleased and surprised at the quality of the new film which, if not quite living up to the original film, captures the same sense of excitement and brio in storytelling and imagination that makes the original such a classic.   (I have always had a soft spot for the original film and you can spot me briefly in the Cantina scene as one of the musicians.  I played the part as a favor to George Lucas who was looking for some star power, but decided not to take credit when my extended tap solo was cut in previews.)

In this new film, we have progressed to a new generation.   The evil Empire has been defeated but in its place has risen a new dark power, the First Order, which has taken over the military and bureaucracy leaving our heroes of the Republic still outcasts and still fighting a rebellion.  The movie opens in a very similar way to the original Star Wars but with a gender switch.  We meet daredevil pilot Poe Dameron  (Oscar Isaac) who is receiving a crucial map from a mysterious old man (Max Von Sydow) when the First Order attacks under Captain Phasma (Gwendolyn Christie from Game of Thrones) and another baddie shrouded in black with a funky helmet and voice, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).  Poe must hide the plans in a droid (the adorable BB-8, a sort of sentient beach volleyball) before he is captured, only to be rescued by a storm trooper with a conscience named Finn (John Boyega).  Meanwhile, elsewhere on the desert planet of Jakku, a lone young woman named Rey (Daisy Ridley), scavenges for a living and dreams of a better life off world.  Soon the worlds of these young people collide, the Millennium Falcon is found on a junk heap and piloted off world and we’re off on a new adventure which eventually encompasses Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.  I shan’t reveal more of the plot as the reveals are half the fun.  Needless to say, all our old friends get appropriate re-introductions to the delight of the audience and we’re off with them to destroy a new super weapon (shades of the Death Star).

The plotting in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is derivative, mainly lifted from Episode IV with a few bits of Episode V and VI thrown in for good measure, but it moves along at a dizzying pace from set piece to set piece so you don’t really care and, if you’re over the age of 45, you’re transported back to the summer of 1977 when the world was a simpler and sweeter place and you feel all of the things that the original film made you feel.  Excitement, hope, and the feeling that the heroes will always win through ingenuity and daring do.  There are also some plot elements that seem to go absolutely nowhere.  Reportedly, the first cut of the film was well over three hours long so it may be that some of it will become clearer when additional scenes are released on DVD.  It may also be that some of the dead ends will become important later in the saga.  In the meantime, feel free to scratch your head at competing bands of space pirates and some of the goings on at a watering hole suspiciously reminiscent of the Mos Eisley cantina despite music from Lin Manuel Miranda in the background.  This sequence, however, does have a delicious female wise alien, a sort of distaff Yoda voiced by Lupita Nyong’o who provides some much needed heart to the proceedings.

The standout in the new cast is Daisy Ridley as Rey, the heroine.  She effortlessly carries the movie, both dramatically and in the action sequences.  We can see her growth from abandoned child to warrior heroine and it makes both physical and psychological sense.  John Boyega, as the Stormtrooper turned hero, also turns in excellent work, giving his Finn a dry sense of humor.   Oscar Isaac is handsome, but doesn’t have that much to do.  I am somewhat ambivalent about Adam Driver as the villain.  He has a bit of a split personality (a necessary plot device) but one of the two reminds me too much of the whiny barista at my local Starbucks.    The old pros from the previous films are in fine form, especially Harrison Ford who slips back into Han Solo as if putting on an old comfortable pair of shoes.  It’s also great to see the lines etched on their faces.  They have aged as we have aged and we can see that time has not treated these very human characters kindly.

George Lucas, after the semi-disaster of his prequel trilogy (undone by bad writing and some truly bad casting in some key roles) had the good sense to hand his baby over to fresh eyes and talent for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The films are coming from Disney (which tends to treat money making properties with great respect) and were put in the care of JJ Abrams who successfully rebooted Star Trek several years ago.  Abrams, as writer/director, has played it safe for the most part and obviously studied the original trilogy, especially the first film, for what worked and used it as a model for where to move the saga for the future.    He ended up with a film which, while not perfect, is highly enjoyable and offers something for everyone – an eye-popping action adventure space opera for the young and a nostalgia fest for the old.  By all means, see it.

Village massacre.  Crashed star destroyers.  Watering trough argument.  Gratuitous tentacled creatures.  Holographic monster chess.  Hidden light saber.  Fall from bridge.  Duel in the snow.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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