Retro Television Reviews: Sarah T — Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (dir by Richard Donner)


Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1975’s Sarah T — Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

In 1975, two years after shocking audiences in and receiving an Oscar nomination for The Exorcist, Linda Blair played Sarah Travis.  Sarah is fourteen years old.  She has a high IQ.  She lives in a nice suburban home.  She has an older sister named Nancy (Laurette Sprang) and she makes a good deal of money working as a babysitter.  Sarah lives with her mother, Jean (Verna Bloom) and her stepfather, Matt (William Daniels).  She misses her father, a chronically unemployed artist named Jerry (Larry Hagman).  Jerry is the type who will complain about how no one is willing to give him a chance while he’s day drinking early in the morning.  Jerry’s an alcoholic.  That’s one of the many things that led to Jean divorcing him.  (Matt is fairly regular drinker as well but it soon becomes apparent that he can handle his liquor in a way that Jerry cannot.  Matt has a glass of Scotch after work.  Jerry has his daughter by a slushy so he can pour his beer in the cup.)  Jean is always quick to keep Sarah from drinking.  When someone offers her a drink at a party, Jean replies that Sarah only drinks ginger ale.

Of course, the name of this movie is Sarah T. — Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic so we already know that Jean is incorrect about that.  When we first meet Sarah, she is fourteen and she’s been regularly drinking for two years.  She’s even worked out a system where she gets liquor delivered to the house and then tells the deliveryman that her mother is in the shower but she left the money for the booze on the dining room table.  Like many alcoholics, Sarah has become very good at tricking people and hiding her addiction.  Of course, Sarah doesn’t think that she’s an alcoholic but …. well, again, just check out the title of the film.

When Sarah goes to a party with Ken (Mark Hamill, two years before Star Wars), the handsome captain of the school’s swim team, she ends up having too much to drink.  Nice guy Ken not only takes her home but also takes the blame, telling Jean and Matt that he was the one who gave Sarah the alcohol.  Jean, convinced that this is the first time that Sarah has ever gotten drunk, forbids her from spending any more time with Ken.  In the morning, Jean comments that Sarah will probably have a terrible hangover and maybe that’s punishment enough.  The joke, of course, is on Jean.  Sarah doesn’t even get hangovers anymore.

Soon, Sarah’s grades start to slip and she starts to skip class so that she can drink.  Still blaming Ken for all of Sarah’s problems, Jean finally takes Sarah to a psychologist, Dr. Kitteridge (Michael Lerner).  Dr. Kitteridge announces that Sarah is an alcoholic and recommends that she start attending A.A. meetings.  Sarah does go to one meeting, in which she meets a surprisingly cheerful 12 year-old alcoholic.  However, Sarah still has a way to go and so does the movie.  I mean, we haven’t even gotten to the scene where Sarah begs a group of older boys to give her the bottle of wine that they’re clumsily tossing in the air.  By the end of the film, she’s even managed to hurt poor, loyal Ken.

Myself, I hardly ever drink.  Some of that is because, like Sarah, I’m the daughter of an alcoholic and a child of divorce and I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be to live with an addiction.  (My Dad has been sober for five years and I am so proud of him!)  Of course, another reason why I hardly ever drink is because my tolerance for alcohol is amazingly low.  I get drunk off one sip of beer.  Long ago, I realized my life would be a lot easier and simpler if I just didn’t drink and so I don’t.  Watching the film, I wondered if I was watching what my life would have been like if I had gone the opposite route.  Would I have ended up like Sarah T?

Probably not.  Sarah T is one of those films that was obviously made with the best of intentions but it just feels inauthentic.  A lot of that is due to the performance of Linda Blair, who often seems to be overacting and trying too hard to give an “Emmy-worthy” performance.  There’s not much depth to Blair’s performance and, as a result, the viewer never really buys into the story.  At her worse, Blair brings to mind Jessie Spano shouting, “I’m so excited!” during that episode of Saved By The Bell.  (Blair was far better served by B-movies like Savage Streets, in which she got to kick ass as a vigilante, than by films like this.)  As well, the film’s portrayal of A.A. is so cheerful, upbeat, and positive that it almost felt like a Disney version of InterventionWho are all of these happy addicts? I wondered as I watched the scene play out.

Because I’ve been a bit critical of his acting abilities in the past, I do feel the need to point out that Mark Hamill gives the best performance in this film.  He plays Ken as being a genuinely decent human being and it’s hard not to sympathize with him as he gets in over his head trying to deal with Sarah.  If Blair plays every emotion on the surface, Hamill suggests that there’s a lot going on with Ken.  Deep down, he knows that he can’t help Sarah but he still feels like he has to try.  Though Blair may be the star of the film, it’s Hamill who makes the biggest impression.

As a final note, this film was directed by Richard Donner, who is best-known for directing The Omen, Superman and Lethal Weapon.  This was Donner’s final made-for-TV film before he moved into features.  There’s nothing particularly special about Donner’s direction of Sarah T.  If anything, the film’s pacing feels a bit off.  Fortunately, just as Linda Blair would get to prove herself as one of the queens of exploitation cinema and Mark Hamill would go on to achieve immortality as Luke Skywalker, Donner would get plenty of opportunities to show himself to be one of Hollywood’s premier, big budget maestros.

As for Sarah T., I would recommend watching it on a double bill with Go Ask Alice.

Retro Television Reviews: The City (dir by Harvey Hart)


Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1977’s The City.  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

“Civilization began when man realized that he could not survive alone. He left the wilderness and built his citadels, security against intruders and erosion from within. The cities of the world have since become the crossroads of trade and ideas. Ideas that have made the human race more powerful than primitive man could ever have dreamed. Among these was an invention, a machine that conquered to contemporary enemies of man: time and distance….”

So goes the opening narration of 1977’s The City.  The narrator is the veteran character actor (and television producer) William Conrad and, as he speaks, we sees images of the California desert eventually being conquered by the growing city of Los Angeles.  It’s a bit of a portentous opening for a film that turns out to be fairly standard police procedural but it makes sense when you consider that The City was apparently meant to be a pilot for an anthology series about the people of Los Angeles.

The City features Mark Hamill, shortly before Star Wars would turn him into a cultural icon.  Hamill plays Eugene Banks, a sweaty, wild-eyed petty criminal who has made his way to Los Angeles from Texas.  Banks manages to get a nice apartment and a job working at a gas station.  One day, after a lawyer demands that Banks fill the tank of his Porsche, Banks snaps.  He grabs a wrench and attacks the car.  Then, he attacks the lawyer, beating the man until he dies.  Banks proceed to go on a crime and killing spree across Los Angeles, flashing a particularly scary-looking knife whenever he gets the chance.

Searching for Banks are two mismatched cops.  Matt Lewis (Robert Forster) is the tough-as-nails, emotionally reserved veteran with a bad knee and a determination to catch the bad guys.  The case becomes personal for Lewis after Banks kills his partner.  Brain Scott (Don Johnson) is a shaggy-haired country boy, much like Banks.  Brian comes from a wealthy family and is a bit more idealistic in his approach than Lewis.

Banks, it turns out, is obsessed with a country singer named Wes Collins (Jimmy Dean).  Banks not only resents the fact that Collins has everything that Banks has ever wanted but he’s also convinced that Collins is actually the father who abandoned him when he was a baby.  Banks wants to get revenge and he’s not going to let anyone, whether they be a bystander, a cop, or a dog, stand in his way.

Yes, Eugene Banks kills a dog in this film.  Fortunately, it happens off-screen but it’s still an indication of just how different this role is from Hamill’s best-known live action role.  As the two cops, Forster and Johnson work well together and bring their somewhat stereotypical characters to life but the main reason most people will watch this film will be for the chance to see Mark Hamill play an absolute lunatic.  With the exception of his somewhat dodgy Texas accent, Hamill does a good job with the role.  He’s got the crazy eyes down and he’s actually frightening when he attacks the lawyer at the start of the film.  The film itself is a bit predictable (i.e., the mismatched partners learn to work together, the bad guy gives a speech at an inopportune time) but The City is worth watching for the cast.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Body Bags (dir by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper)


An odd but mildly likable film, that’s the best description of Body Bags.

Originally, Body Bags wasn’t even meant to be a film.  Instead, in 1993, Showtime wanted to do a horror anthology show, one that would mix comedy and chills in the style of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt.  Three episodes were filmed.  Two were directed by John Carpenter.  The other was directed by Tobe Hooper.  Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, and Mark Hamill all agreed to appear on the show.  That’s an impressive collection of talent but, for whatever reason, Showtime decided not to pursue Body Bags as a series.  So the three episodes were strung together in an anthology film.  Linking the stories was a warp-around segment where Carpenter played a coroner and Tobe Hooper and Tom Arnold played morgue attendants!

Now, it must be said that John Carpenter probably made the right decision when he decided to become a director instead of an actor.  That said, what Carpenter lacked in acting technique, he made up for with unbridled enthusiasm.  Carpenter appears to be having a blast playing an old style horror host.  Who can blame him?  In fact, I would say one the most appealing things about John Carpenter as a personality is that he always seems to be truly enjoying himself, regardless of all the crap that he’s had to put up with in Hollywood.

As for the segments …. well, they’re uneven.  That’s not really a shock. Part of the problem is that, because they weren’t originally envisioned as all airing together, a lot of ideas and story points are repeated from segment to segment.  The first segment is about a serial killer.  The second segment is about a transplant.  The third segment is about both a transplant and a serial killer.  It gets a bit repetitive.

Carpenter directed the first two segments, The Gas Station and HairThe Gas Station is a bit too simple for its own good.  Robert Carradine is a serial killer who harasses a woman at a gas station.  That’s pretty much it.  Carradine gives a good performance ad Halloween fans will get a laugh out of a reference to Haddonfield but there’s not much else going on.  Hair is a bit better.  Stacy Keach plays a businessman who gets a hair transplant, just to discover that the hair is extraterrestrial in origin.  Hair is clever and playful, like an above average episode of The Twilight Zone.  Keach plays his role with the right mix of comedic outrage and genuine horror.

The third segment is called Eyes and it was directed by Tobe Hooper.  Mark Hamill plays a baseball player who is losing his eyesight as the result of a car accident.  He gets an eye transplant.  At first, everything seems fine but soon, he’s having visions of himself murdering people!  It turns out that the eye once belonged to a serial killer.  You can guess where this is going but Mark Hamill really throws himself into the role and Tobe Hooper’s direction is appropriately intense.

Body Bags is a pretty minor entry in the filmographies of two great directors but, at the same time, it’s enjoyable in its own silly way.  There’s a likable goofiness to John Carpenter’s wrap-around segment and it lets us know that we shouldn’t take any of this too seriously.  Watch it for your own amusement.

Film Review: Corvette Summer (dir by Matthew Robbins)


The 1978 film, Corvette Summer, tells the story of Kenny Dantley (Mark Hamill).

Kenny is a student at a high school in Southern California.  He lives in a trailer park and he’s kind of dumb.  He’s the type who rarely shows up to class and, when he does, it’s just to discover that he managed to score a D-minus on his last test.  Kenny doesn’t think school’s important, though.  All Kenny cares about is cars.  He doesn’t date.  He doesn’t have friends.  But he can rebuild a corvette and spend hours talking about why it’s the greatest car in the world.

Yes, Kenny’s an idiot.

Kenny’s auto shop teacher, Mr. McGrath (Eugne Roche), warns Kenny that he’s spending too much obsessing on cars.  Don’t fall in love with a car, Mr. McGrath says.  A car is just a machine and a machine will always let you down.  A machine is something that you build so you can sell it and move on to something else.  To me, Mr. McGrath makes sense but Kenny’s like, “No, that’s totally squaresville.  Real melvin, man.”

(Well, okay, Kenny doesn’t use those exact words but you can tell that he’s thinking them…..)

Anyway, Kenny and the shop class have just rebuilt a red corvette and Kenny’s convinced that it’s the greatest car ever.  However, on the same night that the car makes its debut by cruising down the streets of Kenny’s hometown, it’s stolen!  Maybe Kenny shouldn’t have given the keys to Danny Bonaduce.  Kenny gets so angry that he smashes a cup of coke and attempts to beat up Bonaduce.

Mr. McGrath tells Kenny that these things happen and he suggests that Kenny instead look into enrolling at a community college after high school.  Kenny, however, is too obsessed with finding his car to listen to Mr. McGrath.  He even prints up flyers with a picture of the corvette.  “Have you seen this car?” the flyers ask.  Amazingly, it turns out that someone has.  He tells Kenny that he saw the corvette in Las Vegas.

That’s all it takes for Kenny to head to Nevada.  Of course, since Kenny doesn’t have a car, he has to hitchhiker.  Despite the fact that Kenny looks like a killer hippie and tends to spend a lot of time yelling in a somewhat shrill manner, he’s picked up by Vanessa (Annie Potts).  Vanessa is an “aspiring prostitute” who lives in a van.  “Vanessa” is written on the side of the van, which means that it will be useless if anyone ever needs to use it as a getaway vehicle for a bank robbery.  Way to go, Vanessa.

Once they arrives in Las Vegas, Kenny and Vanessa work a series of different jobs while looking for that corvette.  Along the way, Kenny falls in love, discovers that there’s more to life than just cars, and also suffers a bit of disillusionment when one of his mentors turns out to be not as perfect as Kenny originally believed.

Corvette Summer is best known for being Mark Hamill’s first post-Star Wars role.  He’s in almost every scene of the film and, to be honest, his performance kind of got on my nerves.  Some of that is because, as written, Kenny is almost unbelievably stupid.  But Hamill doesn’t help things by giving a rather shrill performance in the lead role.  Though the film may be a coming-of-age comedy, Hamill is so intense in the role that he comes across as being less like a naive teenager and more like a mentally unbalanced time bomb.  You find yourself hoping that he’ll get the car back before he’s forced to take hostages.  Annie Potts is a bit more likable as Vanessa but her character is dreadfully inconsistent.  One gets the feeling that she’s mostly just there so that Kenny can finally lose his virginity and be a little bit less of a loser by the end of the movie.

I will say that I did really like the performance of Kim Milford, who plays a superslick car thief named Wayne Lowry.  As I watched the film, it took me a few minutes to realize where I recognized Milford from.  He was the star of Laserblast, a film that featured Milford finding a laser gun and using it to blow up a sign advertising Star Wars.  Milford only has a small role in Corvette Summer and we’re not supposed to like him but he’s so handsome and sure-of-himself that it’s hard not to prefer him to the rather histrionic character played by Mark Hamill.

Corvette Summer is such a film of the 70s that watching it is like stepping into a time machine.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course.  Indeed, in 2020, the main appeal of a film like this is a chance to see how people lived in 1978.  (It’s always a bit odd to watch a movie where no one carries a phone or has a twitter account.)  Watching this film in 2020, it’s hard not cringe a little at the sight of not only Kenny hitchhiking but also people stopping to pick him up.  Seriously, are they just trying to get killed?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Final Trailer


Well, it all comes down to this.

During tonight’s Monday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets, ESPN is hosting the final trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The last film of the new trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker seems to have Rey (Daisy Ridley) coming into her own as a Jedi. It also looks like her friends are due to face a new threat, could it really be The Emperor? While Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi may have left some audiences divided, Disney is hoping this will bring everyone in line and in the theatre. It seems to be working as theatres around the country are already selling out in pre-sales for the film.

It looks like we have Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) fighting against and alongside each other again. Could this also mean some sort of redemption for Kylo? We’ll find out come December 19th, when the film is released.

Enjoy!

Celebrate Life Day With The Star Wars Holiday Special!


Happy Life Day!

The Star Wars Holiday Special was first aired in 1978 and, over the years, it has achieved a certain amount of infamy.  Some people say that it’s the worst thing to ever be made for TV.  To those people, I say that 1) that’s not a good attitude to have on Life Day and 2) have you seen Disco Beaver From Outer Space?

Anyway, this is a musical Star Wars extravaganza.  One thing that makes it interesting is that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher were all ordered to appear in it.  Seeing as how Harrison Ford tends to come across as being grumpy on a good day, I can only imagine how he reacted to filming The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Also, a few years ago, Val reviewed the Hell out of this thing.  Be sure to check out her review.

And now, for those of you looking to experience a dubious piece of pop culture history on this Christmas, we present to you …. The Star Wars Holiday Special!

Horror Film Review: Village of the Damned (dir by John Carpenter)


At the risk of getting in trouble with at least a few people around the TSL offices, I am going to say something right now.  It may be controversial.  It may be shocking.  It may even make you question your belief in whatever it is that you believe in.

Ready?

Here we go:

I do not think that the 1995 version of Village of the Damned is that bad.

Now, please notice that I didn’t say that I thought it was that great, either.  However, when you listen to some people talk about this movie (which, admittedly, doesn’t seem to happen a lot), they make it sound as if Village of the Damned is one of the worst films ever made.  It is usually cited as being a waste of director John Carpenter’s abilities and Carpenter himself has said that he’s indifferent to the film.  Carpenter has gone as far as to call the film a “contractual assignment.”

Of course, one reason why people dislike the 1995 Village of the Damned is because it’s a remake of an acknowledged classic.  Even worse, it’s an unnecessary remake.  I would not disagree with that opinion.  The 1960 Village of the Damned holds up remarkably well, featuring George Sanders at his best and a lot of creepy little children.  (If anything, the fact that the original is in black-and-white makes the children look even creepier in the original.)  Having recently watched both versions of Village of the Damned, I can say that the remake doesn’t really improve on the original.

And yet, I would still argue that John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned is an underrated and crudely effective little movie.

The film tells the story of the town of Midwich, California.  (The original film took place in the UK and Midwich doesn’t really sound like the name of a town you’d find in California.  Incidentally, my favorite town in California is a place named Drytown, specifically because the town bar advertises itself as being “the only wet place in Drytown.”)  Midwich is a nice, little town.  Everyone is friendly.  Everyone knows everyone else.  Carpenter spends a while establishing Midwich as being the idealized coastal town.  But then, one day, the skies turn dark and everyone in Midwich loses consciousness.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out well for some people.  Frank McGowan (Michael Pare), for instance, is driving when the blackout occurs and he ends up dying when his truck goes off the road.  Another unfortunate fellow was manning the grill at the church picnic and, when he passed out, he ended up burning to death.

When everyone does wake up, it’s discovered that ten women are now pregnant.  One of them, Kate (Linda Kozlowski), is the widow of Frank.  Another, a teenage girl named Melanie (Meredith Salenger), is a virgin.  Nine months later, all of the babies are born on the same night, though Melanie’s is stillborn.  The 9 babies eventually become 9 very creepy children.  They have pale skin, white hair, glowing eyes, and no emotions.  Soon the government, led by Dr. Verner (Kristie Alley), invades the town so that they can investigate and experiment on the children.  You know that once the government shows up and takes over, everyone’s screwed.

And, while all of this is going on, the once friendly and vibrant town of Midwich becomes a far different place.  We watch as the citizens of the town die, one after another.  Melanie finds herself ostracized and abandoned.  The local reverend (Mark Hamill) goes insane and ends up perched on a hill with a rifle.  The town doctor (Christopher Reeve) loses his wife when she walks into the ocean.

And the children continue to coldly and unemotionally kill anyone who displeases them.  One man is forced to shoot himself.  In perhaps the film’s most disturbing scene, a scientist is forced to dissect herself.

Admittedly, some of the actors do a better than others.  Meredith Salenger gives the best performance while Mark Hamill definitely gives the worst.  At first, Kirstie Alley seems miscast but she actually gives one of the better performances in the film.  As the nominal hero, Christopher Reeve is boring but then again, many small town doctors are.  Of course, nearly everyone in the movie is dead by the time the end credits roll.

It’s a seriously dark movie and, when taken on its own terms, it’s definitely effective.  Carpenter does such a good job of establishing Midwich as a place where anyone would want to live that it does carry an impact to see the town suddenly isolate from the world and the once happy citizens resorting to suicide just to escape the town’s children.  In the end, John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned does capture the anguish of feeling as if there’s no escape from the present nor hope for the future.

Village of the Damned is crudely effective but effective nonetheless.

 

A Movie A Day #227: Silk Degrees (1994, directed by Armand Garabidian)


Actress Alex Ramsey (Deborah Shelton) may have become a star as a result of playing the lead role in a cop show but she still worries that her show is not realistic enough.  When a fight with her director (Gilbert Gottfried) leads to her walking off the set for the hundredth time, Alex stumbles across a real-life murder.  Now being chased by terrorists and gun smugglers, Alex is forced to go into hiding.  FBI agent Baker (Marc Singer) is assigned to protect her but how can he hide one of the most famous women in America, especially one who does not appreciate being told what to do? Making things even worse, there is a traitor in the bureau.  Shelton is going to have to use all of her tv crime-fighting skills to survive.

Though it featured enough Deborah Shelton nudity to win it a place in the regular Skinemax rotation, Silk Degrees is basically a standard 90s direct-to-video action film but it has a cast that will be appreciated by any B-move fan.  Along with Body Double‘s Shelton, Beastmaster’s Marc Singer, and everything’s Gilbert Gottfried, Silk Degrees also features Charles Napier as Singer’s boss, Mark Hamill as Singer’s partner, and Katherine Armstong as a duplicitous femme fatale.  The main villain is played by singer Michael Des Barres.  Even Adrienne Barbeau shows up in a tiny role!  Silk Degrees is not a great movie but with a cast like this, it does not have to be.

Here’s The First Trailer For An Obscure Art Film Called Star Wars: The Last Jedi!


Hi, everyone!

Well, here’s the teaser for an obscure little art film called Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  It’ll be interesting to see if anyone takes the time to discover this little film.  Hopefully, it’ll make its way to Alamo Drafthouse at some point because the trailer is actually pretty intriguing.  It looks like it might be kind of exciting and there’s a voice over that suggests that there’s actually more going on in this film than just pure spectacle for the sake of spectacle.

“I know only one truth.  It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

That doesn’t sound good.

(By the way, Mark Hamill actually speaks in this trailer.  So, all of you who thought the ending of Force Awakens indicated that Luke Skywalker had been rendered mute — well, you’re wrong!  Or, actually, it might be more correct to see that I’m wrong since I think I was the only one who thought that.)

The Last Jedi comes out on December 15th.  I get the feeling that Arleigh and most of the TSL staff have already bought their tickets.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. by J.J. Abrams) Is the Sequel the Fandom Has Been Waiting For


Star Wars - The Force Awakens

[some minor, very minor spoilers]

When I first began this site on Christmas Eve of 2009 I had to thank the excitement I had for event films after seeing and experiencing James Cameron’s Avatar. It was an experience I hadn’t felt since the days of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, even earlier than that, the original Star Wars trilogy. These were films that fired up one’s imagination, appreciation and love for film as entertainment and art. Some of these films would linger on longer in one’s mind than others, but that first viewing in their initial release would always imprint their effect on each viewer.

When George Lucas announced that he would be returning to that galaxy, far, far away with a trilogy of prequels almost 15 years since the world last saw Return of the Jedi premiere first the first time, the Star Wars fandom were giddy, excited and hyped beyond belief. The Star Wars films and the many spin-offs (novels, comic books, video games, etc.) which came about because of it only whetted the appetites of long-time Star Wars fans for more films detailing the adventures in the scifi universe created by George Lucas.

Yet, the prequels’ effect on these long-time fans would be the direct opposite of the effect the original trilogy had on the fandom. These three prequels (all directed and written by George Lucas himself) would do more than disappoint the fandom. It would create a schism between those who saw the original trilogy as the gateway to their fandom and those younger generation who never saw the original trilogy and had the prequels become their gateway to the fandom. Even to this day there would be some of the younger generation who truly believe that the prequels trump the original three films which began the franchise.

When news came down that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and everything which George Lucas had built and cultivated there was no chance in hell that there wouldn’t be another series of Star Wars despite the disaster which were the prequels. Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for Disney to greenlight the sequel to Return of the Jedi and have it set decades after the events of that film.

So, it is with Star Wars: The Force Awakens that the Star Wars fandom get to see whether their continued faith in the franchise was worth it or if they have been Charlie Brown’d once again and had the ball taken away at the very last second. It’s easy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great or it was awful. The true answer to whether this film succeeded in what it intended do was a bit more complicated.

Yet, if one was to look for an easy and simple answer then I’m happy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great. It had it’s moments of logic gap and plot holes, but as an overall finished product the film succeeded in course-correcting the franchise from the nadir it was at with the culmination of the prequels. It wouldn’t have taken much to surpass the very low bar set by those prequels, but The Force Awakens leapfrogged that bar and went even higher.

The film does begin thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi and we find out with the now familiar episode intro crawl that Luke Skywalker has disappeared since those events and the galaxy has remained in turmoil with his absence. The Galactic Empire has been defeated, but in its place a new danger in the form of the genocidal First Order has arisen from the Empire’s remains. Opposing the First Order is a sort of galactic force supported in secret by the New Republic and led by General (not Princess) Leia Organa calling themselves the Resistance. It’s the conflict between these two factions and the search for Luke that forms the narrative base for The Force Awakens.

The film doesn’t linger too long in explaining the events which occurred in that 30-year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It doesn’t need it as we’re quickly introduced to the series’ new characters in the form of Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the galaxy, who has been sent on a secret mission by Leia to find the clues as to her brother’s whereabouts. Next in line was Kylo Ren who becomes this film’s analogue to the Darth Vader figure of the original trilogy. Yet, the bulk of the film was told through the eyes of Finn and Rey.  The former is First Order stormtrooper who has seen first-hand what the First Order truly stands for and not for the betterment of the galaxy. The latter is a young woman living life on the desert planet Jakku scavenging the graveyard of starship wreckage from a battle thirty year’s prior.

It’s through Rey and Finn that the audience learns through their adventures upon meeting up with each other on Jakku what has transpired since the Rebellion destroyed the second Death Star and killed Emperor Palpatine. To these two characters, the events from the original trilogy seem to have passed beyond the realm of history and become more like legends and myths to the younger generation. Through a combination of fear and awe, Ren and Finn get introduced to some of the original trilogies main characters (Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and even Admiral Ackbar). These are the stories they’ve been told of growing up come to life right in front of their eyes and their reaction mirrors those of the audience who haven’t seen these characters in anything new and relevant since the end of Return of the Jedi. The reaction alone to seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca alone seemed like the fandom’s collective cheer for the good that has been missing with the franchise for over 30 years now.

The Force Awakens is not a perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Like mentioned earlier, the film does suffer from some gaps in story logic and plot holes. As with most J.J. Abrams directed films he had a hand in writing the script and one could see where he sacrificed coherent storytelling beats for something that just pushed the story along the path he wanted the film to take. For those who have been steeped in Star Wars lore and backstory, this would be easily explained as the Force nudging, guiding and, if all else fails, pushing the characters onto the right path, but for the casual viewers it would come off as story beats of convenience.

As a story to bring back the faithful and lure in those still uninitiated to the franchise The Force Awakens straddles the line between nostalgia and trying to bring in something new to the proceedings.

Let’s begin with the former and just say it now that The Force Awakens does follow some major story beats directly from A New Hope (to a smaller effect from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). One could almost say that this film was a sort of soft reboot of the original trilogy with how it lifted ideas from them and through some writing and directing recombination come up with something new, but still very familiar for hardcore and non-fans alike.

Does this decision to lean heavily on the original trilogy for ideas hurt the film? For some it might be a bit too distracting to recognize too many callbacks to those earlier films, but for most it’s a reminder of what the prequels lacked and that’s the sense of adventure and fun. There was never anything fun about the prequels. The Force Awakens brings it all back and for most viewers this is the course-correction the series has needed since the last images from Revenge of the Sith faded away from the silver-screen.

Even the new characters introduced in this latest film were an amalgamation of the main characters from the original trilogy. Where Abrams and Kasdan changed this up a bit was to go beyond just creating new analogues for the classic characters of Leia, Han, Luke, Chewie and R2D2. They opted to take all the qualities fans loved about those characters and mixed them all up to be used in the roles of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren and BB8.

As the standout character in the film, Rey (played by find of the year Daisy Ridley) would bring back memories of not just the young and hopeful Luke from the original trilogy, but also some personal traits of Leia and Han. The same goes for Finn who at times reminded us of Han’s roguish charm to Luke’s naivete of his role in the larger world he has finally witnessed for the very first time. For the half-empty crowd this might look as lazy character development, but those who see the film with the half-full mindset would easily latch onto these new characters. Characters who now take on the responsibility of moving the franchise beyond the nostalgia of the original trilogy and erasure of the disappointment of the prequels to new adventures with the next two films.

So, is Star Wars: The Force Awakens worth returning back to the franchise after the prequels or is it too much of a rehash of the original three films? The answer to that is a definite yes despite some of it’s flaws. For some the very flaws some have pointed out (too many callbacks, sort of a reboot, etc.) was what made the film a fun time to be had. It’s a return to the comfort zone the fandom missed with the prequels.

Will the next two films in this new trilogy follow suit and just rely too much on nostalgia to continue trying to satisfy it’s massive audience? Or will Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow (director of Episode VIII and Episode IX, respectively) move into new territory with minimal callbacks to those earlier films? We as an audience will have to wait til 2017 and 2019 to find out. Until then enjoy what Abrams and Lucasfilm has accomplished with The Force Awakens. A film which has reinvigorated a film franchise that has seem some major lows, but one which also happens to be one hell of a fun ride from start to finish on it’s own merits.

P.S.: Some controversy has arisen since the film’s release concerning the character played by Daisy Ridley. Some have been very vocal about calling her Rey character as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the accusation that the Star Wars films have lacked for a strong female lead. An argument that’s as misguided and misinformed as that of the films being whitewashed. The films in the franchise have always had strong female characters. The accusation that Rey as a character in The Force Awakens is such a “Mary Sue” (a female character written and created to be the best at everything, no flaws) ignore the details in the character’s development.

What’s sadder is that some of the very people (film critics and writers) who in the past have complained that major films (especially blockbusters) have been lacking in very strong female characters have been the very same who see Rey as a negative and a character too good. This despite the character following in the very same footsteps in how her predecessors have been written (Luke, Han, Anakin). It’s an argument that is sure to bring heated debate among fans and detractors, but one that takes away from the performance of Daisy Ridley who should be one of the many breakout stars to come out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.