‘Kajillionaire’ Review: A Strange, Beautiful, and Gentle Story of Lost and Found Home
'Kajillionaire' is a touching and eccentric story about family, crime, and the search for belonging.
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With The Rise of Skywalker out and about, I decided to cash in on the hype and review all of the Star Wars movies that have been released since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. I think it has been an…interesting ride, to say the least. And I think I’m at a point where I’d rather live in a world with hit-and-miss attempts to continue the Star Wars story than one that simply ends with Revenge of the Sith (or Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as the last theatrical Star Wars release. So, here’s The Force Awakens.
Well, maybe. Let me go on a tangent for a moment.
I’m going to be very direct here: I’m a fan of the sequel series of Star Wars (so far). I think they are far and away superior to the prequels in every single decision they make. I believe the prequels had the advantage of the more interesting story to tell, the fall of Anakin Skywalker, but they absolutely butchered it. Exposition dumping, stale characters and dialogue, abysmal special effects, storyline padding, fan service, and so many other countless factors ruined what could have been a fascinating tale. I think the only salvageable things from the prequels are a few action pieces, the incredible musical score, Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of Palpatine, and the scene of Anakin finding his mother in Attack of the Clones.
So, as a kid who grew up with the best thing about the prequels being the Lego Star Wars game on the Gamecube, I was very eager to see good Star Wars movies in a modern era. I remember reading an article in 2005 (when Revenge of the Sith was released) talking about the fact that George Lucas thought about doing a sequel series and that the door was still open. So I always knew more was to come, but I didn’t think Lucas would essentially bow out and let Disney take the reins. I was OK with that. I think Lucas is an excellent storyteller with a penchant for taking familiar ideas and repackaging them for general audiences. But his directing and screenwriting are not quite of the same caliber. All artists have strengths and weaknesses.
At any rate, I always hear (generally from Boomers/Gen Xers) that the first Star Wars was something they had never seen before. The effects, the characters, the effects, the story, etc. I think that statement is absolutely false. Star Wars is famously derivative of old serials like Flash Gordon and the effects, while impressive, had existed in films years beforehand, such as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The story is as basic as it gets: the hero’s journey. And the characters in the first Star Wars are not impressive, they would not become the more iconic versions of themselves until The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, Darth Vader was a force (ha) to be reckoned with, but a big spooky bad guy with very little background was nothing new for 1977. Again: it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that Vader got more depth, and his infamous reveal was not planned from the start. I think what people forget when they say Star Wars was “new” was that they were children at the time when they saw it, had not been exposed to other things (accessing films was harder in the 70s), and were gripped instantly.
That is the brilliance of George Lucas. He intended a family-friendly film that could be viewed by people of all ages. As much as I love Kubrick, you can’t say that a kid is going to appreciate, understand, or be entertained by his movies. Star Wars was a fun, imaginative escape that opened up children to the imagination with its simplicity. I think this is why the Prequels in large part failed, they took themselves far too seriously and were too aware of the pop culture impact they had instead of just relaxing. Not to mention the almost constant serious mood. Remember when Yoda was funny and down to earth in every scene he was in? Not so much in the Prequels. The embarrassing attempts at romance, politics, and war just don’t mesh with the lighthearted tone the Original Trilogy had.
So when the trailer for The Force Awakens came out, and I noticed the immediate shift in tone to something more 1977 style, more familiar, I was very interested. I was excited to see what would happen to this turn-cloak Stormtrooper, who this mysterious girl was, what Han and Chewie had been up to, etc. I was excited about both the nostalgic aspect and the new interpretation. I remembered seeing Revenge of the Sith years before in Spain, but it wasn’t the same. It felt like a classic Star Wars movie for about 3 minutes until it just became another Prequel, and I remember feeling underwhelmed by the film.
The Force Awakens was a very different feeling. So when I went to see The Force Awakens for the first time, as soon as the opening crawl hit in its yellow glory, I was dying in my seat from excitement. I felt the hype, it felt a little forced in the opening, but by the time I left the theater, I felt very excited to see what would come next, even though I was very underwhelmed in some aspects. Living up to the high expectations of a Star Wars movie is a nearly impossible task, and everybody can’t be pleased; but even if I disagreed or was irked by a lot of the choices in The Force Awakens, I never doubted that it felt like a Star Wars movie, and I was excited about the next chapter instead of feeling let down, even if the movie wasn’t jaw-dropping. There’s a difference between an overall sense of being completely underwhelmed and having a few grievances. I think I would have gone batty for this movie if I was 8, but my giddiness after seeing Luke Skywalker on that island came pretty close.
The Force Awakens is A New Hope 2.0, in essence. Everyone is universally agreed upon that. The rough 9 point story structure is virtually unchanged, too many of the details are too close to be coincidence (a droid meets a lower class force-sensitive person on a desert plan with secret plans?!), and even the new John Williams score is derivative of his old pieces. It’s impossible to watch The Force Awakens and say it doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie because it is for Gen Zers what A New Hope was for Boomers and Gen Xers. And maybe the older generations will blow it off as the Silent/Greatest Generations did for the original Star Wars, but it makes me very happy that a new wave of people got to experience something I never got with the Prequels as a child. A sense of wonder, rather than a 2-hour movie with a better video game version.
By the way, a lot of people get so angry at the Disney Sequel Trilogy and claim it’s commercialized or forced, and uh…excuse me? Star Wars? Commercialized now that Disney bought it? Say what you will about the mouse’s ever-growing monopoly, but:
I can’t think of a franchise that was ever more commercialized.
LEGOs, action figures, video games, Ewok movies, comics, novels, stuffed animals, collectibles, you name it. I’m willing to bet there are Star Wars-branded urinal cakes, that’s how vast the merchandising empire is. So to say that Disney “cheapened” Star Wars is perhaps the worst and most laughable argument I’ve heard in my life to hold against the Sequel Trilogy. Were they necessary to make? Not really. But to say that they were a cash grab is a joke; it’s Star Wars! I’m not angry at Disney for the “audacity” to make a new Sequel Trilogy after having to endure the Star Wars Holiday Special.
So no, the movie’s problems aren’t inherently a fault of “cashing in,” it’s more about the questionable mythos building and writing. Yeah, I don’t care who Supreme Leader Snoke is, he’s just a lamer Palpatine. No, I don’t think we’ll know how Maz got that lightsaber for Rey; it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure what the politics of the Resistance and First Order are, but it’s better than the Trade Federation/Republic/Separatists/Jedi Order or whatever that was in the Prequels. Who are the Knights of Ren? Knowing J.J. Abrams, we’ll probably never get a solid answer. There are countless things like this in the film.
But seeing the Millennium Falcon take flight again…seeing the stunning and new cinematography…a return to practical effects instead of only relying on badly aged CGI…even just hearing the lightest touch of the classic score…it was magical. I think Force Awakens speaks for itself in the title. Star Wars returned in full force (ha). If you’re married to the various comic book endings and fan fiction sequels to Star Wars, that’s OK. But don’t tell me you’d rather be in a world with only those comics and no new movies. Something is better than nothing, and when the something is significantly better made than the Prequels, which took away all mythos and interest in the past of Star Wars and made it laughable…well, I’m not just going to avoid complaining, I’m going to applaud it.
So. Force Awakens. With no way to possibly satisfy every ravenous Star Wars fan there is, I understand the safe approach. And I’ve come to like this movie a little more every time that I see it. It’s fun, it’s goofy, and it’s Star Wars. George Lucas said Star Wars rhymes rather than repeats, and maybe this movie repeats a little too much for my taste at times. But it doesn’t actively destroy what I liked about Star Wars like the Prequels did, or get weird like those Ewok movies. It felt like putting on an old, comfortable pair of shoes, just before I could start running in them. And now, seeing Disney beginning to branch out a little more with projects like the movie spinoffs, bringing back The Clone Wars, green-lighting the Mandalorian, and announcing more movies, I’m interested to see where it all goes, even if all the things thrown at the wall don’t stick.
The Incluvie aspect of The Force Awakens is a bright spot. Considering there were 2 women in the entire galaxy in the Original Trilogy and then the Prequels, which boast the lowest screentime for women, it’s nice to see a woman in the lead role. It’s not forced, it’s just a woman in the lead role. Side note: you’ll hear from very toxic fans that Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a “Mary Sue”, but no one seems to understand that term’s actual meaning or its implication. Long story short, The Force Awakens is A New Hope, which is the hero’s journey formula for the story. The hero’s journey is not possible without a protagonist undergoing an arc, whereas Mary Sue requires an implausible series of feats and perfection. Luke Skywalker was more of a “Mary Sue” than Rey would be and even then, still did not fit the definition. At any rate, on top of much better female representation, The Force Awakens also boasts a lead black actor (John Boyega) as Finn, and a lead Latino actor (Oscar Isaac) as Poe. That’s right, folks: All 3 leads are solid representations.
In the end, I think I’ve come to appreciate The Force Awakens more with time. I certainly didn’t hate it when it was released, but I was baffled as to the level of repetition it employed. But heck,I’ll give it that little extra point for doing exactly what it set out to do and for having good re-view knowledge. It’s perfectly in line with Star Wars, maybe a little TOO in line to really make me think, but I don’t mind just having fun sometimes.
-Rafael A. Sarmiento
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