Asleep at the box office for almost a quarter century, Harrison Ford is finally back thanks to Han Solo…and the man who originally took him out.
I’ve spent the last 36 hours dissecting Star Wars: The Force Awakens reviews and from what I’ve culled…the good (NYT, The Guardian, SFGate) the bad (LA Times) and the indifferent (Variety) all have one thing in common—and no, it’s not that Adam Driver should’ve taken his shirt off more. Every film critic has been gushing like movie Coke from a broken straw over Harrison Ford. Even those who panned the series’ seventh installment or dismissed it as derivative or reverential basically said go see it for the return of Han Solo.
This snippet from Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle pretty much sums up the feeling:
To talk about Ford in specifics would be criminal, as there is so much here that’s best left discovered. But to speak generally, “The Force Awakens” was created by people with a thorough understanding of what people love about Harrison Ford in this role — his irreverence, his grumpiness, his lack of showy heroism, his infinite capacity to be annoyed. Ford is everything in this film that a “Star Wars” fan could want him to be. Even if the film were only so-so, “The Force Awakens” would be worth seeing for Ford alone.
LaSalle’s sentiments mirrored by Michael Philips of the Chicago Tribune
It’s no secret that Ford, his copious hair grayer now, plays a major role in “The Force Awakens.” He’s truly reassuring company, laying into sarcastic rejoinders and tough-guy wisecracks (of uneven quality) with the relish of a one-man supergroup reprising his greatest hits.
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times
Despite the prerelease hype, it won’t save the world, not even Hollywood, but it seamlessly balances cozy favorites — Harrison Ford, ladies and gentlemen — and new kinetic wows, along with some of the niceties that went missing as the series grew into a phenomenon, most crucially a scale and a sensibility that are rooted in the human.
Kenneth Turan of the LA Times
At its best, however, “The Force Awakens” basks in the presence of an altogether splendid Harrison Ford who, unlike original costars Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, has a full-fledged, rip-roaring leading role rather than a cameo. Until he checks in midway through the film, appropriately craggy and battle weary, and elevates everyone’s game, the pickings are slim.
…and Justin Chang of Variety
For their part, Rey and Finn can’t believe they’re seeing Han Solo in the flesh, and it’s hard not to discern in the young actors’ expressions a completely unfeigned delight at sharing the screen with Ford in one of his most iconic roles.
…I think there’s some irony in the notion that J.J. Abrams’ earliest work was his screenplay of Regarding Henry in which Ford played the lead in a totally Reagan-era drama about a corporate attorney big wig (Henry) who gets caught in the middle of a robbery and is shot in the head. He wakes up vanquished of his dickheadedness but comically no longer knows how to put the seat down, button his shirt or string together words to form a sentence. Henry was the precursor to Carl and Gump and Nell and Carla and whatever Sean Penn’s Sam was—the initial entry to kick off a miserable decade of the slow-and-underestimated genre at the box office.
Ford’s career never recovered. He displaced a decade of dominance in the ‘80s with a quarter century of irrelevance—the Guess Jeans of leading men. Want proof?
Before Regarding Henry: American Graffiti, The Conversation, Star Wars, Apocalpyse Now, E.T., The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Return of the Jedi, Temple of Doom, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Frantic, Working Girl, Presumed Innocent
After Regarding Henry: Clear and Present Danger, Sabrina, The Devil’s Own, Six Days Seven Nights, Random Hearts, What Lies Beneath, K-19: The Widowmaker, Hollywood Homicide, Water to Wine, Firewall, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Cowboys & Aliens, Paranoia, Ender’s Game…and The Expendables 3
We’ll give that last one to him with a chaser of Provasic.
The prior, a list of the films that defined the second half of the 20th century and accounted for more than $6 billion in box office and the latter is what you’re likely to find VHS copies of buried under the stack of old Playboys and SIs while going through your dead uncle’s storage unit.
Maybe bringing Han (and Ford) back was a gift from the wiser J.J. Abrams trying to make good/trying to say, “Sorry about the mess.” Like most, I’ve been waiting since 1991 for The Harrison Ford to return to the big screen and on the merits of this alone, I eagerly anticipate viewing the film.
But let’s pause for a second on this revelatory trick he just pulled. The fact that the heretofore dormant Ford pretty much carries the film that is shouldering the hopes of the entire year (decade thus far?) at the box office and simultaneously attempting to recoup Disney’s $4 billion gamble on the Lucas empire is sort of astounding. It sounds like Fisher and Hamill (at least in this version) as Luke and Leia are more convenient set pieces. Comicon panelists in costume there for an emotive quality, for texture. But Ford brings it. Think on this for a minute. Think of what it must be like to be him (for better and/or worse) to have to inhabit this character after so long. It’s kind of like trying on your old high school letterman jacket. Something about it, even if it DOES fit, just doesn’t seem right. Looking at yourself in the mirror you don’t see the same person, you see the person you’ve become and not the person you thought you were or were meant to have been. Now imagine doing that in front of hundreds of millions.
Imagine having to make it convincing.
That’s oftentimes the sad realization of films like this or the farewell tour. We want SO BADLY to see the person we remember, but instead we get a funhouse version, recognizable only in grief shared. No smoke, mirrors, airbrushing or makeup can hide the ravages of time. Of what bad (and even good) decision-making brings. The trials of parenting. The inevitable losses that come with age. Divorce. Disease. Addiction. Ennui. Bodies break down, people around you crumple at the edges and slowly fade into the ether. Simply living takes its toll on the living.
The original Star Wars can never be replicated. It was a surprise thing. A camp thing. It was a late-70s earth tone S&M disco version of space. And the markers of that era, even though some have since become timeless, are obvious.
My son approaching two is the same age I was when the original was released in 1977, so there’s a symmetry there. I may try to keep him away from the Star Wars propaganda, however. It’s too much to bear for me, a lifelong fan, the disappointment of his inevitable disinterest. In another sense, I want him to have his own Star Wars, his own grunge look complete with dark eyes and heavy bangs. His own Night Court, his own Streetfighter II and his own favorite SNL cast. His own mode that is so clearly not Depeche. I don’t want him to adopt the worn-out habits or beguiling characters beloved by his old man.
The son should always carve his own path.
Then again, maybe that’s the universal theme of Star Wars and why it has endured. We never really do stray far from the shadow of our fathers, no matter how hard we try. And the son will eventually destroy the father, no matter how hard he tries not to.
But if you stick around long enough, sometimes in the third act the little boy grows up and the man grows old, and there is a moment of redemption and reconciliation and understanding for both.
If all are to be believed, that moment for Abrams and Ford has at last arrived with The Force Awakens.