A Spoiler Free Review of The Force Awakens
32 years later and we finally have a proper sequel to Return of the Jedi. We had to wade through 3, let’s say shakey, prequels, multiple TV shows, dozens of video games and countless pieces of Star Wars merch, but it’s finally here. Is it worth the wait? I don’t know, 30 years is a VERY long time and it’s hard to say ANYTHING is worth that long of a wait, but I can say that having fresh Star Wars on theater screens is incredibly satisfying.
The new film follows our new protagonists Rey and Fin as they take their first steps outside of their previous narrowly scoped existences. Rey, a scavenger from the planet of Jakku, has been living off the parts she’s been able to scavenge and sell from the wreckage of old star destroyers and Fin is a Storm Trooper, a straight up, white helmet wearing, march in formation, has been indoctrinated since birth, Storm Trooper.
The New Republic is being threatened by a fresh Dark Side enemy called the First Order, and both sides are feverishly looking for the missing Luke Skywalker. In that hunt, pilot Poe Dameron obtains a clue as to the whereabouts of the missing Jedi. He and his adorable droid BB-8 are tasked with getting a map back to the New Republic’s Resistance. Things go bad very quickly on Jakku and that’s where all our new characters begin their journey.
Act 1 plays alot like Act 1 of A New Hope. It’s alot of establishing of the world and the individual plights of Fin and Rey. We don’t see a familiar face until the end of the first act when Han and Chewy show up (to, in my theater, a thunderous applause). If what I’ve described so far sounds familiar, you’d be right, and you’d have stumbled on a main theme in the Force Awakens experience; familiarity. If I were the kind of cynical jerk that hated the new film, I’d jokingly call it, Stars Wars: The Tropes Awaken because in scene after scene, the subtle call-backs to the original trilogy got more and more obvious.
Everything from the cantina scene, to the struggle over a bottomless pit scene, nearly everything seemed pulled directly out of Lucas’ original movies, rearranged, and remixed to fit a new generation. The tropes don’t stop there, and even though at times it felt like I had seen this film before, the movie washed over me like a warm blanket. Maybe it was the low quality of the prequels or the nostalgia of the imagery, seeing a well made, true to the original, that honors both the source material and the fans, Star Wars film was comforting. Any complaints about the repeated themes will probably only come from the most ardent followers of the series that everyone knows weren’t going to be pleased anyway.
Like A New Hope, The Force Awakens does a good job of telling a self contained story that clearly ties into a larger unit. There’s no huge dangling plot threads and as foreshadowy as the last scene is, I wouldn’t classify it as a cliffhanger. All character motivations are clear and everything makes sense. There’s lots of JJ Abrams-style humor in the film, and overall it’s just a solid movie, and truly big budget American cinema at its best. Regardless of opinion on quality though, it’s safe to say that The Force Awakens will be somewhere on the spectrum of what you expected. What I mean by that is even the surprising things in the film are grounded by what you already know about the series. While on the surface that’s a good thing, the film kinda re-informed my opinion of the pre-quels.
Episode I wasn’t a good movie. It had charm and a defined aesthetic but a lot of the film is painful to watch. What it did well though, was be different. The opening scene with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan infiltrating the Trade Federation ship was unlike anything ever seen in a Star Wars film. The Jedi were faster, the force was more powerful, and the lightsabers were scarier. When Qui-Gon uses his saber to cut a hole in a wall, I thought “Whoa, I didn’t know they could do that!”. Episodes I-III were clearly driven by a single person’s idea of what he wanted those movies to be.
Lucas wasn’t creating a film to honor the 3 original movies, he was telling the first half of HIS story. Some of the characters and ideas were similar, but while watching those movies, never do you get the feeling that George Lucas cared if the pre-quels appealed to the original audience. The Force Awakens presents itself as the absolute polar opposite of this idea. Every aspect of the production feels carefully calculated to maximize both the nostalgic benefits of the series and the prospect of being able to keep it going in Disney-style perpetuity.
That’s a balancing act that can be very hard to thread the needle on, luckily Disney has infinite money and a who’s who of the best hollywood talent salivating to create a Star Wars film. Put all of this into a blender, and out pops the most perfectly crafted nostalgia piece that creates exciting young and relevant characters that are cast and marketed to appeal to the absolute widest group of people. You will be hard pressed to find a movie watching person from the age of 12 to 65 that Disney hasn’t taken into account when building this event.
I feel I should again talk about how good the movie is, as I’m descending down an often negative meta-view of the creation of it. It has the heart of a Star Wars movie and tells an exciting new tale in the confines of the established world. Anyone with a passing interest in the franchise should watch it. It’s an American event that should be experienced and celebrated as such….now let me get back to my analysis.
Take the casting. Yes, some wackos were trying to create a boycott of the movie claiming it was anti-white. I’m not going to justify that with a real comment. I’m just going to say that having the 3 main new characters Fin, Rey and Poe be Black, Female and Latino is calculated. One of the weird things about the original Star Wars is the complete lack of diversity in its cast. Sure, Lando arrived in Empire to spice things up, but for the most part the original trilogy was full of white people.
Disney knows that the white men in America interested in Star Wars have already bought in. They are going to be there regardless. Black, White, Asian, Hawaiian, it doesn’t matter, the white dudes will be there. Hell, the white people even showed up when one of the main characters was Jar Jar. The diversification of the cast is Disney’s way of widening the net, just a little, in every direction. Be that as it may, the most important thing is that the performances Abrams got from the cast were excellent, especially Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver (the white guy).
Most moviegoers won’t realize those 2nd and 3rd level production decisions on screen and having seen the movie, once the intro crawl begins the color of the characters will be the last thing that matters. Any worries Star Wars fans had about the Disney purchase can be put to rest, it’s clear they are in the business of making Star Wars-ass Star Wars movies, and according to the fans, that’s what they’ve wanted to for years. Mission Accomplished!
Verdict: No one should be questioning their interest in this movie. You either want to see it because you participate in normal society and appreciate movies, or you are completely detached from pop culture and you don’t matter (this movie is not for you)…there is no middle ground.