A few winters ago, and a couple of “Star Wars” away, “The Force Awakens” opened. J.J. Abrams’ take on George Lucas’s creation made its billion and got absurdly undiscriminating, fawning praise from a lot of “Let’s get on this bandwagon” critics, who saw it as the best thing since killing off Jar Jar.
I was bothered by its check-this-box casting — here’s a black hero, here’s a woman, lets get somebody in this role from Asia, and have we taken care of the LGBT community? It looked like what it is, tokenism as a marketing exercise.
There was blatant toy-sales-pandering, ridiculous amounts of pointless traveling sequences — “Let’s go here…no no THERE. Because we can digitally create any setting we want!” In TV, they call those “door slammer” time-killers, prevalent on cop shows especially. Sit with the grandparents through “Blue Bloods,” five minutes of car “door slamming” per 48 minute show.
I was infuriated by the general J.J. joylessness, and the stultifying repetitiveness of it all. What, another Death Star? Hasn’t the Empire learned that classic Sun Tsu lesson, “Don’t re-fight the last war? Especially as you’ve already lost it? Twice?”
Anyway, I was the first critic to puncture its “perfect” rating, took a lot of crap for that, but only for a while. Within a month, a lot more people were agreeing with me. It was just “Star Wars Redux,” a remake.
All these “Think pieces” started to appear, parroting points that I brought out, right after seeing the movie. Plenty of blowback built up. A lot of “Maybe he was right” mentions and links peppered those pieces, and emails I got.
And then the far superior “Rogue One” showed up, the best “Star Wars” movie since “The Empire Strikes Back.” Yeah, it’s got a Death Star, but back-engineering an alternate timeline, showing how Princess Leia got “those plans” that Darth Vader was so worked up about, was a stroke of genius.
Here was a “Star Wars” with gravitas, pathos and big heart and humor. The diverse cast was organic, without a hint of cynicism about its inclusiveness. Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, martial arts master Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Jimmy Smitts, sparkling actors playing self-sacrificing fatalists, one and all.
Yen took “Star Wars” back to its “The Hidden Fortress” martial arts myth origins.
The heroine? Felicity Jones acted rings around perky younger Brit Daisy Ridley.
And again, I pointed all this out. Better movie, better story, better heroine, better villain, better sidekick heroes. Similar, a lot of repeated action beats. But Better.
Which explains why I have a very long drive ahead of me this AM. Because even though Disney and Disney/Pixar and Disney Marvel movies are screened in Orlando…for some reason, NOT Disney/Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars.” Not this time.
Maybe they’ve found new directions to go in, new characters (and old) to care about, new jokes and new ways to generate pathos. Adam Driver is still their villain. Maybe he got better.
But sending me to a screening far, far away, punitive or not, isn’t a sign of confidence. Still, it’s a beautiful Florida day, I drive an open-top roadster, so the trek will be fun and I’m fired up. It’s all good. Let’s just hope the movie is.