Star Wars: The Force Awakens

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016It’s everywhere. You can’t turn on a screen without seeing Star Wars right now. You can’t turn a corner in any major city without seeing a bus stop poster or a billboard. Saturation has reached a Disney-fueled fever pitch like nothing I’ve seen since Harry Potter died. (oh, spoiler…)

You have to understand that Star Wars is an intensely personal thing for millions and millions of people. There are endless streams of little boys and girls that have grown up swinging lightsabers and fighting over who gets to play Han and who gets to be Luke. How many of us remember when there was actually a viable love-story between the beautiful space princess and the cocky kid from Tatooine? How many of us remember going “NO WAY!” when we learned they were brother and sister, having spent so many afternoons trying to save her from the Death Star, and ending up playing a Star Wars version of house after the blaster-fire settled? I grew up with Star Wars figures in my hands 24/7. I still have stormtroopers on my shelf in my office, alongside my Darth Vadar head walkie-talkies. I have loved it so long, I don’t remember my life without it.

starwars-happyfamily_hugeI’m not alone. I don’t even go to conventions or cosplay, I’m just a “normal” Star Wars geek. Think of all the people that are ACTUALLY obsessed with it. (oh, wait…) Over the decades, not even the “enhanced special editions” (with added lame computer graphics) nor George Lucas’s prequel trilogy could ruin it for me… The Phantom Menace is literally one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Only Ewan McGregor was worth a damn, and I will always cringe when I see Hayden Christenson’s ridiculous whinging face.

So when I heard that Disney bought Lucasfilm and had tapped JJ Abrams, today’s hottest action director, to helm Episode VII, that 9 year-old child inside of me that had been lightsabered into pieces and tossed into a lava river by George Lucas jumped up and down on the bed like he hadn’t done in decades. On the outside, I’ve kept my cool.

Until now. I’m officially freaking out.

We are now days away. The premiere happened in LA last night, and the reviews will hit the internet tomorrow. I’m only one of probably hundreds of thousands of people that are sitting at a laptop writing about Star Wars right this very second. I doubt anyone outside of my Facebook friends will even read this, and even that is rare… Who wants to read ANOTHER Star Wars article? I haven’t allowed myself to get sucked into the hype beyond looking forward to it. I don’t want to know anything about the plot before I see it on the screen, which means I’ll have to stay off the internet for a week before I can go see it Christmas weekend.

This is a tricky thing for me. On one hand, Star Wars has been in my life longer than any other relationship outside of my birth family, I’ve loved Luke Skywalker and Han Solo longer than any other characters in the whole universe of different “universes” out there… When I think of science fiction, pictures of the Falcon zipping through asteroids or weaving through the reconstructed Death Star flash in my mind for pity’s sake. Seeing the original cast all old and grey only reflects my own nearing middle age. Luke Skywalker probably won’t be swinging from any tiny ropes this time… although I’m not counting out him doing some kind of CGI-enhanced Yoda flips with a lightsaber in his hand (a reality that both saddens me, and makes me very happy at the same time), Han broke his foot on the Falcon’s door, and Leia probably won’t fit into Jabba’s bikini anymore… But despite the next generation taking over, I really only have one concern. Us Original Trilogy types might be a little wider in pant size, but we know more about the Force that these Midiclorian-loving Pod Racer types…

starwars3The Force is the beating heart of the Star Wars stories, and yet it’s always been treated as a gimmick or a weapon. While Yoda and Obi-Wan might’ve talked a big spiritual game, when it came down to it, it was always “can I throw this large object at someone with my mind?” or “Now I will turn into a CGI-character who can move like a super hero!” JJ Abrams might be a superb movie maker, but if the Force Awakens leaves the Force out in the rain like the other movies, I will be sorely disappointed.

After all, its an invisible energy force that surrounds everyone and everything, binds them together in a galactic fate that hints of prophecy and redemption… There are aspects of Star Wars lore that mean more than the sum of their parts. They create wonder and yearning in the heart, tempting even the most cynical to look to the stars and dream of other worlds. They weave in and out of the imagination, surrounding us, binding us together in a shared experience that reflects the very story being told.

The Force might not be real, but in a way it is. While we can’t move things with our minds or shoot lightning from out fingers, Star Wars fans are all united by the same shapeless “force” shared in those moments when lasers flash across the screen or when a spontaneous lightsaber duel breaks out in line for the midnight show. star-wars-force-awakens-teaser-3-1205x803It is a “force” of dreams and imagination, of spaceships on fire and epic struggles for the future of the galaxy. It is hope in the face of evil and despair, it is a chance for redemption after a lifetime of mistakes, it is the ache of home and the futility of fighting destiny.

From everything I’ve seen, and from my level of trust in JJ Abrams, this is going to be one of those rare moments in life where everything converges at once around some popular culture event. Where an artist has been given the tools necessary to unite the past, the present, the future, emotion, imagination, laughter, and family… And it’s all thanks to a few short hours of film and a whole lifetime of dreams.

I can’t wait.

 

Why Iron Man 3 is the Perfect Post-Avengers Blockbuster

imax_iron_man_3_posterI’m not an Iron Man comic fan by any right, but I am a huge fan of the film franchise and Robert Downey Jr. So any hang ups people have with the storyline regarding The Mandarin and the 10 Rings, I don’t care… The villain in Iron Man 3 is one of the best Marvel baddies yet… And Guy Pearce absolutely kills it as well. In a nutshell: Tony Stark is an addict, and now he’s addicted to the power he gets from his Iron Man suit, and even more so the hero he gets to be inside of it. He is also in love for the first time with live-in girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Therefore he is faced with the eternal Batman-esque struggle, how can he simultaneously be a savior of mankind beset by evil alien forces and magical beings from other dimensions, and keep those he loves from getting caught in the crossfire? He knows he can save the world, but has no idea what to buy his girlfriend for Christmas. How can he find balance between the man and the Iron Man? And even just a little deeper: think of the symbolism of the Iron Man suit itself… I’m talking chrysalis and metamorphosis, building walls and coming out of our shells and all of that.

The script, the dialogue, and Downey… They all work brilliantly here. Ex-Hollywood pariah Shane Black, one of the best screenwriters around, knocks it out of the park with razor-sharp wit and a breakneck pace. I’m giving away my old age when I say I had Lethal Weapon flashbacks through the entire movie. a_560x375Iron Man 3 is truly a triumph for Shane Black, and I give him props for fighting back from the brink and coming through looking good! The plot is swift, complicated, and just when it doesn’t always seem like there is one, you realize it’s only because Black is playing it so close to the chest.

Tony Stark can’t sleep in the wake of The Avengers, and he’s having trouble coming to grips with his most selfless act at the end of that movie. Basically, he’s a selfish guy, we love him for it… And yet here he has gone and given his life to save humanity (it was pretty much a fluke he survived, so I’m giving him props too for going all the way with it). You’d be pretty messed up too if you were a super-rich playboy one day, a introspective entrepreneur the next, and then nearly killed by sacrificing yourself to save Earth the next.

im3-2Story-wise, the plot concerns a new super-terrorist in town, The Mandarin (played with scene-stealing glory by Ben Kingsley) who is bombing civilians and hijacking the airwaves with some silly and yet creepy terror-tapes and Noam Chomsky speeches of the Evil America. At the beginning of the film, these tapes seem rather contrived… But come the end it all makes perfect sense. When one of The Mandarin’s attacks puts Tony’s closest loved ones in danger, he sets out on a cross-country mission to stop the mad man from destabilizing the country. I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s a seamless three-act play here. The first act is Tony in California dealing with his post-Avengers PTSD and watching the bad guys put their chess pieces in place. Then act two finds Tony alone and suit-less in the Tennessee snow, just as Captain America said in the Avengers… Which is what this whole film is about… Whether the hero that was born inside the Iron Man suit can survive without it. Tony is forced to truly stare into the abyss he has been circling since New York.

iron-man-3-don-cheadle-robert-downey-jr-tm-2012-marvelAct three grabs all of the threads and ties them up into a funny buddy-cop movie bow with Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot (aka War Machine) helping Tony finally take down the bad guys. There are a few big reveals, some hilarious twists, some awesome special effects, and some seriously awesome high-flying daredevilry. Suffice it to say the Air Force One scene alone is worth the price of admission.

This movie is all about personal demons. Tony tells us so from the start, using narration to book end the story. From the first frame Tony is fighting his demons, and since life has a funny way of knowing when you’re struggling, events begin to unfold that have him questioning his very existence as Iron Man. Can he save the world and protect the woman he loves? Can he be a selfless protector and an OCD hermit crab at the same time? Can he move away from a past full of trampling over others to get to where he wants to be? I realize these are pretty big themes for a summer blockbuster, but Iron Man 3 isn’t your every-day actioner. This isn’t The Avengers. This is an intensely personal film that finalizes the 3-movie-arc of Tony Stark’s transformation from what he was, into what he will be. For a solid hour in the middle of the movie he’s not even in the suit. He’s out solving a mystery, chasing leads, and chumming it up with a surrogate inner child in Tennessee. Throw in a maniacal terrorist, a power-hungry industrialist, and an army of T1000-looking Extremis soldiers, and you’ve got yourself a summer movie!

iron-man-3-tony-stark-robert-downey-jrAlmost every single decision the filmmakers’ had to do the same old thing, they chose something different. Just when you think cliché is about to happen, Black spins it. It’s really fun to watch. It all comes together a little too well in the end, but audiences want the happy ending. Plus like I said before, if you’re a Lethal Weapon/Shane Black fan, you’ll love this flick. There’s a Christmas theme, snappy one-liners, a buddy-cop-flick feel, and even an Xmas tree lot! Come on, how can I be the only one catching this?? The finale even takes place on a BOAT! (I realize that’s Lethal Weapon 2, but you’re getting my drift here right?) There are so many Easter Eggs in this movie you’ll have a hard time following the fast-paced dialogue when you’re too busy pointing out Joss Whedon crouching behind a car during an attack, or Stan Lee judging a bikini contest, or the blatant Christmas tree lot scene… And despite the fact that there are a solid 10-15 minutes of credits, stay for the stinger… It’s worth it. Iron Man 3 is a brilliant movie, don’t believe any negative hype. It’s smartly made, smartly written, and doesn’t get bogged down at all.

I went back to see it in 3D, something I do from time to time to see how the technology is advancing from season to season, and thankfully Iron Man 3-D is one of the good 3D movies. There isn’t any crap flying out of the screen or gimmickry going on here, instead the 3-dimension accents the story… It makes it more immersive, more tangible and real… As much as I hate the fad-happy post-production use of RealD 3D, filmmakers are  beginning to learn how to use it wisely.

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After cleaning up overseas for the last week, the film is quickly on its way to a billion dollars worldwide. Iron Man 3 opened to a whopping $170 million at the US box office this weekend, second only to… you guessed it… The Avengers.

Go summer 2013 movie season!