Public News (Houston) - - FRONT PAGE - by Glen Ryan Tadych

Re­turn­ing from Pub­lic News’ 3-month hia­tus and div­ing into 2016 cinema, I al­ready have enough to dis­cuss un­til sum­mer. How­ever, it’s im­pos­si­ble for me to jump into any 2016 film com­men­tary with­out touch­ing on 2015’s clos­ing smash, Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens.

The Force One of last year’s most an­tic­i­pated films, Awak­ens opened Dec. 18 with a record-break­ing Harry Potter do­mes­tic gross of $119 mil­lion, sur­pass­ing and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2’s (2011) $91 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Box Of­fice Mojo. It set the record for highest do­mes­tic open­ing week­end at $529 mil­lion, and Avatar ul­ti­mately sur­passed (2009) as highest gross­ing do­mes­tic film at $928.8 mil­lion.

The Force Nearly three months since its re­lease, Awak­ens stands as the third-highest gross­ing film of all time world­wide at $2.052 bil­lion—the third film in his­tory to sur­pass $2 bil­lion, and the sec­ond to do so in its orig­i­nal run.

Now, ob­vi­ously these are just num­bers. A movie could make $1 tril­lion and I wouldn’t care if it were com­plete garbage. But it’s cer­tainly in­ac­cu­rate to say The Force Awak­ens was any­thing but a suc­cess, and be­lieve me, The Walt Dis­ney Com­pany knows it. With all the up­com­ing changes in their theme parks to fit new Star Wars-themed at­trac­tions, as well as five more films (at least) slated for re­lease through 2020, Dis­ney is tak­ing the Star Wars cow for ev­ery­thing it can.

As a fan, I have mixed feel­ings about all this new Star Wars hype. While I was alive for the 1997 Spe­cial Edi­tion re-releases and Pre­quel Tril­ogy era, I can’t say I re­call Star Wars hype and fan­dom re­sem­bling any­thing like what it is right now. That be­ing said, a 10-year break be­tween film releases, com­bined with a (some­what) dwin­dling hype due to a lack of fresh live-ac­tion ma­te­rial, did seem to make this new­found hype come out of nowhere.

My great­est fear is Dis­ney will drown any and all Star Wars in­ter­est with all this milk­ing. It’s the kind of ef­fect some­thing has when it just in­evitably runs its course, which even­tu­ally leads to re­boots and things of that na­ture. The fact we’re get­ting spinoff films is al­ready some­thing I’m not too thrilled about, be­cause I per­son­ally feel Star Wars doesn’t need spinoffs. To me, that’s when you get to the point where you’re go­ing, “OK, how far can we ac­tu­ally go with this?”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story— I won’t lie though. due for re­lease on Dec. 15—has def­i­nitely sparked my in­ter­est. I can’t say I’m all that gung-ho about Han Solo and Boba Fett spinoff films, but a film telling the story of the rebel spies who stole the Death Star plans prior Star Wars to the events in (1977) sounds like it could be in­ter­est­ing to watch.

All of this was up in the air though with­out know­ing how The Force Awak­ens would per­form, and now that we’re in March, it’s safe to say Star Wars is back and here to stay. This, of course, brings up inevitable ques­tion: As a diehard Star Wars fan, what did I think of the film?

The Force Awak­ens To put it sim­ply, I loved it. I saw four times over the course of a month, and with each view­ing, my opinion didn’t change one bit. I knew I would have to see it at least twice be­cause any­one who is a hard­core fan of some­thing knows there will al­ways be that adren­a­line rush we all get with the ini­tial view­ing. It nor­mally takes a re­peat view­ing to see things on more of an ob­jec­tive keel and walk away with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what you watched.

Be­fore I go on, I’ll just put it out there that ev­ery thing is fair game re­gard­ing spoil­ers at this point.

The Force Awak­ens has been out for quite some time now, and hon­estly, if you haven’t taken the time to see it in a the­ater—which any real Star Wars fan would in my opinion—you don’t care.

The Force Awak­ens The story of deals with the search for Luke Sky­walker (Mark Hamill), who’s been miss­ing for years fol­low­ing the failed at­tempt at es­tab­lish­ing a new Jedi Or­der. As he’s fu­ri­ously hunted by his sadis­tic and con­flicted nephew Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)—a for­mer padawan of Luke’s, born to Han Solo (Har­ri­son Ford) and Leia Or­gana (Car­rie Fisher) as Ben Solo—a rogue stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) and scav­enger named Rey (Daisy Ri­d­ley) work with Han and Chew­bacca (Peter May­hew) to find Luke first.

The Force Awak­ens very much evoked the spirit of the Orig­i­nal Tril­ogy, pay­ing var­i­ous nos­tal­gic re­spects while ex­plor­ing new char­ac­ters and ideas. That is my over­all as­sess­ment, but in terms of the film’s broader au­di­ence, it’s one side of a coin. The other side of said coin, and prob­a­bly The Force Awak­ens’ most com­mon crit­i­cism, is that it was “too much like” Star Wars. Many view­ers A New Hope said it was a “car­bon copy” or “re­make” of (the orig­i­nal film’s even­tual sub­ti­tle which I refuse to use in general con­ver­sa­tion).

I find this crit­i­cism ab­surd, and this isn’t com­ing from some­one who was blind to all the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween The Force Awak­ens Star Wars.

and The very night I screened the film I said, dis­cussing it with my co­work­ers, there was a lot of the orig­i­nal film em­bed­ded in The Force Awak­ens.

I, along with many oth­ers, see this as a ben­e­fit and one of the con­trib­u­tors to the film’s suc­cess. A lot of the ass­holes out there will just say, “Well, yeah, be­cause all of you sheep will pay to watch the same re­gur­gi­tated garbage over and over again.” I hon­estly can’t even see how such words could come out of a Star Wars fan’s mouth.

The Force Awak­ens Some peo­ple were even say­ing made the Pre­quel Tril­ogy look like the orig­i­nals. No. Just no. Any­one who even thinks such a thing, in my opinion, for­feits the right to watch any Star Wars film ever again. And such peo­ple might say, “Fine, good rid­dance.” To which all I’d say is, “Yeah, more for me, prick.”

This is the world we live in, where nerds take this stuff so se­ri­ously, they can ac­tu­ally anger peo­ple and lose friends over it. I like to think I’m able to keep my­self in check, but I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t pas­sion­ate about these films for what they mean to me and my love of cinema.

The Force Awak­ens, If I hated I wouldn’t have sat through the damn thing four times. It was ac­tion-packed, ad­ven­tur­ous, funny and emo­tional—ev­ery­thing a Star Wars film should be. Not to men­tion the film looked in­cred­i­ble. To start, the cre­ative team did an out­stand­ing job with choos­ing lo­ca­tions. The real-world set­tings and lack of green screen added to the film what the pre­quels lacked in au­then­tic­ity. Like the orig­i­nal films, we feel im­mersed in these worlds again. And it’s al­ways as­tound­ing to see such set­tings in a film, get­ting to re­mem­ber such en­vi­ron­ments on this planet still ex­ist.

All of the film’s vi­su­als were top-notch. Ev­ery­thing from the ships to the bat­tle se­quences was ex­e­cuted in a way to where we don’t just see the el­e­ments, but we can al­most feel them, es­pe­cially the lightsabers. The light­ing ef­fects they’re able to achieve with the lightsabers now are so ef­fec­tive now, you’re re­ally able to get a sense of what these weapons would be like in re­al­ity. And the way they es­tab­lished a clear dif­fer­ence be­tween Kylo Ren’s and Luke’s sabers in func­tion and ap­pear­ance was a new and unique way of ex­pand­ing on the se­ries’ mythol­ogy.

My fa­vorite part of the film is def­i­nitely the cli­matic duel be­tween Rey and Kylo Ren in the for­est. It was a match that wasn’t ex­actly ex­pected since no pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial fea­tured Rey wield­ing a lightsaber, and the mo­ment in which she wields it for the first time was, for me, by far the most in­vig­o­rat­ing mo­ment of the en­tire film.

It was like Neo re­al­iz­ing he was The One all over again. And like Neo to Mr. Smith (sort of), Rey kicked Kylo Ren’s ass; some­thing that was also un­ex­pected, but to be fair, Kylo Ren had just been shot. This fight also seemed to bear more emo­tion than any­thing in the pre

The Em­pire Strikes Back quels, much like that of (1980), which was some­thing else the pre­quels lacked. Just the in­ten­sity of it put you on the edge of your seat.

On a re­lated note, the most talked about sub­ject re­gard­ing The Force Awak­ens though is with­out doubt Ri­d­ley’s char­ac­ter Rey. I give credit to the film’s mar­ket­ing

team for keep­ing Rey’s sig­nif­i­cance out of pro­mo­tions be­cause while I ex­pected Rey to have some sig­nif­i­cance (given she’s in the cen­ter of the damn poster), I never an­tic­i­pated the story re­volve al­most solely around her. Rey re­ally is the Luke of this new tril­ogy, that much is clear.

Now, of course, ev­ery­thing con­cern­ing her char­ac­ter is spec­u­la­tion at this point. Nu­mer­ous the­o­ries have emerged as to who she re­ally is and where she comes from. I for one am a pro­po­nent of the the­ory that she is Luke’s daugh­ter. To me, it’s the one that makes the most sense, and de­spite how ob­vi­ous that di­rec­tion may seem, this film saga is about the Sky­walker fam­ily, and that comes from Lu­cas­film Ltd. CEO Kath­leen Kennedy her­self.

There are so many signs point­ing to Rey as Luke’s daugh­ter (and no, I’m not go­ing to go through them, as one can find that spec­u­la­tive mess any­where on the web now), it would be stupid for the writ­ers to not take the story in this di­rec­tion. Yes, it’s ob­vi­ous, but we don’t need a damn twist in ev­ery sin­gle thing we watch nowa­days. What in the hell is wrong with a nar­ra­tive that’s straight­for­ward and doesn’t try to pull the rug out from un­der you all the time?

We have a ways to go be­fore Episode VIII hits the­aters, and be­lieve me, there will be much more to talk about as time passes. But for now, I feel I’ve said all I need to say re­gard­ing this film, given how much time has passed since its re­lease. Plus, any­thing else I’d have to say isn’t fresh and has been said vir­tu­ally ev­ery­where else al­ready, and any­one who’s seen it has their mind more than likely made up by now.

I’ll close by sim­ply say­ing The Force Awak­ens met all my ex­pec­ta­tions, and in some in­stances ex­ceeded them. I loved it, I can’t wait for more, and any­one who dis­misses the film or finds me to be noth­ing more than a mind­less sheep can shove it be­cause I don’t care.

Glen Ryan Tadych

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