Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Rating: 3.75 of 5 ★★★¾☆ 


Full disclosure: I am not a Star Wars fan.

Of course I grew up watching the original three on VHS. I saw the extended cuts in theaters and liked the originals better. I watched the prequels with excitement (until I actually saw Episode I) and curiosity. I know the first Star Wars is Episode IV and not Episode I (much like the proper order of the Narnia books). I liked it all just fine. Probably liked it a lot more when I was a kid, before I discovered other sci-fi stories in the world.

But I never loved it. Not like a true Star Wars fan.

So, going into The Force Awakens I had my prejudices against JJ Abrams. And I wasn’t buying into any of the hype.

In some ways, for the fanboys especially, I think The Force Awakens is everything you’d want in a Star Wars film. It looks and feels more like the originals. It’s got plenty of space battles, gun fights and lightsaber duels. There’s a big, dangerous thing to blow up and not enough ships or firepower to do it. And there’s a bar full of crazy aliens. It blends the past with the present very well.

Nostalgia is great, but you can’t sustain a movie on it. Abrams knows that, or learned it from the prequels, and doesn’t try to. The legacy characters earn our loyalty and affection all over again through their struggles in this film, not trading on what we’ve known of them in the past. There’s something cool about a world that has aged, where the familiar things you knew have become history and legend.

Except, I’m struck by the fact that the Force seems to die out and in 20 years or less becomes nothing more than myth. 20 years doesn’t seem long enough for it to fall into such obscurity. But judging by the age of the characters, that’s about how long it is between Episode III and IV and then again between VI and this one (did it have a chapter? I didn’t notice).

I noticed this particularly in the ending.

spoilers for the very end »
My biggest problem with this film is that the ending is cheap. The whole movie is about this map to Luke Skywalker. Who has been missing for… less than 20 years if he disappeared while training Kylo Ren. And yet in that time he’s become someone that people wonder if he actually exists. And the whole finding the map to Luke Skywalker is this big, intergalactic deal. You know how long it takes Rey to find him? Less than 5 minutes. The map is… a map but really it’s not a journey as the word “map” would imply. It’s a location. It’s a dot on a map and once found doesn’t require anything from anyone to get there.

It takes the myth and legend of Luke Skywalker and turns it into a MacGuffin. Which is cheap and doesn’t have the strength or resonance of substance.

It also tears away the poignancy of Abrams three-act structure. It was all plotted and paced nicely until it reached the end… and then kept going. The film should have stopped with her jumping to lightspeed on her way to find Luke Skywalker. Even if the action all happened off screen, if the next film opened with the end of this one, it would have felt like there was time and effort in the search; that the map was a map for a reason and required something from the characters, had a pay off worthy of the effort put into finding it.

The only reason I can think they didn’t write the end where they should have, was because they need Luke to already be in play in the next film. But, I’m sorry, you restructure things then some other way because this ending just didn’t work. And it didn’t have the emotional impact they probably think it did.

That being said, there is a lot to really enjoy in this new world. There’s a modern sensibility to the humor which is a lot of fun. There’s moments where it feels like a blend of a Star Wars film and Spaceballs where the characters are almost in on the joke, which is a whole other level of humor that doesn’t really distract from the story.

And the new characters are, if not great, at least very good. Finn is so earnest and bold. Rey is dynamic and complex. Han Solo fits into this version of the world so well and he leads Rey and Finn from a fumbling escape into a purpose and a grander story. Both Rey and Kylo Ren are these pivotal, multi-faceted characters that will likely have dimensional and interesting arcs as the series progresses. (But, really, did Adam Driver do the masked voice? Because that sounded really familiar and at one point it almost sounded like Benedict Cumberbatch. I mean, that was a great voice).

It wasn’t a thrilling movie for me. And I think perhaps it was intended to be. But the beats were too familiar and the nods to the past too expected.

one big spoiler »
The second Han Solo walked out onto that bridge I thought, “oh, this is the Obi-Wan moment. He’s going to die.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. Or that, probably on a second or third watching, it won’t be fun. It’s definitely the sort of movie that can be watched again and again on tv easily on a Saturday afternoon.

And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a worthy addition to the Star Wars lexicon.

Writing:★★★¼☆ 
Characters:★★★★½ 
Performances:★★★★½ 
Directing:★★★☆☆ 
Production:★★★¾☆ 
Overall:★★★¾☆ 

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