Rating: 3.75 of 5
Star Wars is once again delighting audiences, though I don’t know that it deserves quite the box office records its setting. Definitely better than the prequels, The Force Awakens introduces delightful new characters, leverages nostalgia to reinvent this universe and does it well.
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.
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).
The bombastic score overwhelms at times. And reinventing the road we’ve been down before means it’s kind of predictable. But there are worse things than predictability, and lots of movies over-score. While nostalgia might steal the thrill from The Force Awakens, it makes up for it in delight and the pure fun in seeing old friends and a new story in a beloved universe.
But 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.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.