I think this is going to end up being two pieces. I had planned on writing about the Star Wars phenomena as a whole as an intro to my thoughts on The Force Awakens. But I really should have posted that first, as it seems like it could turn into a pretty long post. So, for now, just my reaction to seeing my first new Star Wars movie in a theater since 1983.
I tried damn hard to avoid spoilers over the past week. Each time I came across a review online, I closed the tab. When I came across a thread on Twitter, I scrolled past. If I walked into a discussion, I kept moving. Thus when I sat down last night to finally watch The Force Awakens I was viewing without much idea of what was going to happen. I knew that reviews had generally been positive, which gave me some relief. But that was it.
This seems a good moment to point out there are spoilers below. If you’ve not seen the movie but plan to, you might want to skip reading further.
When that first crash of cymbals and blast of trumpets hit and the familiar logo flashed on the screen, I got chills. I’ve dogged the franchise plenty over the past 15 years, but as a child of the 70s and 80s, I admit I was sucked I immediately by the standard first shot.
Speaking of immediate, two things were clear to me right away: JJ Abrams was doing a fine job of mashing up the vibe from episodes IV-VI with modern aesthetics. Every step of the way, the sets and terrains honored those of the classic trilogy, especially those of A New Hope. At the same time, everything felt fresh. Dialogue matched the quicker, caffeinated style we’re used to today. Battle scenes were amped up by better computer assisted graphics and more fit actors. It felt like an action flick made in the ’10s.
Most importantly, Abrams seemed to be working with the impression his job was to not just knock the dust off the franchise so Disney can ride it through the next 10–20 years, but also to shed most of the damage done in episodes I-III. The constant callbacks to A New Hope in particular set fans at ease and allowed him to build the base upon which the next generation of movies will spring from.
Which leads me to my only major complaint about the movie: it was too much like A New Hope. I was handling the similarities just fine until the new variant on the Death Star appeared.
It was bad enough that Lucas went back to the Death Star well in Return of the Jedi. But after 32 years, as the franchise gets a reboot, we have to go back to the bad guys building a planet-killing space station? I know, The Weapon was huge compared to the original Death Stars, and it was carved into an actual planet rather than being built as a free-standing structure. Still, I was annoyed by that whole element of the movie, along with the X-Wing sequence to blow it up.
Beyond that notable frustration, I loved just about everything else. Having avoided spoilers, I was surprised at how big a part of the story Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia were. I assumed all the classic characters would make a brief appearance and then fade away. The movie is as much about closing the door on Han as it is about opening it on Rey and Finn, though. Not going to lie, I got a little emotional when Han and Chewy walked onto the Millennium Falcon again. And Han’s final scene…well nine-year-old me, who loved Han more than any character in the originals, would have had a hard time with that one.
Harrison Ford was fantastic. That was classic Solo, with just a touch of age and wisdom and humility throw in. Carrie Fisher didn’t have as much screen time, but her updated General Leia was exactly how you would have wanted Leia to age.
The stars were the new additions, though. Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn were both wonderful. Ridley is a complete badass. When I give L. the green light to watch the movie, she’s going to flip for Rey. And Boyega was just perfect as Finn. I liked the use of two unknown actors in these roles, too. And screw anyone complaining about Abrams cowing to the PC police by casting a woman and a black man as the cornerstones of the new trilogy.
Adam Driver was very good filling Kylo Ren with anger, doubt, and impatience over his personal history and his inability to fully control the Force. I enjoyed his petulant moments. He wants to be Darth Vader, but he’s clearly not mature or powerful enough. Yet.
We didn’t see a ton of Oscar Isaac, but Poe Dameron seems like Han Solo version 2 for the next couple episodes.
Despite being over two hours long, the movie felt brisk. There were tons of laugh lines, the dialogue seemed much better than Lucas’ infamously wretched efforts, and there weren’t too many setup scenes that slowed things down. In fact, there were a couple moments that seemed to pass too quickly as Abrams rushed to move the film along. Han, famously dismissive of women, seems awfully eager to accept Rey as an apprentice. And Kylo Ren’s brief capitulation to his father seemed to come with minimal reluctance, even if it was just a ruse. Minor quibbles, those.
From a visual perspective, it was stunning. The CGI battles were generally very well done. They were, at times, hard to follow because there was just so much on the screen. I really liked the little details, especially on Jakku, like the remnants of some battle between the Empire and Rebellion long ago: an Imperial walker here, an X-Wing fighter there, a crashed Star Destroyer dominating the landscape.
As for the ending, it was awfully abrupt. But I guess you had to offer up at least a glimpse of Luke Skywalker. Some have noted how The Empire Strikes Back had a cliffhanger ending. True, but it also had a sense of closure, as Luke and Leia stared off into the distance as Chewy and Lando flew away to search for Han. None of this dramatic stare-down between Luke and Rey. So it was a little weird. But it also makes me really want episode VIII to get here quick. Abrams for the win, I guess!
To wrap things up, I really liked The Force Awakens. It accomplished what I wanted from the film: make Star Wars fun and interesting again. Small issues aside, I thought it was really good. I’m debating whether L. is old enough to see it so I can take her and go see it again.While Abrams is stepping back to executive produce and letting Rian Johnson take over directing and main writing duties for the next two movies, Abrams righted the ship. Filming begins on the next film next month. May 2017 can’t get here soon enough.
- I think there are three or four scenes that might be a little intense for her. But I’m going to ask around, as I know some of her classmates have seen it, and get input from their parents. I did cave and finally ordered episodes IV-VI last night, so I’ll start her off with those later this week. We’ll see if the other two girls are interested at all. ↩