Tag Archives: JJ Abrams

The Force Awakens: A Conversation (SPOILER ALERT!)

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens,” you have no business reading this. Find something else to do.

Not so long ago, in a galaxy not so far away … two lifelong Star Wars fans — Lavender, of lavendervroman.com, and Shawna, of earthtoshawna.com — decided to search their feelings and work out their issues after seeing “The Force Awakens,” director J.J. Abrams’ much anticipated first installment of Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy.

Here is the conversation that ensued …

SPOILER ALERT: Last warning! What follows is a free and open discussion of the many plot points, surprises, twists and other developments contained in “The Force Awakens.” If you haven’t seen the film, this review will ruin it for you. That is all. 

Lavender: What did you love about “The Force Awakens”?

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Shawna of earthtoshawna.com.

Shawna: I loved seeing all the familiar faces — Han, Leia, Luke, even Chewie, C-3PO, and R2. I loved all the funny references to the original trilogy, like the stormtrooper who repeated Rey’s Jedi mind trick commands. I thought the new characters were awesome. Rey’s character was reminiscent of Luke’s; Ren was evil and tragic at the same time. BB-8 was more charming than I thought he would be. I know you loved him even before you saw the movie, but I didn’t fall in love with him until I saw him on the big screen.

And Finn, actually, was my favorite new character. He’s kind of the new Han character. Maybe that’s why I like him. Plus John Boyega is just a great actor. I had never seen him in anything before, but I hope to see more of him.

Lavender: I’m glad you have joined the BB-8 fan club! And I’m relieved this new little droid didn’t turn out to be the Jar Jar Binks of “The Force Awakens.” He’s quite a scene-stealer, in the best way possible.

It was great to see those familiar faces after so many years. I was skeptical about that, but J.J. Abrams reintroduces them very carefully and cleverly. One of the people who made the movie for me, actually, was Harrison Ford, returning as Han Solo with hairy Wookie sidekick Chewbacca in tow. I didn’t expect Ford to play such a large part in the film and after some of his recent, rather lackluster movie performances, I didn’t think he had it in him. But apparently Han is the role he was born to play. He stepped right back into those smuggler duds as if only a few days had passed since he last set foot in the Millennium Falcon. His presence really anchors the movie.

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Lavender Vroman

I think my favorite new character is definitely Rey. She is a heroine for the ages, something revolutionary for a female action hero. Abrams has said that he created Rey in hopes that little girls would be able to look up to her and he has more than accomplished his goal. I love how we first meet Rey as a scrappy, lonely scavenger on the hopelessly sandy planet Jakku. Daisy Ridley is so charismatic and makes her immediately likable. Her portrayal of Rey is so independent, and smart, and goodhearted. I like that Finn is always trying to save her — such a gentleman — but he never really has to because she’s already on the task of saving herself. I like that she has technical aptitude and an extremely powerful affinity for the Force. She and Han Solo are the heart and soul of “The Force Awakens.”

Shawna: Yes! What you said about Rey — she is a great role model. She doesn’t need a man to rescue or save her. It bugs me that we are in the dark about who she is or where she comes from, but I guess they had to save that for future films.

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Lavender: We both found a lot to love about this movie, but I think we both had some issues as well. What didn’t work for you?

Shawna: I loved seeing Han and Chewie again too, but I didn’t like that Han went back to being a smuggler, or that he waited so long to reach out to his son. That scene was a disappointment for me, not because Han dies (I expected he would be killed off, because Ford has said he doesn’t want to be Han anymore) but the way he died. Getting killed by your own snotty kid is a crappy way to go. And it was too predictable. How did he not know that Ren/Ben was about to kill him? I’m pretty sure everyone in the audience knew.

Are you as bummed as I am that Mark Hamill had no lines?

It almost made me think J.J. Abrams wanted the seasoned actor (Ford) to have a bigger part in the movie — that he didn’t have as much faith in “I’m-Luke-Skywalker-I’m-here-to-rescue-you.” I felt a bit indignant on Hamill’s behalf. Plus he had to get in shape and grow a beard, and he was only on screen for about a minute. I assume he will have a bigger role in the sequel. I hope we will see more of Carrie Fisher as well.

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Lavender: For me, that moment at the end where we finally see Luke is when the movie finally comes together. I think I’m more excited about where that moment will lead than about anything that happened in the plot of “The Force Awakens.” Which brings me to my biggest issue with the film.

Abrams does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of the original trilogy, especially “A New Hope.” From the exotic planets populated by weird alien species, to the old-fashioned wipes and cuts that George Lucas used to evoke the adventurous serials of old, everything is dead-on and totally authentic, in stark contrast to those cold, soulless prequels.

This is good, but at times “The Force Awakens” is so much an homage to “A New Hope” that it almost feels like parody. I especially felt like this whenever Domhnall Gleeson’s over-the-top Hitler-esque General Hux came strutting onto the screen.

The plot of “The Force Awakens” almost plays like a reboot of “A New Hope,” complete with a climactic X-Wing/TIE fighter dogfight and an attempt to blow up yet another Death Star. I’m thinking from this point, all Death Stars should be banned from future installments. I mean how many of those things can there be?

I get what Abrams is doing here — he’s courting the fans who remember the prequels with a wince of pain, while introducing new generations to Lucas’ universe. He accomplishes this as well as can be expected, but I found myself wishing for a little more from the plot.

I wanted more character development, more time to see relationships simmering — especially between Rey and Finn, and Finn and Poe — and I wanted a little more urgency, danger, darkness. There wasn’t really ever a moment where I felt like everything was lost or that our heroes wouldn’t be able to save the day.

It’s funny you should mention the Han Solo death scene because, while of course as a fan I didn’t want to see that happen, I was kind of relieved. That was the moment I knew Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was a dastardly villain of epic proportions. Before that, I didn’t find him all that intimidating.

I get your gripes about what Abrams did with Han in this movie, but I think it was necessary from a narrative standpoint and in keeping with his character, as hard as some of it was to stomach for those of us who always wanted to see Han and Leia live happily ever after.

Shawna: Yes, it did start to feel like parody, and I agree the worst offender was the jumbo Death Star. That was a “you’ve got to be kidding me” moment for me too. And Hux was too much, blech. I also agree with you about the weaknesses with the plot — it got to be too close to the plot of the first film. I actually didn’t mind that “OK, this person is the new Han, over here is the new Yoda … ,’ but really, must we also have the same plot?

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Lavender: You mentioned you’d like to see more of Luke and Leia in “Episode VIII.” What else would you like Abrams to do with the sequel?

Shawna: I absolutely would like to see more character development as well. I think they did a great job with casting (there were hits and misses in the prequels). I also think the CGI was more successful in this one than in the prequels. Maz felt more real to me than some of the CGI characters in, say, “The Phantom Menace.” Actually, she was more convincing than some of the non-CGI characters, now that I think about it.

I would like to see some questions answered. I thought it was kind of a cop-out when Maz said something like, “That’s a story for another time.” I felt like I was hearing the writers saying, “We’ll figure that out in time for the next movie.”

I want to know who Rey really is. On the one hand, it would make sense if she’s Luke’s kid because of the similarities between them, but also because why would they send some stranger to find Luke? After all they went through to get the map, especially. Why wouldn’t Leia go to him? If Rey is his daughter, why was she dumped as a child on a desert planet, alone? At least Luke was placed in the care of his aunt and uncle. We already have one estranged child in this movie.

If Luke is Rey’s father, then I guess we are just supposed to think Han and Leia and Luke are just really epic failures at parenting. With this being so close to “A New Hope,” I feel that’s where they are going with this — toward a Part 2 declaration of “I’m your father. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.”

And I want more backstory. How exactly did they raise such a stinker as Kylo Ren? He’s a bit of an entitled brat. He is a lot like Anakin. I am interested to see what happens with him in the next movie.

And if we could actually see Gwendoline Christie’s (Captain Phasma) face next time, that would be nice. That is, if she survives the trash compactor.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on Poe. I heard he was originally supposed to die in the TIE fighter crash, but Abrams changed his mind. And who is Max Von Sydow supposed to be? Do you have any theories on that?

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Lavender: I wonder about Max Von Sydow as well. I’ve heard many theories, including that maybe he’s Boba Fett, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Abrams has left us with a lot of questions, which is what I’m sure he intended. It’s going to be a long wait for “Episode VIII.”

I would have liked to see more of Oscar Isaac as Poe. He seems like a scoundrel and we need more scoundrels in our lives. Just as we were beginning to like him, he went missing for half the film. And I agree that Phasma is the Darth Maul of “Force Awakens.” Such a cool villain and a woeful lack of screen time.

I agree with you completely about Abrams’ use of CG imagery. He was obviously very conscious of the pitfalls of the CG-saturated prequels. I loved the blend of motion capture, puppetry and other practical effects. It felt right. And when he did use computer fx, they looked fantastic. The scenes with the Millennium Falcon were breathtaking, as were the aerial dogfights. And I, too, thought Maz was a great character. A little bit Yoda, a little bit Edna Mode.

I think your instincts about where Abrams is going with the sequel are correct. It will be interesting to see what director Rian Johnson does with it. After “Looper,” I really trust his vision.

I hope there will be more risks taken with “Episode VIII.” I can’t fault Abrams for playing it safe with “The Force Awakens.” Playing it safe is much better than totally destroying the Star Wars legacy. So overall, I’m satisfied and looking forward to what’s next.

Shawna: Yes — so many great characters introduced, but so little time. I was more than satisfied with the film, despite all my griping. I had chills when the opening crawl came up and the John Williams score started playing, and I was still thrilled by the end of the movie.

“Episode VIII” can’t come soon enough! We will have to content ourselves with watching “The Force Awakens” a hundred times while we wait.

Photos: Courtesy of Shawna, earthtoshawna.com; Fawn Kemble; makingstarwars.net; http://www.carolina.cl; http://www.comicbooknews.com; wall.alphacoders.com. 

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The ‘Force Awakens’ Wait is Almost Over! Let’s Do This Thing

About a week ago, I realized that all this waiting for “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” has become almost second nature.

For a long time, I felt like we would just wait and wait and wait for this new chapter in the Star Wars saga. It’s been a pleasure unto itself, all this waiting, the anticipation. And then, I realized.

We are actually going to see it. The day we have waited for is going to happen.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 14: Stormtroopers attend the World Premiere of ?Star Wars: The Force Awakens? at the Dolby, El Capitan, and TCL Theatres on December 14, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Stormtroopers march at the world premiere of ‘The Force Awakens’ at the Dolby, El Capitan, and TCL Theatres Dec. 14 in Hollywood. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

For many of you, that day is tomorrow. You’ll be standing in line with your fellow fans to get your seats for evening or midnight shows. Soon you’ll know if all this waiting was worth it.

The rest of us will find out on Friday when “The Force Awakens” is officially released. (If you don’t see it in the first few days of release, well, that’s just a tragedy.)

“The Force Awakens” is about to become a reality, not just a hope. Our countdown is winding down.

I think even if I end up hating what J.J. Abrams has done with the franchise, I won’t regret this time we’ve spent obsessing together over Star Wars. There truly has been an awakening of the Force and it has been nerdy, silly, hysterical, joyful, more than a little insane, and magnificent.

My only regret is that I can’t travel back in time to grab my junior high self — the one who pretended to be an X-Wing pilot in the backseat on long car trips and pored over copies of Lucasfilm Magazine to see how it all worked — and bring her to 2015 so she can witness this moment. She’d never believe it otherwise.

But I know this would create a giant rift of some kind in the space-time continuum and maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe that junior high girl is still here, after all, loving all this crazy adoration of the thing she loved crazily so many years ago.

Early indications are that Abrams has  not failed to revitalize George Lucas’ beloved, slightly tarnished legacy. As I scrolled through Twitter last night, I saw a litany of early reviews. Judging by the headlines, all but one of them was positive. “The Force Awakens” currently has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I’m not going to read any of the reviews until I’ve seen “The Force Awakens” for myself, but I’m posting some links here, if you’re inclined to look at them.

Many of them claim to be spoiler-free, but proceed at your own risk:

New York Times review
L.A. Times
Variety
Hollywood Reporter
Chicago Tribune

Time will tell, as it did with the prequels, whether the critics are correct in their very early, mostly enthusiastic assessment of this new generation of Star Wars lore.

Now’s not the time to worry about that though. As you head to the theater to hang out with some of the most fascinating and fun fans you’ll ever meet, to finally see this thing we’ve all been waiting for, I hope it’s a night to remember.

This shared experience proves once again, as Yoda said:

“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

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P.S.

This is the best thing on the Internet right now.

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My 2-year-old daughter and I have watched the Jimmy Fallon video I don’t know how many times today. And we spent the rest of the day humming the John Williams theme around the house.

What a score that is! It never fails to evoke a powerful emotional response. It just stirs you.

Let’s hum it all the way to the theater and back.

Photos: moviepilot.com, http://www.starwars.com, http://www.youtube.com.

It’s High Time You Got to Know Oscar Isaac (aka Poe)

My introduction to Oscar Isaac was the 2006 movie “The Nativity Story.”

Isaac played a hunky, sensitive Joseph to Keisha Castle-Hughes’ underage Mary in director Catherine Hardwicke’s take on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.

I certainly noticed the actor, but there was nothing at the time to indicate what a versatile, intriguing performer he would become. Or perhaps he always was, but didn’t have the chance to show it until many years later.

Now, of course, Isaac is about to become a household name, as fighter pilot Poe in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

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In trailers and promotions, the actor hasn’t enjoyed as much play as John Boyega, aka Finn, or Daisy Ridley, who portrays Rey.

We know his character is an X-Wing pilot and a soldier in the Resistance. We’ve seen him shaking hands with Finn and being tortured by Kylo Renn. He may be master of adorable droid BB-8. But Poe remains largely shrouded in mystery.

That’s appropriate because J.J. Abrams could not have selected a more mysterious actor to portray this key figure in the new Star Wars trilogy.

Isaac didn’t really land on Hollywood’s radar until 2010 and 2011, when he played a pair of showy villains: a hot-tempered, lascivious Prince John to Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood and abusive brothel manager/asylum orderly Blue Jones in Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch.”

Neither movie was very good, but Isaac delivered memorably flamboyant performances in both of them. The films weren’t really an indication, however, of the cinematic nuance Isaac is capable of.

Despite appearing in many movies of note, including “Drive” and “The Bourne Legacy,” there are only three roles you need to see if you’re wondering why Abrams cast Isaac in “The Force Awakens.”

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Llewyn Davis, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” 2013

As the title character in Joel and Ethan Coen’s electrifyingly beautiful, achingly sad folk drama, Isaac leaves a lofty and lasting impression. This is one of the Coens’ love it or hate it films and it was roundly ignored by the Academy come Oscar time. I could deal with that, but not with the fact that they totally snubbed Isaac, my pick for best actor that year.

Capitalizing on his Juilliard education and experience as a guitarist and vocalist, Isaac takes a character who is basically a complete jerk and shows us his worth while delivering soulful, convincing renditions of folk songs, circa 1960s Greenwich Village.

Thanks to the actor, we may never grow to love Llewyn Davis, but we understand him — a tortured artist who cannot function in a world that has turned its back on true art.

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Abel Morales, “A Most Violent Year,” 2014

Isaac embraces his inner Al Pacino, but not in a way that feels crass or derivative in this anti-gangster film by up-and-coming director J.C. Chandor.

As an immigrant’s son, who sets out to use his considerable optimism and determination to build a business empire in 1980s New York, without falling victim to the corruption that surrounds him, the actor radiates confidence mingled with an increasing desperation.

Jessica Chastain plays his wife, the daughter of a jailed mob boss. She’s the Lady Macbeth to Isaac’s would-be empire builder. Together, they whip this drama into a frenzy of tragedy, as Abel wills himself to resist temptation, even as he is manipulated by virtually everyone he knows.

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Nathan Bateman, “Ex Machina,” 2015

The actor’s gift for evoking menace, mystery, and even a hint of comedy, is on full display in this sleek, suspenseful, breathtakingly twisty science-fiction thriller.

Isaac appears opposite “Force Awakens” co-star Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, of “The Danish Girl,” as a sort of bizarre, tech-savvy Willy Wonka, presiding over a strange contest involving the development of an uncannily lifelike artificial intelligence.

Nathan Bateman is the genius creator of a Google-like search engine, who lures Caleb, one of his brightest programmers, not to a chocolate factory but a pristine, minimalist compound in the mountainous middle of nowhere. Part Steve Jobs, part frat boy, Nathan is, well, a total tool who drinks heavily, says “dude” a lot and displays confounding mood swings.

Isaac builds layer upon layer into what could have easily been a one-note role, injecting weird humor into his character’s darkness. And he participates in one of the funniest, most disturbing dance sequences in cinema history.

I’m pretty sure Poe’s got nothing on his moves.

Photos: http://www.latino-review.com; insidellewyndavisfilm.tumblr.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.cineplex.com.

‘For the Love of The Force’: A Fanboy’s Plea to J.J. Abrams

By WILLIAM SCHILLER

My first experience with a “New Hope” began well before it had that name. I couldn’t have told you this, as I wasn’t very verbal at the time. Instead it was told to me by my mother.

I was only three, and my mother dragged her family out to a 10-o-clock late show on a week night, to quench her love of good science fiction. The movie played and the titles rolled, and as the lights of the theater brightened, she found her husband and 8-year-old child sound asleep, but her 3-year-old son wired for sound.

That mother could have been concerned that perhaps she had given her child a lifelong trauma, but instead she had started the genesis of what could be called a fanboy. This was only confirmed when my older sister left shortly after for summer camp, and my mother gave me a choice of something fun to do while she was away –- anything that little boy asked for, she would make happen, and happen it did. For two weeks straight, my mother watched Star Wars in a matinée showing at the local movie theater, every day.

Soon there were action figures — I learned to overcome many childhood fears with bribes of Star Wars toys, and soon had duplicates of some. Years passed, and I have grown with the teachings of the Jedi. I always enjoyed certain bragging rights to geeks of my age: I have seen every movie within the series, all of them within the theater, and always had copies, legal or not, of the films at home.

Funny thing about being a truly rabid fan though, you can’t always relate to others the way you want to. None of my friends had somehow ever seen the only once-shown “Star Wars Holiday Special,” but I had; and since old George bought up and destroyed all existence of it soon after, I always felt like explaining it to others was like talking to someone who was sleepwalking -– they weren’t going to remember it tomorrow, and they sure weren’t getting it now.

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As I grew to become as old and jaded as a good Gen X-er can be, I found my inner boy child when the “Menace” was announced, and soon I had all of the posters and lame fast food merchandising that flooded the market before all of the other high-end toys would be produced. I sat with a Gameboy waiting for a midnight release showing to start, and loved every minute of it. Profoundly buoyed by the fanboy base around me, soon my brother-in-law started to compete with me on how many times we could see the film. My exuberance only began to wane nearing the 20th viewing within three weeks.

My wife and I, my brother-in-law and his friends made trips to larger and better theater experiences for the remainder of the prequels, and found ourselves at various crossroads. Love and hate for the films, and ticket lines with very young Jedis that made us all wonder if it was in fact whining that drew someone to the Dark Side, as Hayden Christensen seemed to prove.

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William Schiller, right, and brother-in-law Paul Humann.

In time, we all came to agree with the Star Wars outsider of our group and her insight that could only come from not drinking the Kool-Aid. Not that we didn’t love the taste of it, but we realized the subtle undertones we experienced as fans became like those of a sommelier trying to sell wine at an Oktoberfest beer tent. A hard sell indeed.

In admitting this, even now I have taken a huge step -– after all, my mother had to see “Empire” twice in one day, when that same little boy cried his eyes out, running from the theater after Luke lost his hand, but having to return with his mother’s encouragement to find resolution. Since that day, I have grown and come full circle as a fan.

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One of the amazing things about getting old is that it lessens the blows that life has to give. I have lived a life that flowed with and without The Force. At first, I saw myself in Luke, and now I understand an old Kenobi. I have children of my own, I have lost loved ones to fates that they could never have deserved, and once again I hear the calling of a new war. I will heed this call with somewhat less exuberance, dressed in the gear of my brethren nerds.

I know we all have the same thought: We will love seeing another chapter in a series that has been such a part of our lives. But for the love of The Force, please don’t mess this up, J.J. The fans have some scars that haven’t healed enough for salt to be lightly thrown around in this part of our world.

And please not one Gungan. Not one.

It’s been too long of a fan life to have one more Gungan.

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William Schiller is a father, husband, brother, and nit-picky nerd over nonessential knowledge that only gets someone somewhere when they are in a college writing class. He still has fond memories of Bea Arthur as a bartender with a heart of gold in the Mos Eisley Cantina. 

Photos and graphics courtesy of William Schiller.
X-Wing and TIE fighters photo: http://www.starwars.com.

 

True Confessions: I Defended ‘Phantom Menace’ in Print

This is kind of embarrassing.

But I’m going to let you read it anyway.

One of the first things I wrote after I started my job as a copy editor at the Antelope Valley Press was a passionate defense of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which was receiving almost universally scathing reviews.

Ironically, this opinion piece helped land me a position as an entertainment reporter for the Showcase section, so I look back at it with a certain fondness, no matter how misguided it may be.

Keep in mind that it was penned almost immediately after the release of “Phantom Menace” and many of us were still basking in the glow of a Star Wars revival and the fact that we had just seen Jedi spinning and leaping in the air, twirling their lightsabers, like we’d always dreamed it could be.

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Lavender Vroman with her Princess Leia buns and tickets to “The Phantom Menace.”

And we had yet to see the other two chapters of the new trilogy. I think many of us were willing to give “Episode I” the benefit of the doubt until the abysmal “Attack of the Clones” came out.

While I do not agree with almost everything I wrote back in 1999, I’d argue that some of the points about the original trilogy and its greatness, despite its lack of conventional “greatness,” still ring true.

I think my youthful journalistic folly can also serve as an object lesson as we anticipate the arrival of the first part of yet another Star Wars trilogy.

Only time will tell if the intense hype and euphoria surrounding “The Force Awakens” is warranted, and if there’s any greatness to be found in it.

Let’s not leap to judgement or praise. Let’s give J.J. Abrams’ incredibly risky new venture a chance to become what it’s destined to be. Hopefully, it won’t be something we later wince at and try to forget.

Below, the full text of my defense of “The Phantom Menace,” originally published in the Opinion section of the Antelope Valley Press. (Please don’t hate me.)

Critical Defense of Much-Hyped Star Wars Film

To cranky film critics everywhere — lighten up! As Darth Vader would say, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

You promptly pronounced the long-awaited, much-hyped “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” a disappointment. You cut the film down with strokes as swift as a lightsaber’s. You blasted the plot and dialogue with the heartlessness of a battle droid. Your annoyance with the comic character Jar Jar Binks had you bellowing like Wookies. You scoffed at the actors’ performances with scorn to rival the evil Emperor’s. Sinister villain Darth Maul’s lack of screen minutes made you rave like Tuscan Raiders awakened prematurely from an afternoon nap. You argued that computer animation and special effects smothered any attempt at spiritual, artistic or moral substance.

One of you went so far as to compare George Lucas to Darth Vader, in an amusingly ridiculous extended metaphor. You said the writer-director-producer of the great Star War series had finally gone too far, taking himself, and his new film, too seriously. And you didn’t even realize that you were guilty of the very thing of which you accused Lucas.

In “Episode IV,” Yoda says that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” And everyone knows that these things inevitably lead to the Dark Side of the Force. And so, I suggest, do self-seriousness and the loss of a basic sense of wonder. Somewhere in that 15 year dry spell between “Return of the Jedi” and “Episode I,” you must have forgotten what made the original series so delightful  and successful.

Were “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi” so remarkable because of fabulously constructed , original and flawless plots? Because of eloquent and layered dialogue to rival Shakespeare’s? Because of superb acting and deep philosophical content? Of course not.

Plot and dialogue have never been George Lucas’ strengths. He’s a storyteller on the most basic level. The original Star Wars trilogy was built on the most simplistic of plot lines, borrowing heavily from well-worn myth and fairy tales. It’s the story of an everyday hero who goes on an impossible quest and finds himself and something greater along the way. The stuff all good tales are made of. It’s cliche, it’s hokey, and people everywhere still love it.

As for dialogue … audiences in 1977 seemed to have no objection to such cheesy gems as Han Solo’s line, “Either I’m going to kill her, or I’m beginning to like her.” If nobody minded then, why should they now?

They shouldn’t, and that’s because the power of Lucas’ science-fiction epic has little to do with the spoken word. What makes him a good director is that he communicates effectively at the level that all films inherently operate on — the visual level. It is precisely Lucas’ vision of space, the things we saw when we first saw “Star Wars,” that have so captivated millions of people. It is what we saw of the characters, not only what we heard them say, but the visual impression they made on us, that endeared them to us. Who would actually say that Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher astounded audiences with their great thespian skills?

“The Phantom Menace” isn’t, and never was, intended to stand on its own. It’s a part of a whole, and to do it justice, it must be considered along with its other parts. The important elements, the things that branded the original three films into popular consciousness, are there in “Episode I,” and they make it a joy to watch.

Yes, Jar Jar Binks is annoying. Yes, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to give creepy Darth Maul more screen time. And no, Han Solo wasn’t there to grin his rascally grin and crack up the audience with his, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Get over it.

The first of the prequels isn’t perfect, but it succeeds in the same way the other three did. For, once again, Lucas takes us places we’ve never been, fills our eyes with sights never before seen — the Venice-like, regal planet Naboo, the metropolitan, silvery city of Coruscant and the underwater bubble village of the Gungans. He introduces us to a sad and beautiful queen arrayed in costumes Madonna could only dream of and Jedi in the midst of duels so full of motion and power they make our heads spin. We meet an innocent boy named Anakin with an arrogant streak, foreboding a downfall to come. Even Darth Maul’s short but memorable appearance hints of a greater evil awaiting us in the next episode.

“Episode I” is only the foundation for the remainder of three prequels and as a start it will do just fine.

So, all you film critics — I sense that there is still good in you. See the film again, this time on the lighter side of the Force.

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Jar Jar Binks photo: zap2it.com.

Before ‘Force Awakens,’ Boyega Starred in Alien Invasion Flick

Just as George Lucas cast unknowns Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in his original Star Wars trilogy, director J.J. Abrams enlisted some intriguing new faces to appear in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

One of them in particular, British actor John Boyega, seemed to come out of nowhere to snag the pivotal role of Finn, a mysterious young man who appears to be a disillusioned Stormtrooper and possible Jedi in the making.

Although many details about the character remain under wraps, the trailers show Boyega wearing a Stormtrooper uniform, before shedding it for an extremely cool leather jacket, interacting with Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), and wielding a lightsaber.

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American audiences may be unfamiliar with the London performer but “The Force Awakens” isn’t Boyega’s first foray into sci-fi.

The actor made his debut on the British television series “Being Human.” But his big break came when he starred in a quirky little B-movie called “Attack the Block,” written and directed by Joe Cornish, a collaborator of filmmaker Edgar Wright.

A hilarious, playful, extremely British twist on classic alien invasion flicks, the movie is an excellent showcase for Boyega’s considerable talents. Almost immediately, the actor proved himself a charismatic, effortlessly cool, self-assured up-and-comer.

If you’ve seen the film, it isn’t a surprise that Abrams chose him to shoulder the burden of a new Star Wars chapter.

If you haven’t seen the film, you should stream it this weekend.

Not sold on the idea yet? Read the review below.

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Attack the Block, 2011
R (creature violence, drug content, pervasive language)
88 minutes

If you liked the nostalgic kids-meet-extraterrestrial vibe of “Super 8” or the shameless sci-fi-Western mash-up of “Cowboys vs. Aliens,” you’ll want to check out “Attack the Block.”

Writer-director Joe Cornish’s fun, intentionally campy, surprisingly slick adventure flick pits a London street gang against inky invaders from the sky with glow-in-the-dark fangs.

Released in October 2012 on DVD, it arrived with the tagline “inner city vs. outer space,” which pretty much sums up the film, a not-so-guilty pleasure for sci-fi geeks and anglophiles alike.

Set in the sort of shady South London housing project Cornish grew up in, “Attack the Block” opens with a scary but realistic scenario — walking back to her apartment at night, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is mugged at knife point by an awkward group of young thugs.

After Sam escapes, sans phone and purse, the boys witness a bright, meteor-like object fall from the sky and encounter a vicious beast that is clearly not of this world.

Following the creature to a playground, the gang’s leader, a troublemaker named Moses (John Boyega), easily slays the outer space visitor, resulting in a lot of macho posturing that is quickly cut short when more lights begin descending from the sky.

As the gang’s beloved block comes under siege, it’s up to these wayward street kids to save the day, a task that reunites them with the reluctant but resourceful Sam, who will have to overcome her resentment to become their unlikely ally.

Shot the old-fashioned way, in 35 mm, on a reported budget of $13 million — modest for a sci-fi flick — “Attack the Block” boasts cheesy special effects, which are sorta charming at the same time, and a skimpy but satisfying story.

It takes a gritty, gory approach to street life that crackles with unexpected realism.

The highlight of the film is its youthful cast, most of them inexperienced actors, ranging in age from 10 to 17, and adept at slinging the sort of indistinguishable, quick-witted slang that baffles American audiences.

Boyega, in particular, has the confident yet vulnerable quality of a potential leading man.

British comedian Nick Frost pops up as a pot grower who gives shelter to the kids when they most need it.

“Attack” was executive produced by Frost’s frequent collaborator, “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright.

Cornish is best known in the UK as half of the comedy duo “Adam and Joe” and co-wrote “The Adventures of Tintin.”

“Attack the Block” may be a modest feature film debut but it’s certainly memorable.

Photos: spinoff.comicbookresources.com; youtube.com.

The Night Han Solo’s Blaster Came to Visit, or My Life With the Force

When I was 13, my dad came home with a surprise.

He was working at a hobby shop on Avenue I, where regular customers would bring unusual collectibles for show and tell.

One day, a film industry guy stopped by with a movie prop he thought my dad would be interested in.

My father convinced the man to let him take Han Solo’s blaster home for the night so he could impress his kids.

I don’t actually know if the fictional gun came from the set of George Lucas’ famous trilogy or whether Harrison Ford ever touched it or if it was just a convincing replica.

It didn’t matter. It was like Christmas at our house when my dad came strolling through the door with one of the coolest looking pieces of hardware in cinema history.

My siblings and I spent the rest of the evening posing for photos with the coveted weapon in the backyard, make-believing we were slumming it at Mos Eisley Cantina or caught in the thick of battle on Endor.

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My dad, Gordon Kemble, with the purported Han Solo blaster. 

My dad was always very sweet about bringing me whatever Star Wars items he came across at the shop — books, role playing games, whatever odds and ends he could find.

It was six years after the release of “Return of the Jedi” and merchandise from the trilogy was scarce. Lucasfilm had yet to fully capitalize on the franchise’s marketing potential and souvenirs were difficult to find.

I became a disciple of Star Wars in a vacuum of sorts. I was 12 when I saw “A New Hope,” not in a theater, or on Blu-ray, or on a 60-inch flat-screen, but on the old television set in my great-aunt’s den.

Despite the humble presentation, I was awestruck by Lucas’ space opera. I remember the sight of C-3PO and R2-D2 shuffling down the shiny corridors of the Death Star, the thrill of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker’s rescue of Princess Leia, who was no damsel in distress, the hilarious suspense of the trash compactor scene, the mysticism of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the allure of the monk-robed Jedi, and of course, the brilliance and majesty of the lightsaber.

I really did think that someday the lightsaber would exist.

I saw the trilogy out of order. My sixth-grade teacher showed “Return of the Jedi” as a reward. Surrounded by classmates who had all seen the movie long ago, I marveled at Luke’s transformation from restless farm boy to noble Jedi warrior. By the end of the film, I was doing the “Yub Nub” dance right along with the Ewoks.

I then convinced my parents to rent “The Empire Strikes Back.” We took it to my grandparents’ house because they had a VCR. Finally, I was privy to the full mythology and the darkest and perhaps richest chapter of the trilogy, which was a little over my head at the time.

I wouldn’t see Star Wars on the big screen until the great re-release of 1997, a joyous occasion despite Lucas’ infamous tampering with his original imagery.

And I wouldn’t experience the heady, comforting rush of communing and commiserating with other Star Wars fans until 1999 when a certain prequel fanned the flames of frenzy over the franchise once again, for better or for worse.

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Camping out for tickets for “The Phantom Menace.”

Since then, I’ve enjoyed living in a Golden Age of Star Wars fandom, largely thanks to the efforts of Disney.

Merchandise is readily available, discussion is lively, and new developments are constantly on the horizon. It’s more than I ever dreamed of as a little girl, pretending to fly through the trenches of the Death Star in my very own X-wing starfighter.

This Golden Age will hit an unprecedented high on Dec. 18 with director J.J. Abrams’ new chapter in the franchise, “Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

Whether this new entry in the series is spectacular or an epic failure, Star Wars will remain an integral part of my life. It’s sacred to me in a way that will not fade or change.

In a way, I owe my career to Star Wars.

My fascination with the franchise led to an abiding curiosity about cinema. I wanted to know how George Lucas brought the Rancor to life or created the awesome jump to lightspeed.

I subscribed to Lucasfilm Magazine so I could find out. I checked out books from the library on editing and cinematography and sound.

One of my first articles at the newspaper where I spent nearly 15 years writing about film was a well-meaning but misguided defense of “The Phantom Menace,” which was taking quite a critical drubbing.

I’m not going to claim that Star Wars taught me about love, but however weird it may sound, it is a significant part of my marriage.

My husband Nick and I were seeing other people when we camped out in the parking lot of a mall to be the first to snag tickets for “The Phantom Menace.”

By “Attack of the Clones,” we were dating. By “Revenge of the Sith,” we had tied the knot.

Star Wars isn’t the glue that holds our relationship together, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Not a day goes by that we don’t find ourselves talking about “The Force Awakens.” Some girls dream of diamonds from their beloved. My fondest gift from my husband is a red Force FX replica lightsaber. I’ll treasure it always.

More importantly, those first, indelible images of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford  in Star Wars taught me that I didn’t have to conform to what society might expect of me.

Sure, I wanted to dress up as Princess Leia for Halloween. She was, refreshingly, a princess who did much more than waltz about in a ballgown and tiara.

But early on I discovered that I didn’t really want to be Leia. She didn’t get to wield the lightsaber. We never saw her embrace her powers or her path to the Force. What I wanted to be was Luke Skywalker or Han Solo.

Star Wars helped me realize that as a girl I could be a Jedi, I could pilot a starfighter, I could shoot a blaster, I could save the galaxy from the evil Galactic Empire. So why should I limit myself in real life?

As I grow older, Lucas’ universe keeps me connected to my childhood self, the one who stood with Luke, gazing at the setting twin suns of Tatooine, dreaming of what the future might hold.

I hope it will always hold more Star Wars.

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