Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Reel Opinion: A Merry STAR WARS Christmas

THE FORCE AWAKENS, the first STAR WARS movie ever to be released in December, has come to us as a Santa-sized gift. It’s a good movie which is blasting box office records, heralded by critics, and praised by fans. New characters have made a splash, and the old characters kept us all in smiles with warm feelings and good memories of beloved faces we first met nearly 40 years ago.

One of the many remarkable storylines of THE FORCE AWAKENS is that its arrival mirrors what happened in 1977, when the first film, sub-titled A NEW HOPE, was released to an unsuspecting world. Prior to A NEW HOPE, it was (ahem), a dark time for the movie industry, when theatres were dominated with dark,  pessimistic, and nihilistic films such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE GODFATHER, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, and TAXI DRIVER..all fine films but not quite filled with the type of characters or environments we would want to spend more than five minutes around.  The first STAR WARS film changed all that with its expressed purpose of giving pleasure by embracing a full sense of fun. The simple ideas of good vs. evil were relatable, and the finale which included an arm-raising victory topped off by a medal ceremony with triumphant horns…opened up everyone’s eyes to the light side of filmmaking; fun, yet maintaining enough intricacy to be taken seriously as true cinema.

Much like its predecessor, THE FORCE AWAKENS comes to us at just the right time. Aside from the usual stock of animated kiddie flicks and the occasional Marvel superhero romp, in the past decade or so we’ve been treated to a similar age of filmmaking that the 1970’s was stuck in. Recently, we’ve been introduced to miserable superheroes (MAN OF STEEL), self-absorbed characters (BIRDMAN), and yes…more nihilistic characters (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN). THE FORCE AWAKENS counters that by once again embracing the spirit of adventure, hope, heroism, characters who believe, and the type of whimsy that only celluloid magic can deliver.

Just like in STAR WARS, the industry needs a balance of light and dark. It’s okay to have movies that are tough to watch (life is tough, so the art can’t hide from it), but Hollywood in this current era tends to be a copycat-land; if Studio-A finds something that works, you can bet that Studio-B and Studio-C will follow suit. Whether or not THE FORCE AWAKENS wakes up the good-feelings in Hollywood, only time can answer. It is certainly a feel-good film with its emotion-tugging nostalgia, thrilling setpieces, and a return to the old spirit of STAR WARS. It’s the type of movie long-time fans of STAR WARS needed and the world deserves. It is a reminder that movies can be fun while retaining dignity, that there is always light to counter the dark, and that there is always hope.

Happy Holidays, and may the Force be with you.

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