It was 1977 and I was completing a rather celestial course of studies in theology, philosophy, philology, and other related subjects at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. My NY friend, and sometime roommate, Paul Terry and I decided to go see this new Syfy epic just released— it was called Star Wars. Now you have to understand that Paul was NY skeptical, I won’t say cynical,but nonetheless he was hard to impress. His first word when we left the Danvers Mass. Cinema was a genuine WOW!! And then again, double WOW. You have to realize that this movie came out before there was what could really be called CG, shoot it came out B.C. before cellphone, and before (personal) computers as well. It was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. This rebooting of the franchise has that feel of ‘deja vu’ all over again, not least because it involves not only some of the original actors and their characters, but also some of the original story lines and concepts. Shoot, it even begins like the very first Stars Wars, with words trailing off into space and the sonic boom of John Williams original score.
The proof that the ‘force’ is still strong is that we saw this movie in XD at 9 a.m. on Friday morning— and there were a ton of people there, plunking down at least $15.00 a piece, unless of course they were vintage senior Star Wars fans, like Ann and myself. For those of us who have lived through the whole epic, including its more recent lackluster sequels (I think the Clones film was made by a Lucas clone) there have been some ups and downs. I am happy to report that J.J. Abrams has managed the considerable feat of balancing the old and new characters, plots, visual effects, exotic beasts. It is finally a worthy sequel to the original three movies, a sequel to Return of the Jedi (o.k., I know that those other films since Return were not actually sequels, just subsequent explorations). George Lucas has sold his whole Star Wars franchise to Disney… for the mind-melding sum of $4 billion (yes, that’s b as in billion) dollars. Disney in turn has handed over the franchise to the able and anointed J.J. Abrams who also has done and is doing the Star Trek reboot (further episode to follow next summer). He is Lucas and Spielberg approved.
This episode is 2 hours and 16 minutes long, and it feels much shorter as it is action-packed. We get Han Solo, we get Princess (now General) Leia, we get R2D2, C3PO, Chewbacca, and in the end even Luke Skywalker. But we also have some interesting new characters— Finn (John Boyega) who has been raised to be a storm trooper for the bad guys, but rebels, and Rey, played by Daisy Ridley as a scavenger, who turns out to be ‘strong in the force’ as well. We also get Han Solo’ and Leia’s son…. who has gone over to the dark side of the force (Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver). There are enough new persons to keep the new fans intrigued, and enough old characters to give continuity to the whole.
If you have been paying attention to the masses lining up and dressing up for the film you will realize that it is generating a sort of devotion akin to a religion, and just yesterday I saw a couple getting married with storm troopers as groomsmen (‘watch those weapons lads’). But what is the religion that undergirds these films? It is a form of pan-en-theism, the notion that there is a bit of the divine in all things, and in this case a bit of the light and dark force in all, though some tend more in one direction, and some more in the other. Like Buddhism or some aspects of Hinduism, it is about a divine force, not a divine person or persons.
I really enjoyed this film. It kept my attention from start to finish, the humor was good, the action scenes and CG did not look phony, and even the XD effects were effective, from time to time. There is of course a lot of shooting and fighting, but compared to some video games it is tame. Disney is promising not merely a sequel, but rather a further sequel a year for the next four years (through 2020). The Force has indeed been ably resuscitated. It remains to be seen whether it will be ‘with us’ or ‘against us’ or just leave us yawning in subsequent episodes. If J.J. keeps working on it, the further sequels will hardly be dull.