Maciej Radny

Star Wars VII: An adult awakens

Childhood Star Wars tragic Maciej Radny attended last night’s midnight premiere only to learn an adult lesson as the credits rolled.

 

My earliest memories of Star Wars sit alongside my earliest memories in general. I remember being terrified of Jabba the Hutt, so much so that whenever he was onscreen I would avert my gaze until he was gone; I would turn back and watch the scene until it was time to close my eyes again.

I don’t even know how old this memory is. Whether this speaks more about the selective nature of my memory is irrelevant. What I can safely say is that Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and, as a result, it was the pop-culture touchstone of my childhood and early adulthood.

Going into Lucas’ prequel trilogy, I was either the right age or I was the wrong age. At nine years old, I was too swept up in grandeur and spectacle to crack the hollow veneer of The Phantom Menace to see it for what it was. With age came cynicism, and it was only retrospectively that I was able to reassess the next two films with a critical eye, when at the time I saw only what I wanted to see.

So I never truly felt the crushing disappointment of Lucas’ long-awaited follow-up.

At least, not in the same way adult fans of Star Wars, one could say original fans of Star Wars, must have felt when revisiting that galaxy far, far away.

I will stop short of saying that, having now seen the latest instalment of the saga, The Force Awakens, this feeling is now familiar to me and I’m now at the age where I can say these things with certainty. But much like Luke in Empire, I’ve come out of a not particularly pleasant experience having learned something valuable.

Seeing any film at midnight in a public place carries with it a certain buzz, a feeling that permeates through the crowd and manifests itself as a nervous excitement. The taboo nature of seeing a film technically “after hours” harks back to our experiences as children watching films beyond our bedtime, either with or without permission.

I took stock of the number that populated the line in front of me; the blanket of half-arsed to full-arsed cosplay enthusiasts, the more restrained geeks (myself included) and a surprising number of parent-and-child combos (usually one of each). The taboo of curfew had been broken by many a parent willing to forge a moment in the memory of their child that they would cherish.

This was meant to be something unique, something special.

Adorably sincere, the idea only struck me now as something fundamentally artificial.

There’s no real way an audience going into 1977’s first screening of Star Wars could expect this kind of moment with their children. Perhaps after having seen it once and knowing its quality could allow for them to pass that knowledge on, expectations going into the film uninitiated would have been essentially nonexistent.

That sort of spontaneity when it comes to an established franchise like Star Wars, I’m tempted to say, is nowadays almost impossible.

With the latest film advertised, merchandised and scrutinised to exhaustion, one could be excused for believing The Force Awakens to have reached a sort of iconic status even before the opening crawl. And in a sense, it had. Internet hype and meme-ification had ensured that the film’s trailers and imagery had been hammered into the public consciousness. So like greeting and old friend, the Lucasfilm logo and Star Wars title card was met with giddy murmuring and the occasional whoop, but welcome familiarity slowly gave way to uncomfortable similarity and audiences were essentially treated to JJ Abrams’ retelling of 1977’s Star Wars after taking a hyper-coloured sharpie to the narrative and colouring in the margins.

Here be spoilers

Completely unafraid to re-hash beat-for-beat A New Hope, the film occasionally subverts but more often than not re-textures many iconic moments from the original film, even down to a by-now run of the mill attack on a colossal superweapon that is so low on stakes and tension it serves as merely background noise to break up the actual conflict at its centre.

Abrams tries to have his cake and eat it too by aping the footsteps of the original, but with added characters and exposition, forcing the film to move at a relentless pace that leaves nuance and breathing room at the door. As a result, the plot points are reverse engineered so much that in order for all the narrative threads to connect, the action is driven mostly by contrivance and coincidence, forgoing character and emotion as the driving force behind important decisions.

The death of a main character is shrugged off in moments, sidelined in favour of reaching an underserved ending that serves as a mere set-up for the next instalment.

Much like the parent creating a preordained “moment” for their child, the film tries hard to recapture and even refine the magic of Star Wars but falls short in failing to understand that Star Wars is at its best when it’s at its most spontaneous, breaking boundaries visually or telling us that Darth Vader is Luke’s father when we know it to be impossible.

However, it’s precisely because this new film feels so familiar that letting it go seems like not much of a loss.

Moving forward, I can look to the next episode with detached curiosity, like watching a game in which you have no stake. I’m not that interested and I’m not sure I will be.

So in a way I thank JJ Abrams for revising and not renewing what I love about Star Wars; I think it’s allowed me to grow up a little.

 

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