Memo to overexcited â€œStar Warsâ€ fanboys: â€œThe Force Awakensâ€ is not the experience youâ€™re looking for.
When an expanded trailer for the most anticipated film since Yoda hit puberty debuted Monday night, it was such a huge event that â€œMonday Night Footballâ€ ran ads for the ad.
First-evening ticket sales for the movie shattered the record (previously held by â€œThe Hunger Gamesâ€) by a factor of 8 to 1, ticketing websites crashed and middle-aged men with Boba Fett costumes hanging in their closets had to be dissuaded by their wives and girlfriends from grabbing a beach chair and getting in line at the Ziegfeld.
Whatâ€™s all this about? Not about the movie, which will almost certainly be a disappointment. (Given the expectations, how could it not be?) Itâ€™s about wishing for the impossible. Itâ€™s about trying to recover a slice of childhood.
Donâ€™t bother. The first person you ever kissed is now fat and/or bald. The baseball field where you stole home is somebodyâ€™s swimming pool. Your middle school is a residence for active seniors.
Even if â€œStar Wars: The Force Awakensâ€ turns out to be as good as â€œStar Warsâ€ (Iâ€™m not calling it â€œA New Hopeâ€ or Episode IV, because I do not acknowledge the existence of Episodes I-III), it wonâ€™t be as good. Why? Because â€œStar Warsâ€ wasnâ€™t even as good as â€œStar Wars.â€
In 1977, â€œStar Warsâ€ exploded with the force of a thousand surprisingly fragile Death Stars because nothing like it had been seen before. The pace, for a mid-â€™70s kid movie, was breakneck. (Carrie Fisher remembers George Lucas constantly telling the cast, â€œFaster, faster!â€) Combining wry wit with thrilling action was all but unknown.
The majestic score by John Williams, which elevated the story to a level of beauty and grace comparable to classic films, was from another galaxy compared to the competition. Recall what else was out there at the time. â€œThe Apple Dumpling Gang.â€ â€œHerbie Goes to Monte Carlo.â€ â€œSinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.â€
Succeeding generations saw â€œStar Warsâ€ when they were 10, or 8, or 5 years old. That you is gone. You canâ€™t lose your virginity twice, you canâ€™t believe in Santa Claus again and youâ€™ll never regain a childâ€™s sense of wonder, even dressed as a Jawa.
â€œReturn of the Jediâ€ didnâ€™t leave enough unanswered questions to justify a follow-up, but if one had to be done, it should have focused on the original characters. Thirty-two years is too long to wait to resume their adventures: Time has done to the actors playing Han and Luke and Leia what it has done to everyone else.
So what writer-director J.J. Abrams has apparently done, if the trailer is any indication, is essentially to repeat the â€œStar Warsâ€ story.
In the new trailer, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is seen affirming that the legends of the Force and the Jedi are true, which means theyâ€™ve been lost or forgotten, which is where we were when the first film began.
So the hero, Finn (John Boyega), has to learn about the Force (as in the first film) and learn to handle a light saber (as in the first film). Thereâ€™s a rebel base in jeopardy, leading to dogfights with rebel ships against imperial TIE fighters, shootouts with those ever-killable Stormtroopers and a climactic â€œEmpire Strikes Backâ€-style duel with a Darth Vader-like figure, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is seen worshipping at what looks like a Vader shrine.
And because every superhero film these days must have a kickass female figure, the equally important Rey (Daisy Ridley) will be in the mix, doing what heroines usually do in blockbusters today (especially those written, as â€œThe Force Awakensâ€ was, by men), which is to be so tough and invulnerable and unlikely to activate anyoneâ€™s feminist tractor beam that theyâ€™re boring.
Just as Obi-Wan was slain to provide the emotional heart of â€œStar Wars,â€ the trailer for â€œThe Force Awakensâ€ hints at a big, sad surprise: Leia (Carrie Fisher) is seen crying. So maybe Luke Skywalker is getting killed off, which would make sense financially simply because nobody cares if Mark Hamill ever turns up in another movie.
But obviously it would be a lot more effective and devastating if someone we actually care about â€” Han Solo â€” were to die. Imdb.com lists Hamill, but not Ford, as appearing in the next â€œStar Warsâ€ installment, which is now filming.
The best we can expect from the new â€œStar Warsâ€ is not that itâ€™ll compare to seeing the first one, but that itâ€™ll be a competent piece of craft, a diverting excursion, a successful trip to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.