Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Force Awakens...In My Pants

Greetings Star Warriors!

This blog didn't exist back in 1998 when the trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace first dropped. In fact the term "blog" was coined only one year earlier. There were plenty of internet forums (like Ain't It Cool News, for example) and every single one of them immediately exploded in reaction to seeing the first original moving images from "A Galaxy Far, Far Away" in fifteen years. Fans even crazier than yours truly bought tickets to movies showing the Phantom Menace trailer just to see it up on the big screen...and then promptly walked out of the theater again.

But then, when the actual film was released in May of 1999, it was as if a million nerd voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

In spite the reparations that came courtesy of the Clone Wars cartoon series, the prequel trilogy has pretty much been relegated to the dustbin of pop culture history. If you don't believe me then look at how often the characters from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are used in promotion and advertising for the saga versus the prequel characters.

The once-beloved and now grievously-tarnished space opera was forced to go to fallow for another decade. During this time a scorned, confused, weary and apparently oblivious George Lucas gave up trying to reconcile our fickle demands for frivolous thing like "story", "dialogue", "characters" and "quality" and pawned the whole kit-and-caboodle off to Disney for a cool four billion space-credits. When the omnipotent entertainment giant / talking mouse soapbox bought this license to print money it wasn't a matter of if more films would be produced but how quickly, how many and how well.

Immediately my hackles went up but then three things happened in quick succession they gave this crusty old fanboy A NEW HOPE. First off Disney hired J.J. Abrams to direct. Now, anyone who's seen Abrams' rebooted Star Trek knows that this was little more than a consolation prize to him. It certainly didn't come as a shock to me when he famously told Jon Stewart that he "didn't like Star Trek as a kid". Clearly Abrams would have preferred to direct a new Star Wars flick back in 2007 but instead he had to settle on ruining Star Trek, shoe-horning the relatively-intellectual property into the incongruous realm of space opera. At least now his "whiz-bang" sensibilities are focused in the right place.

Second, they brought back the Original Trilogy cast. Now let it be known that I don't want the OT crew to be treated like paragons at the expense of everything else. I want these new films to focus on a fresh-faced pack of Rebels and Imperials. By the same token, I'm glad that we're headed back into uncharted territory instead of mining ancient history. The fact that Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, 3PO and R2 will be there to usher them (and us) along is just gravy.

And, frankly, the fact that they lured Harrison Ford back into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon is enough of a minor miracle to pique my interest.

But here's the thing that really gives me optimism: the movies aren't being written by George Lucas. In my humble opinion the Original Trilogy succeeded mainly because it was still the product of collaborative film-making. In order to get the first two movies off the ground Lucas had to rely on other talented people to make up for his own deficits. His original screenplay for The Star Wars was as boring, impenetrable, dorky and scatterbrained as the prequel trilogy scripts but thanks to genuinely gifted scribes like Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the story was hammered into something film-able.

The main thing that The Force Awakens has going for it is a return to the winning formula that made the original films so good in the first place. Lucas contributed some basic story ideas which Empire and Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan has (hopefully) managed to parley into a decent story featuring three-dimensional characters who experience pain, growth and change and interact with one another like real(ish) human beings.

All of these things have conspired to give fans both lapsed and loyal a raging nerd-semi. This came to a head back on November 28'th when Disney ignored the hollow threats of Kim Kardashian and really broke the internet with the following teaser trailer:

And since we live in a sad, navel-gazing age in which every chuckle-head with a webcam is considered to be a unique and beautiful snowflake with something valid to say, we were immediately deluged by a veritable tsunami of fan made "reaction" videos. Hey, news flash "WAMPARULEZPICARDSROOLZRONPAUL2012": I really don't give a flying frig what you think! Especially when forming an opinion about an unfinished film based on one ninety-second teaser trailer is like doing a movie review for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy based on the Netflix summary.

At the risk of looking slightly two-faced here's some neutral observations about the teaser trailer and the inexplicable psychosis that it seems to be generating.

(1) The thing starts up with a dramatic voice-over about the Force waking up. What's wrong with the Force? Is it hung over? In a coma? Did it make the mistake of taking a double dose of NyQuil? Regardless, this is the first time I can recall hearing the "Light Side of the Force" being referred to as its own thing. Before it was just "the Force" and "the Dark Side". Is this significant somehow? Well, I could answer that but since I'd be talking out of my own ass I'm just gonna go ahead and not indulge in rampant speculation. See how easy that was? Let's move on...

(2) John Boyega as Finn pops up out of the bottom of the frame looking decidedly sweaty and distressed. Little wonder: he's wearing a full set of Art Deco stormtrooper armor in the freaking desert, presumably Tatooine. Plus it sounds as if he's being pursued by an Imperial Probe Droid.

Now, apparently some Cheeto-stained basement dwellers out there have decided to bitch about the concept of a black stormtrooper. Seriously? I can understand complaining about Boba Fett and the stormtroopers being descended from a bunch of freakin' Kiwis, but that's only because it forced Lucas to redact things in the original films that were perfectly fine to begin with. Besides, Finn could have pilfered a suit of armor just like Luke and Han did in A New Hope.

But even if he is a lapsed Imperial soldier, who cares? Star Wars is a fantasy, and mercifully it doesn't have to subscribe to the prejudices and failings of our own modern society. In fact, if there's any legitimate complaint about the Original Trilogy it's that the main cast was uniformly W.A.S.P.-y. Even worse: Vader, the BIG BAD, was the only character to be voiced by a person of color: James Earl Jones.


Thank God Lando showed up in Empire. Which brings me to a related aside: where the f#ck is Billy Dee Williams? Seriously, if he doesn't appear in any of these sequels I'm gonna make a pilgrimage to San Diego Comic Con just to plow J.J. Abrams in the melon with a bottle of Colt .45.

Sorry, I digress.

The rampant butt hurt about this point highlights one major downside about the internet. Back in the day, when one of your "I-think-this-dweeb-is-way-too-dweeby-to-be-hanging-out-with-dweeby-me-and-my-dweeby-friends" would say something like "Stormtroopers can't be black!" you could all turn to this social retard and stare at him until he shut up.

But now, thanks to the omniscient and global reach of the innerwebs, friendless / dickless wonders like this can disseminate their warped vitriol all over the planet and, even worse, have their bullshit backed up by a small handful of similarly-minded idiots. And then, to make matters ten times worse, our feckless media has the unmitigated gall to treat this bullshite like a legitimate story that actually warrants our attention. This results in a never-ending cycle of stupidity. 

Which reminds me, if we're smart enough to build the internetz in the first place, then why can't we build a decent douchebag filter for the damned thing?

(3) We then get a quick glimpse of a young, fresh-domed, eager l'il go-gettin' astromech droid named BB-8 just a-truckin' along.

Again, for some inexplicable reason, people are losin' their ever-lovin' Bantha shit over this. R2-D2 might have been more intrinsically and genuinely lovable at first sight but if I were to tell you just half of the behind-the-scenes stories about that drunken little bastard it would curl your hair.

The sad truth is: R2-D2 had a Bender-like addiction to alcohol-based lubricants which is probably why the producers of Episode VII decided to marry his design with that of a Dyson vacuum cleaner. While he was all gooned up on the sauce, R2 had a terrible habit of colliding into stuff, wandering off course, getting hung up on pebbles and / or tipping over at a moments notice. To be brutally honest, he was about as reliable on set as Amanda Bynes.

BB-8 also addresses one of my biggest gripes about how little technology seemed to change in the twenty years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Same droids, same blasters, same spaceships....b-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring. At least this agile little guy displays a modicum of design evolution.

(4) Next up are some Mark II stormtroopers. Or, like Mark IV if you not a filthy prequel denier like me.

A part of me is sad that we won't be seeing the classic stormtrooper design but I suppose we've seen platoons of those poor, Rebellion-era bastards slaughtered wholesale in the original movies, the novels, the comics, board games, video games and fan films. Abrams probably concluded, rather wisely, that we needed to see a new threat.

Which brings me to the beef I have with stormtrooper critics who keep making fun of their supposed inability to hit stuff:

F#ck you, Poindexter.

If sit and think about it for a minute you'll realize that the stormtroopers were actually a pretty ruthless bunch. They whacked Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, slaughtered a bunch of Jawas, blasted C-3PO into bits and managed to shoot both R2-D2 and Princess Leia. At the very least, their hit percentage is vastly superior to the goons hired by your average James Bond villain. Or C.O.B.R.A. soldiers. So go eat a bag of rancor dicks, you haterz.

Ultimately, I'm glad that they tweaked their design a little bit. The change immediately gives the viewer an impression that you're dealing with something new, more badass and more lethal.

Plus, sharp-eyed viewers might have noticed that one of them looks "a little short" to be a stormtrooper. Could that be John Boyega as Finn in disguise?



Let's move on, shall me?

(5) We then see Daisy Ridley as Rey firing up her speeder bike:

As soon as I saw this I immediately thought of an old sketch that Original Trilogy concept designer Ralph McQuarrie did of Luke as a girl:

One of the dumbest and most ungrateful things that Lucas ever did was let his relationship with Ralph McQuarrie lapse during pre-production for Return of the Jedi. Ralph doesn't get nearly enough credit for his role in shaping the look and feel of the Star Wars universe. Truth is, he came up with the basic design for many of the saga's most iconic characters, ships and sets.

In fact, his famous production painting featuring R2-D2 and C-3PO on Tatooine is one of the main reasons why 20'th Century Fox decided to bankroll Star Wars in the first place. I really do believe that his absence from the prequels is why those films looked so boring, uninspired and forgettable.

But ever since Disney took over they've started to make amends. Even though Ralph passed away in 2012 the producers of both Rebels and The Force Awakens are using many of Ralph's old sketches to create some visual connective tissue between the the original trilogy and these new shows. And I, for one, couldn't be happier.

(6) For a precious few seconds we get to see Poe Dameron in the cockpit of some sort of fighter aircraft. To further my previous point, his helmet and flight suit are highly-reminiscent of Luke's pilot gear in the Original Trilogy, but tweaked just enough to convey a sense of design evolution that's hypothetically occurred over the past twenty / thirty years or so.

And then the camera pulls back to show that he's actually flying some sort of evolved X-wing. The look is slightly different but the whine of the quad engines is an unmistakable and immediate hit of full-bore nostalgia. If nothing else, at least J.J. Abrams knows that impactful sound effects make for a very effective trailer.    

(7) The next thing we see is an intense-looking black-cloaked dude stop in the middle of a dark snow-covered forest and ignite a triple-bladed light saber.

Of everything in the trailer, this seems to have pissed people off the most. Sorry, but if you thought that Darth Maul's double bladed staff-saber was kosher but this design somehow ruins Star Wars and destroys your fragile eggshell mind, then you really need to drink a tall, cool pint of shut the f#ck up.

I'm actually going to let Steven Colbert field this one for me:

We miss you already, buddy! Please don't leave us alone with all of these idiots!

Admittedly I'm still not one-hundred percent sold on Stephen's explanation on how this hilt is supposed to protect the wielder's hands but again I refer you to point numero uno about drawing a distinct line between fantasy and reality.

(8) Finally, fifteen years worth of prequel regret, disdain and denial is suddenly wiped away as the Star Wars fanfare blares. We follow the dizzying climb and decent of the hallowed Millennium Falcon as it bottoms out and then flies straight toward a small swarm of T.I.E. fighters, their twin ion engines screaming and their blasters hissing like sky-borne serpents.

But wait, what's that you say? The Falcon's radar dish has been changed from circular to rectangular?

*flips table and stalks off , muttering about how J.J. Abrams is ruining the franchise and molesting my childhood*

EPIC REACTION VIDEO  Rich Evans from Red Letter Media serves up the one and only reaction video you'll ever need to watch:

EPIC DESIGNER   Here's a great mini-doc about the late, great Ralph McQuarrie. Watch this and getcher self edumacated, kids.

A FAILURE TO FAIL  I was gonna provide a link to this whole RACIST STAR WARS FANS ARE RACIST thing since it's clearly the FAIL-iest FAIL that ever FAIL-ed a FAIL. But, then I thought: 'This non-opinion really doesn't deserve any more attention then it's already gotten'.

So, seriously, f#ck those guys. F#ck 'em right up their thermal exhaust ports.

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