Star Wars: The Anticipation Awakens

At one point in my 2012 film, Secrets of the Desert Nymph, one of the characters encourages his best friend to go after the girl of his dreams before it’s too late. When his friend finally agrees, he’s boggled by the idea that he do it right that minute.

The exchange:

“You mean now?”

“No. When episode seven hits theaters.”

Of course, this was when it was a well-known fact that George Lucas wasn’t ever going to release another Star Wars film. The joke was meant to mean if he didn’t do it right that minute, he never would.

Cut to one year later and the announcement that Disney bought Lucasfilm and its entire film library for $4 billion dollars. Disney’s second announcement — Episode 7 was coming, and it was coming fast. And even though it makes the joke in a three-year-old movie seem as dated as the fight over Beta and VHS, I couldn’t be more excited.

With the film’s release three weeks away (three weeks!?! I still have to wait that long?!?), the anticipation is bubbling over, and not simply because I am a huge fan (being one of the very few who actually like the prequel trilogy). There are several things that make this new chapter one to watch.

Jar-Jar Binks aside, one of the biggest reasons a lot of people were disappointed in the prequels was because of Lucas’s choice to go almost completely digital, using CGI to create the majority of landscapes and characters. I will attest, doing this certainly made the films feel much more fake at times, and stole a lot of the magic of the original trilogy away. However, if you’re able to get past this, there is a lot to like about the prequel trilogy — the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul, Yoda putting Count Dooku in his place, and the moment Anakin officially embraces the dark side and strikes down a school of Jedi children, to name just a few — that live up to the original trilogy, show great strength in the force, and, when watched as a whole, give reason to a lot of choices.

What happened was, the anticipation for the prequels was so high, when the film failed to live up to the expectation of what people remembered from their childhood, the disappointment hit everyone much harder. But when you go back and watch the original Star Wars (that is, Episode 4 – A New Hope), you’ll notice a film that is far from perfect. It has plenty of its own flaws, which no one will really deny, but the spirit of the movie — the adventure, the joy it was, and still is, able to conjure up — helps most people overlook the flaws and enjoy the escapism. The Phantom Menace (as well as the following two films) looked and felt “wrong”, so many couldn’t find a way to look past the flaws.

Now, being a child of the eighties, I grew up in a time when filmmakers pushed the boundaries of makeup effects and animatronics to the point that the majority turn out to be more real than any computer generated image ever could. The puppeteers behind creatures such as Gizmo and Harry (bigfoot, that is) produced an exorbitant amount of emotion out of their little toys, and it gave the actors something to work off of rather than a tennis ball, allowing them to invest in the characters more deeply, translating that emotion to the audience. Computer animation and visual effects certainly have their place, but to completely ignore old-school makeup and practical effects creates a disconnect between the characters and the audience. Even if it’s only a subconscious effect, we as the audience still register that disconnect.

So when JJ Abrams announced he was going to use real sets and practical effects while shooting the new Star Wars, I’m not afraid to say, I was giddy. JJ Abrams wanted to return to the era the original films were made, using computer effects as a means to add to what was already there, rather than create everything from scratch. But it wasn’t until Abrams started his UNICEF campaign early in the film’s shoot, surprising everyone with a hermit-type character that looked so amazing in all of its animatronic glory, that I felt his honesty. This one little choice alone, to me, was going to bring back the power, joy and magic sprinkled throughout the original trilogy.

I also have to applaud the decision Disney and Abrams made in how to market the film. As a writer, I understand how painful it is to have secrets revealed too soon. I keep all of my work very close to the vest until I know it’s ready for official release, mostly because I want to be able to surprise my readers and give them something more to look forward to. These days, it’s hard to watch a trailer for a film without some major secret being revealed (I’m looking at you, Terminator: Genisys). It pains me to think that had The Empire Strikes Back been released today, the studio probably would have had Darth Vader announce his connection to Luke in the trailer, simply to drive more buzz across Twitter.

Abrams knows better. So far, based on the trailers (I try to stay away from sites, blog posts and articles that claim to have spoilers), all we know for sure is that John Boyega’s Finn is a Stormtrooper who for some reason defects from his duties and crash lands on the desert planet of Jaaku. From there, he meets Daisy Ridley’s Rey, and together join forces with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and his sidekick Puke — wait, I mean, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) — to… what? Not exactly sure, but it has something to do with the Force, a war against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his army, and the “disappearance” of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The reason I put disappearance in quotes is because Luke is missing from the trailers, the posters, and all media. In my opinion, it’s a genius move of marketing because it adds to the conversation about where he is, what he’s doing, and how he fits into the plot. Is there a secret twist Abrams and Disney are keeping held captive? Or is it a ploy to keep people talking about the movie and raise the anticipation? Either way, it works.

If there was one disappointment I have with the film (other than the fact that the Twentieth Centry Fox fanfare won’t be heard prior to that iconic John Williams score), it’s that it’s not staying with tradition and being released on Memorial Day. To hear that a Star Wars film was being released in December sort of broke my heart. But then I thought, you know what…? If there was ever a film to break Titanic‘s monster run as the number 1 film at the box office, it’s The Force Awakens, and with the film opening on the same weekend Titanic opened in 1997, it could very well run the Millennium Falcon into the history books.

That is, if it’s any good. But is there really any doubt?

What do you guys think? Are you as excited as I am for the return of our favorite heroes? Are you looking forward to joining a new cast on new adventures? Do you believe practical effects will always trump computer effects? What are you anticipating the most?

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