Star Wars: The Force Can’t Be Avoided: How to Remain (Almost) Spoiler-Free in …

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

AFI Awards: What It Means When ‘Star Wars’ Is In, ‘Revenant’ Is Out (Analysis).

The only awards group that postponed its voting until it could see and consider Star Wars: The Force Awakens was impressed enough by J.J. Abrams’ film to include it on its year-end top 10 list — in place of The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, The Danish Girl, Trumbo, Joy, Steve Jobs, Creed, Black Mass and Sicario, among other highly-touted Oscar hopefuls — we learned on Wednesday afternoon when the AFI announced its honorees for the 16th annual AFI Awards, which will be presented at a luncheon in January. I asked Oscar Isaac, who plays X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in the new movie, what makes Star Wars different from other movie franchises. “I think a sense of spirituality,” he said. “At the core of this is the idea of the Force. AFI Awards selections are made “through an AFI jury process in which AFI trustees, scholars, film and television artists and critics determine the most outstanding achievements of the year.” It is unclear how many of the jurors are also members of the Academy (film and/or TV), but it’s understood that quite a few are, including this year’s film jury chair Tom Pollock (former vice chair of MCA and chair of Universal) and jury members Bennett Miller and John Ridley. There’s more than the material world.” Minutes later, I was talking to Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and now Force Awakens.

He remembered working on those original movies, a long time ago. “It was all about fun,” he said. “It was about delight.” The eternal Star Wars paradox, maybe: It’s very serious, and it’s very silly. When the two groups have not overlapped in the past, it usually has been a case of the AFI recognizing a big studio film (to which they tend to gravitate because or in spite of the fact that the big studios provide AFI with much of its funding) that is then replaced in the best picture Oscar race by either an indie film or by nothing at all (the Academy is not obligated to include 10 films, but rather somewhere between five and 10).

It’s a modern-world myth — a Heavy, Man oversoul post-religion assembled from hippie-era NorCal spirit vibes — and it’s a thrill-drunk carnival theme park. Thirty-eight years after the first Star Wars movie, a decade after we all saw the obviously bad Star Wars movies, pretty much everyone has thought about this franchise enough to come up with their Theory of What Makes a Good Star Wars Movie. Banks, which the Academy replaced with Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena — in other words, two indies replaced two indies and the Academy passed on one studio film that AFI endorsed. They do — and then Battle for Endor starts with mysterious new bad guys killing the parents and the brother and a flock of Ewoks. (Battle for Endor is the missing-link Alien 3 of Star Wars.) You could argue that all this spirituality talk is just gilding. Here, a secret army of clones brewed from the genome of a paid assassin — an assassin who demanded, as payment, his own little clone-son. (When Boba Fett watches Jango Fett die, in the armor he will someday wear, isn’t he weirdly watching himself die?) Here, the chief executive of a peaceful democratic Republic conjures up a fake war. (Palpatine obeys vintage vampire rules of engagement: Democracy needs to invite tyranny in.) Here, Messiah figure kills the tribe of Indigenous archetypes who killed his virgin Madonna mom — kills the warriors, kills the women, kills the children — and declares war on death itself.

The waste of Christopher Lee is a federal offense. (“Count Dooku” is a low-point for names in this series.) The Yoda lightsaber fight looks cool but is an embarrassment. The Phantom Menace has the lowest stakes of any film in the franchise: A history book would record the events of Episode I as a minor matter of trade disputes. (This isn’t a war; it’s a police action.) Naboo is the loopiest of Star Wars planetscapes, a Greco-Japanese terranean Atlantis with two distinct stratified species and an undersea worldcore where there be monsters. What a wild offense, to make a movie where the entire second act is a long digression: “There’s a battle brewing, but damn it, this child must win this race!” “Duel of the Fates” is the most adventurous motif on any Star Wars soundtrack, John Williams doing Morricone. Do my memories of loving the film then counterbalance the obvious stupidity I see now, the terrible instincts underlying every decision that made this movie, besides maybe the production design?

It’s hard to see now, when the original trilogy has blurred into our collective myth, but Jedi is the movie that introduces “cuteness” as a standard operating procedure. Bless Hayden Christensen for trying whatever he’s trying, but you reach a point in this movie where you realize he’s the galaxy’s greatest patsy, going down a bad road because he’s too dumb to notice when Space Hitler starts twirling his mustache. In the middle of yet another CGI puppet parade, General Grievous is the one villain with the scant wisp of actual mythology — those asthma coughs, that lightsaber collection. Gun to my head: The aggressively fatalist badness of Revenge of the Sith has a stupid lysergic crap-pop power, and I’ll take that over anything that happens after Jabba dies in Jedi. No spoilers here, I promise, unless you think “not as good as the first two movies” is a spoiler. (How many movies are?) The real question you’re asking, I guess, is: “How much better is Force Awakens than the prequels”?

Some filmmakers that take on long-established franchises have to struggle with the anxiety of influence: the difficulty of honoring the original director’s vision, while also establishing their own take on the material. Abrams took on the task of creating Episode VII, he had a trickier task: honoring the vision established by a young George Lucas, while also doing the complete opposite of whatever middle-aged George Lucas was doing.

Maybe better, here in second place, to consider the occasional flaws of this first film, most of them only really obvious when you watch the near-perfect movie that followed it. Later films would struggle mightily to build out some kind of societal-chronographical cohesion to the universe: Governments and chains of command, dead parents mourned. You can occasionally spot how this first movie was cut down to the bone; you may wonder, now, why Leia stops caring about Alderaan a couple minutes after it gets blown up. Luke loses his surrogate parents, Leia loses her planet — and soon enough, they’re doing Errol Flynn banter as they swing through a bottomless Death Star chasm.

In this perfect movie, director Irvin Kershner and screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan took Lucas’ idea for a Star Wars sequel and made the jump to lightspeed. In Empire, the big climactic moment is a movie-length joke finally finding its thrilling punchline: at long last, someone finally fixes the hyperdrive.

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