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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


                                                                                         

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REVIEWS:

* The Avengers (5/6/12)  * MEMORIAL DAY 2012 – Red Tails, Memphis Belle, Flyboys, The Blue Max (5/28/12) 
* Prometheus (6/11/12)   * The Amazing Spider-Man (7/9/12)   * 42 (4/17/13)   * Iron Man 3 (5/9/13)  
* Godzilla – 2014 (5/18/14)   * Jurassic World (6/21/15)   * Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2/18/16)
* Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (6/21/16)   * Captain America: Civil War (5/13/16)

* Kong: Skull Island (3/12/17)



VIEWS ON FILM - 

The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews 



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"DUMBING IT DOWN, ... OR MORE ACCESSIBLE?"
A SEMI-INTELLIGENT RANT ANALYSIS IN 3 PARTS (PART 1)
by
CEJ





"THE CONGO PRINCIPLE"

     “Sometimes you just have to see CONGO twice”.

     Absolutely have to get that across before diving into this whole “Dumbed down or more accessible” thing. Like laying out a set of individual pearls on the table, then in the end stringing them together into one elegant necklace, we promise this will all make “piece-fits-snuggly-into-piece” logical sense in the end. Anyway … 

     Those who've perused the occasional GullCottage article or two know our "CONGO philosophy", holding true in both the arts in particular ... and life in general.  We’ve been Michael Crichton disciples since 1973 upon our first reading of his published screenplay to WESTWORLD. That was it, baby! From that day forward we knew exactly what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. We then backtracked and read his earlier (novels) THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and THE TERMINAL MAN then, in succession as they were released, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, EATERS OF THE DEAD (aka THE 13TH WARRIOR) and onward. But to this day our all time fave Crichton remains 1980’s CONGO. 

     A whoppingly entertaining high tech version of R. Rider Haggard’s KING SOLOMON’S MINES, it detailed the fast and furious exploits of an American expeditionary team commissioned by a computer firm to race their Japanese counterparts to a hitherto-thought-to-be-mythical lost jungle city buried beneath the ancient flow of a volcano, wherein lay a rare breed of raw diamonds - the properties of which can be used to manufacture the next generation of super defense computers which use laser light as a power source (and transmission medium) rather than electricity. WHEW! And oh yeah, a sign language speaking ape named “Amy” (based on the real life sign languaging gorilla “Koko”) would be used to help them navigate the serpentine jungle interior.


Michael Crichton (1942 - 2008)              


     Ten years later the world would fall in love with Crichton’s equally pulp-inspired JURASSIC PARK. But for us, as awesome as JURASSIC was, CONGO would be top tier Crichton at his creative best. After all in certain respects JURASSIC was kind of a reworking of some of the narrative elements of WESTWORLD anyway, wasn’t it? Y’know, a high tech amusement park where a malfunction leads to the exhibits going haywire and killing the guests? Anyway, it was with CONGO we also came to realize a recurring theme within Crichton: namely that he created (or more accurately RE-created) high tech versions of old-school pulp genres. As such we suddenly recognized THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN as a clever reworking of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS - only with the alien invader being a deadly presumably space born virus. We realized that THE TERMINAL MAN owed it’s soul to Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN, that EATERS took it's inspiration from BEOWULF (with a bit of THE SONG OF ROLAND tossed in for good measure), and later how JURASSIC would proceed from Conan Doyle, AIRFRAME from Arthur Hailey, TIMELINE - a rift on Twain’s A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT and so on.  


     Crichton and his work (and CONGO in particular) had not only become a personal stanchion in our own creative development, but also a part of a time in our lives. And from that  point on any adaptation of his work would not only be judged by us based on it’s faithfulness to the “sacred text” of the novel, but also (unbeknownst to us at the time) by the extremely subjective sifting medium of our own personal perception as it related to our childhood when first exposed to those novels. In other words, it would now be impossible to separate the experience of reading a particular Crichton novel for the first time from the time in our lives when we read it. Quite unfairly, every adaptation of said novel would now have to compete with that personal nostalgia too. This "personal subjective connection" to an original work becomes the central theme of our first entry in this trio of articles,“THE KOBAYASHI MARU OF ‘THE FORCE AWAKENS’”. But we'll get back to that in a moment.  For the time being fast forward from the 1980 CONGO novel to Friday June 9th, 1995.


   CONGO (film version - 1995)

    Over the intervening 15 years since first reading CONGO, a number of attempts to turn it into a film had come and gone. At one point John Carpenter was said to be involved, then at another it was even reported that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had been toying with the idea of folding the story into the plotline of a new Indiana Jones adventure. At long last the project was a "go" under producers Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall - who’d together produced a number of Spielberg’s films over the years. And it would be directed by Marshall himself (who'd recently proven his cinematic chops with the superlative survival drama ALIVE) from a screenplay by Pulitzer and Oscar winning writer John Patrick Shanley (MOONSTRUCK). Wow! Not too shabby!



     With that murderer’s row of talent involved try to imagine how gut-stuck we were upon first viewing of the CONGO (euphemistically referred to as) "film" on opening day. "Film"? What's the Elmore Leonard line from GET SHORTY - "I've seen better film on teeth"? Whew! Two other not-so-flattering four letter words actually came to mind that day. And one of them also began with "F". Heartbreakingly barely recognizable as having proceeded from the book of the same name, not only had the “race to the lost city” structure been jettisoned – along with the super-computer angle. And we could have lived with that. Really, we could have. But, more importantly, the entire tone had been changed to a form of camp not far removed from the Adam West BATMAN tv series of the 1960s;  this tonal shift most egregiously realized in the addition of the Tim Curry Romanian expeditionary financier “Herkermer Homolka” (a character created for the film). The attendant “jokes” and “humor” of this interpretation of CONGO were of such a head-scratchingly / mind-numbing sort we kept half-expecting to see Jerry Lewis pop his head out from a window as Batman and Robin scaled the side of a badly realized special FX highrise. Yeah, we were that blown away and horrified. Interestingly however, because our reaction was so severe, one possibility haunted us … 

      “It really couldn’t have been THAT bad!”, a faint little voice said, “Yeah, that's gotta be it. You’re just so in love with the book and all it represents to you, that you didn’t, ... . No, you couldn't watch the film objectively. NO film could ever live up to the fifteen years of expectations you'd placed upon this one, so you really need to see it again, … y’know, in order to this time around experience it for what it WAS and IS as opposed to what you created beforehand in your head, 'cause that just ain't artistically fair, Bro!".


    
  So, that Sunday we listened to the voice, got up bright and early, and went to see CONGO again. And, lo and behold, NO! We weren't mistaken.  It really was that freakin' bad!  But at least we now knew for certain it wasn’t just our "unfair" imagination running amuck. All this to say …

     Three of the most popular films of 2015 – STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, SPECTRE and AMERICAN SNIPER, have also amazingly been three of the most divisive and (in some respects) surprisingly emotionally incendiary. To a degree one would expect such a response from something like AMERICAN SNIPER, which, based on very recent true life history, still carries a bit of personal sting for those who view it.


     Upon closer inspection, what’s more fascinating is how THE FORCE AWAKENS and SPECTRE, while the wildest of fiction (I mean, you can't get more unreal than STAR WARS and James Bond, right?), also carry a great deal of personal emotions (and sometimes sting) to those who view them, simply because they’re the latest editions of franchises which have been in our lives for nearly a half century. As such they're intrinsically connected to the personal histories / childhoods / upbringing, etc.  of not only the current viewer, but also to their parents and maybe even grandparents as well. So is it really even possible to view them objectively? Is it conceivable that, in the same way in which Crichton’s stories (and CONGO in particular) represent / represented more to us than “a nifty yarn”, that so too do the STAR WARS and Bond franchises carry an equal amount of not only nostalgia, but emotional and psychological weight with that nostalgia, varrying from viewer to viewer? As such there are bound to be some severe opinions about them, no?



    
 
   We were already in the midst of penning individual pieces on AMERICAN SNIPER and THE FORCE AWAKENS, and outlining another on SPECTRE, when it occurred to us that all three had a common thread running throughout them – that all three films were accused by some of “dumbing down” their respective genres, while lauded by others as a welcome respite from a lazy complacency which some felt had settled over them.  AMERICAN SNIPER in particular is still fiercely debated and accepted as a  "borderline fascist simplification of a complex issue” by one lot, and as “a searing anti-war indictment” by another. But how and why does this extremely polar interpretation come into being?

     With this trio of articles, we’re doing the “See CONGO twice, … or maybe even three or four times” thing. You’ll even notice each film features the standard GullCottage "scale of 1 to 5" star rating system (denoting "poor", "fair", "good", "very good" and "excellent"), but three times for each film instead of one – as our opinion of said film under discussion may have varied with each successive viewing.

     Most concur that, over the last 30-odd years, there certainly has been a general dumbing down within popular entertainment – be it film, music, theater or television. And we sure as hell can't totally disagree. In TV alone for every THE WEST WING, DEXTER or HOUSE OF CARDS there are five “Real Housewives”, “The Bachelor” and “Dance Moms”. So yeah everybody, stop beating up on movies, because TV doesn’t get off scot free either.  Had to toss that one in there.  



 

     But don't be too quick to immediately write off all popular entertainment as "empty-headed popcorn fodder". For, upon taking the time to step back and reevaluate, one can at times find layers of subtext (intended and otherwise) which may have been lost upon first viewing. When a writer or songsmith or other artist sits down and asks themselves, "What to me is scary, romantic or funny?" the answer will usually lay just outside his or her own window, or on the latest news story caught before they hit the sack last night. For the individual audience member watching / reading / listening to that artist / creator's work, what registers as scary, romantic or funny to them will depend on what they saw outside their window last night. And this will differ not just between audience members, but often between the audience member and the artist / creator.  You don't have to be Freud to know these fears, hang-ups, desires, etc. swim within our subconscious and have egress in our nightly dreams. And those dreams keep us from emotionally imploding and going bonkers the next day at work or school or other gathering place within polite society. Film is but another form ..., another realization of the dream state. And even within the most fanciful of films (ESPECIALLY within the most fanciful) these fears, wishes, et al rise to the surface.

     See, and you thought STAR WARS and Bond were just "dumb fun stuff", didn't you? Well, sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Anyway, as we delve into this trilogy of articles, try to remind oneself, and be aware of the fact that, while it's okay to have already formulated opinions about said films under discussion (as well as others which they kind of / sort of represent), sometimes our already “opinionated nostalgia” may have initially colored the perception to the point of blinding us to hidden cinematic treasures buried within that which you maybe initially didn't give a second glance.  It is the point, ... it is the hope of this mini-series of articles to help break that very common, very standard train of thought. Hey, we're not asking much. Just that every now and then you remember that in relationships, in life, and (of course) with film ... 

     Sometimes you just need to see CONGO twice.
    
     Enjoy the read.  And definitely let us know what you think by clicking the "Contact Us" link up in the top left-hand menu bar.  Just two requests - keep it cool and keep it smart.

     Have a good one.

                                                                   CEJ



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Also check out:
"WHO'S YOUR DADDY?": 12 of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY's Cinematic Ancestors




THE KOBAYASHI MARU OF
"THE FORCE AWAKENS"
 
by CEJ 
(posted 2/19/16)


STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

(Walt Disney /
LucasFilm / Bad Robot)

 
GullCottage rating (on a scale of 1 - 5)

- 1st  Viewing (***)
- 2nd Viewing (*** ½)

- 3rd  Viewing (****)

Dir. by - J.J. Abrams
Written by - Lawrence Kasdan,  J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Based on characters by - George Lucas

Prod. by - Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams,
Bryan Burk
Executive Prod. - Tom Harper, Jason McGatlin
Dir. Of Photography  - Dan Mindel
Edited by - Mary Jo Markey, Maryann Brandon
Production Design by - Rick Carter,
Darren Gilford

Costume Design by - Michael Kaplan
Music - John Williams
Running Time: 135 mins. 


CAST:

Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (General Leia Organa), Daisy Ridley (Rey),
John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Oscar Issac (Poe Dameron), Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata),
Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Peter Mayhew & Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Max Von Sydow
(Lor San Tekka), Dave Chapman & Brian Herring (BB-8 puppeteers), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma),
Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar), Mike Quinn (Nien Nunb), Michael Giacchino (FN-3181), Nigel Godrich (FN-9030), Daniel Craig (Stormtropper - uncredited)
 




     In other words, “You just can’t win!”.

     Yeah, we kinda thought most folks “in the know” (as they say) would not only get, but also dig that analogous title up there.  For the handful not aware of the term "Kobayashi Maru" - and how and why over the past near 35 years it’s gone beyond the genre realm to actually / genuinely enter the pop culture lexicon, Wikipedia sums it up more succinctly than we ever could. 

     “The ‘Kobayashi Maru’ is a test in the fictional STAR TREK universe.  It is a Starfleet training exercise designed to test the character of cadets in the command track at Starfleet Academy. The Kobayashi Maru test was first depicted in the opening scene of the film STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and also appears in the 2009 film STAR TREK. Screenwriter Jack B. Sowards is credited with inventing the test, naming it after a friend whose last name was Kobayashi. The test's name is occasionally used among Star Trek fans or those familiar with the series to describe a no-win scenario, or a solution that involves redefining the problem and testing one's character.     

     The notional primary goal of the exercise is to rescue the civilian vessel Kobayashi Maru in a simulated battle with the Klingons. The disabled ship is located in the Klingon Neutral Zone, and any Starfleet ship entering the zone would cause an interstellar incident. The approaching cadet crew must decide whether to attempt rescue of the Kobayashi Maru crew – endangering their own ship and lives – or leave the Kobayashi Maru to certain destruction. If the cadet chooses to attempt rescue, the simulation is designed to guarantee that the ship is destroyed with the loss of all crew members.”






     You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see where we’re going. As Chevy Chase says in FLETCH LIVES Larry Holmes could figure that one out”. Anyway, as the sub-title up there states, this is, yes, a review and analysis of the recently opened STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, but it’s perhaps more a review and POV analysis of the audience.  Because we believe, if red and blue lightsaber-dueling “We hate it - and look at how J.J.’s ruined the franchise” vs. “We love it -  it’s a Christmas gift worthy of a visit from the Magi” STAR WARS fans (as well as generally opinionated movie goers) maybe did a little yoga or something, and took a deep breath and a second to step-back from all of the (waaay too) emotional social media postings, we think they’d realize that any film so polarizing (intended or not) has ultimately become a mirror giving back to each audience member what said member brings to it.


STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (TRAILER 3)




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STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) score -
"Rey's Theme" (J. Williams)



A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE


    
Hard to believe that to this day there are not only pitched camps who idolize or despise 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE EXORCIST, APOCALYPSE NOW and, most recently, AMERICAN SNIPER ... . That part's normal. No. The intriguing part is that (in some cases after a near half-century) many in these camps still virulently argue over the meanings of the films. In each case (especially with AMERICAN SNIPER – and a little more on that later in this series) we believe the film makers deliberately designed those movies as “Rorshach”-like, with the intent of having an audience “project” meaning onto them.  Hence last year’s great “AMERICAN SNIPER is fascist propaganda” vs. “AMERICAN SNIPER is an anti-war film” media pundit version of a WWF Smackdown. 

     In the case of THE FORCE AWAKENS, and fan reactions becoming startlingly similar to the Ronda Rousey / Holly Holm’s match, we believe it was ultimately un-intentional (if knowingly unavoidable) on the part of the film makers, and the plain and (perhaps not so) simple result of the STAR WARS franchise spanning so many generations.  

     Think about it. The STAR WARS franchise has been steadily with us almost 40 years running now – and in various media, from films to books to TV movies to games to toys and models and blankets & pajamas worn by today’s children, as well as by their parents … and maybe even grandparents. This kind of intimate through-the-years “from childhood to adulthood” connection to a single franchise is unheard of in the whole of cinema history. Yes, the Bond films have been around for over 50 years. But, while successfully merchandised, kids today aren’t tucked in at night under Mi6 bedspreads while wearing SPECTRE Underoos.  And while the original PLANET OF THE APES films proved to be a merchandising behemoth (from which the STAR WARS films would later take their retailing cue) its cultural impact was (recent reboots notwithstanding) generally limited to the decade of the 1970s.


   EPISODE 6: RETURN OF THE JEDI (opening weekend 1983)
 

 
     STAR WARS however? And yes, some of this was in the opening "CONGO Principle" intro. But the fact of the matter is some people don't read "intros" or "forwards" so, sorry, but there 'ya go.  Anyway, with STAR WARS ...

     Theatrically we ourselves saw the first film of the first trilogy, A NEW HOPE, while in elementary school (we older folks still prefer to call it STAR WARS or "the original STAR WARS"), and the last film of the first trilogy, RETURN OF THE JEDI, during our second year in college. Sixteen years later I’d see the first film of the second trilogy, THE PHANTOM MENACE, at a midnight screening with someone whom (for a brief time) I thought I might marry. And just this past Christmas I watched my nephews rip the wrapping off of THE FORCE AWAKENS action figures. 


    STAR WARS merchandise: From everything imaginable ... to the unimaginable!
     


 

   
Just as with sports, top 40s songs, TV shows, restaurants and even shopping malls, films (like it or not) serve as psychological “tentposts” of our own personal histories – for better or for worse. And it’s dangerous biz for a film maker to attempt a new version of an old fave, because they’re not just tampering with what many consider to be “sacred text”, but (perhaps more dangerously) they’re fucking about and tap dancing in the minefield of our very subjective / very personal memories and associations, … memories which officially have little or nothing to do with the remade or rebooted film per se, but that new film now becoming “guilty by association" with those personal memories.


     For a film maker to attempt to do this is on par with STAR TREK’s famous (or infamous) “Kobayashi Maru”. Going in it’s already understood to be a no-win scenario, for you’re not going to be able to please everyone, … or more accurately everyone’s “perception”. The endeavor therefore ultimately becomes a test of creative character.
                                                                     
    
     With a 40 year series known for blatant (some would say heavy-handed) historical, philosophical, religious and socio-political references, how does the new STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS rate on the “Is it dumbing the franchise down or making it’s multi-layered world more accessible” scale?  Try to set aside one’s own personal history and nostalgia (for to a degree we are ALL slaves to it) as we take a look see.

     Everyone knows the story of the origin of George Lucas’ STAR WARS cinematic universe. And if you don’t by now, there are numerous documentaries and blogs which do a pretty darned good job of filling one in. If you wanna go check them out, we’ll wait, and you can pick us up right here where you left off.

 
     The 1999 Bill Moyers / George Lucas interviews might be a bit heady for the un-initiated. But apart from that the best “gateway” docu is surely 2004’s superlative 2 ½ hour EMPIRE OF DREAMS. Included with the 2004 DVD box set release of the original trilogy, a slimmed down version aired earlier that year on The History Channel. And amazingly, at the time of this writing at least, it’s presently available to view for free on YouTube.  For how long, who can say? But like we said, we’ll wait if you want to run take a quick look.  



"George came back from STAR WARS a nervous wreck. He didn't feel STAR WARS came up
  to the vision he initially had. He felt he had just made this little kid's movie" - Steven Spielberg
 

    
     As for others, A&E / Biography Channel’s 2002 “CREATING AN EMPIRE” is also a nice overview of Lucas’ filmic career in general, and the creation of the STAR WARS films in particular. And The History Channel’s 2007 STAR WARS: THE LEGACY REVEALED – featuring commentary from film makers, historians, politicians, scientists, religious and philosophical scholars and more, is also worthwhile. The origins of STAR WARS now prologue, the birth of THE FORCE AWAKENS was thus …  

     In October, 2012 Geroge Lucas sold LucasFilm to The Walt Disney Company for $4.06 billion. An astounding sum, but the proverbial “drop in the bucket” in comparison to the over $37 billion, including merchandising et al, which the STAR WARS franchise alone (not even talking about LucasFilms’ INDIANA JONES, WILLOW, LABYRINTH, THE LAND BEFORE TIME, AMERICAN GRAFFITI and others) has taken in over the last near 50 years. 
 

 (L to R - George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams)

 

     After the sale to Disney, long time Lucas / Spielberg producer Kathleen Kennedy was assigned as “LucasFilm President” and “Brand Manager of the STAR WARS franchise”. And that generation of filmic children weaned on 80s era cinema were heartened at the news of this appointment by Disney, and anointment by Lucas himself, as Kennedy was no stranger to grand scale film making and box office blockbusters, having earlier co-produced such Spielberg classics (both directly with Spielberg, and as co-head of Amblin Entertainment) as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, E.T., GREMLINS, BACK TO THE FUTURE, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, THE GOONIES, THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN, WAR HORSE, LINCOLN and JURASSIC PARK; and as co-founder / producer (with husband Frank Marshall) of The Kennedy / Marshall Company - the production company responsible for such hits as THE SIXTH SENSE, SIGNS, the BOURNE series, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, HEREAFTER and more.



     Originally a “creative consultant” on the new STAR WARS films, Lucas offered Disney his initial rough sketch outlines for the yet to be made episodes VII – IX. But when it became apparent the Disney brass intended to take the franchise in another thematic direction, he stepped away. In an interview with Charlie Rose (orig. air date 12/25/15 - an excerpt embedded below), Lucas cited the primary point of creative divergence as the new owner’s desire to realize the franchise as a “Space Opera” rather than a mythic “Family Soap Opera”. 


     In a Nov. 2015 Vanity Fair interview, however, the legendary film maker also admitted that another reason to step away from his cinematic birth child after near 50 years, was fan criticism. ”You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized,” Lucas confessed, “And it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment.” New STAR WARS helmer J.J. Abrams would soon also learn the meaning of those words. 
 

     With an original script by Oscar winner Michael Arndt (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, TOY STORY 3, OBLIVION and THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE – the last two written as “Michael deBruyn"), The original THE FORCE AWAKENS draft would be considerably re-written by Abrams in collaboration with Lawrence Kasdan. Known as writer and / or director of quick-witted, emotionally layered films such as CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, THE BIG CHILL, SILVERADO, GRAND CANYON and WYATT EARP, Kasdan’s biggest claim to fame (at least within genre circles) was that he was co-writer (with Lucas & Steven Spielberg) of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and (with Lucas) of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI.  With old hands Kennedy and Kasdan aboard for the new “trek” (sorry, couldn’t resist - "Resistance is futile", you know!), it was “so far, so good” and "all systems go!" with rank and file STAR WARS fandom. 










                                                                    



... IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY


STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) score -
"The Abduction" (J. Williams)




     Set approximately 30 years after RETURN OF THE JEDI - the final chapter of the original trilogy, THE FORCE AWAKENS, like the Lucas scripted originals, would base it’s setting upon world history. In this instance the new tale’s narrative launch proceeding from the notion that democracy can be a complex structure which, if a stanchion or two is removed, can tragically tumble into civil war, chaos and despotism.

     During said intervening 30 years in the STAR WARS universe, Luke Skywalker has sought to rebuild the Jedi  – the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. But upon betrayal by a prized pupil – a renegade trainee who’d help slaughter the members of the new order, then adopt the Dark Side personage and name “Kylo Ren”, Luke (either because of personal grief or with a secret agenda) goes into exile; simply vanishing from the face of the universe.   

     As a major stanchion in the structure of the New Republic, Luke’s absence has a domino effect on the intergalactic political balance, and a “First Order” (think of it as a Nazi-like “Fourth Reich”) under the guidance of Supreme Leader Snoke (well versed in the Dark Side), rises like a black phoenix from the ashes of the old Empire. Snoke believes if he can find and eliminate the missing Luke Skywalker, the Jedi master’s death will extinguish the final rays of the Light Side of the Force, and leave The First Order with little opposition as it marches across the universe in conquest. 


 


     As the New Republic crumbles, Luke’s twin sister, General Leia Organa, launches her own search to locate and retrieve her missing brother – she dispatching her best pilot, Poe Dameron, to the planet Jakku, where a trusted acquaintance – retired adventurer Lor San Tekka (in the film portrayed by the venerable Max Von Sydow), has obtained a partial map containing information as to Skywalker’s whereabouts. Now a Dark pupil under Leader Snoke, Kylo Ren also learns of San Tekka’s map, and he lands on Jakku and slaughters the inhabitants of an entire village to obtain it. Before being captured by Ren and taken aboard his Star Destroyer, Poe Dameron places the map into the files of his trusted droid BB-8, who escapes the carnage then later happens upon a desert dwelling young scavenger girl named Rey.


 

     The use of clones as cannon fodder soldiers now a thing of the past, THE FORCE AWAKENS integrates a tragic bit of contemporary socio-political history into its narrative by making the First Order’s version of the old Stormtroopers conscripts who are snatched from their families as children and brainwashed to do the bidding of their commanders – not unlike the children soldiers conscripted by modern day tribal warlords, terrorists and western drug racketeers. Dehumanized by being assigned code IDs rather than names, a conscripted Stormtrooper designated “FN-2187”, and whose reconditioning wasn’t entirely successful, seeks to escape his military indentured servitude, and, needing a pilot to get him off the Star Destroyer, breaks the captured Poe Dameron from incarceration.


     The two hijack a TIE Fighter war craft, blast their way off of Ren’s battleship; then, after a fierce orbital dog fight, crash land on Jakku. Unable to rescue the apparently trapped Poe from the sand-sinking TIE fighter, “FN-2187” (called “Finn” by Dameron), makes his way alone across the Jakkunian wasteland where, because he’s wearing Dameron’s jacket, he is mistaken by Rey and BB-8 as a member of General Leia Organa’s Resistance.

     Realizing Rey, Finn, and BB-8 are in possession of the map, Kylo Ren launches a violent sweep across Jakku to bring the trio to him. Making their escape from Jakku in an ancient and dilapidated Corellian light freighter called the Millenium Falcon, our heroes are intercepted by the Falcon’s former owner – legendary war hero Han Solo, and his trusted Wookie co-pilot, the towering Chewbacca; the two former pirates searching for their old craft since it was stolen from them years ago. 

     And hey, all of this is just the film’s FIRST act!

  

Pg. 1, 2, 3,








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