Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Do I have to?

Well, people were asking me 15 minutes after I had seen it what I thought, so yeah, I guess I have to. The response given to these people was, “It didn’t suck,” and it doesn’t. But I like to let a movie percolate for a day or so before I trust my opinion.

It didn’t suck.

There’s a lot of static on the Interwebs complaining about the *ahem* lack of originality in certain aspects of the story. The question here, I think, is have you been paying attention over the last ten years or so? The current marketplace does not reward originality. It often actively punishes it. Therefore, carbon paper is the preferred method of moviemaking. I’m not really surprised that The Force Awakens relies on “the same, just bigger” for its action setpieces. There is a memo somewhere mandating this, I’m sure.

By concentrating on rhyming instances, though, you are missing the very strength of this new chapter: an abundance of heart, and the very, very welcome return of humor to this universe. The new characters are strong and deserving of our attention. The return of – literally – older characters helps that medicine go down just fine, thank you, and provides more than a little resonance with our own youth.

maxresdefaultI was 20 years old when the first Star Wars came out. I stood in line for hours on its second day of release, thankfully in the air conditioning of the lower level of Houston’s Galleria. 38 years later, here I am again, standing in line. There are some parts of our dystopian future that do not suck; I had bought my ticket in advance and was only waiting for the doors to open. Fifteen minutes instead of hours.

So I am deeply aware of the magic that happened that day at the beginning of Summer 1977. I know, I know, you wanted that feeling back. You wanted to leave the theater feeling the same way your younger self did, dazzled and intoxicated by the possibilities of cinema bent to a compelling story.

To engage in more acquisition from an earlier property, you can’t go home again.

Star Wars (I still refuse to call it A New Hope) hit like a thermal detonator because there was nothing else like it in a comparatively parched movie landscape. As Jessica Ritchey brilliantly reminds us over at rogerebert.com, Fox’s big moneymaker for the season was supposed to be The Other Side of Midnight. There had been pulpy science-fiction before, but it was almost inevitably a low-budget affair. Good special effects were only to be found in the rarified field of Thoughtful Science Fiction – 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. This… this was Flash Gordon with a budget. And it was fun.

You want to know why you left The Force Awakens disappointed? It’s because practically every movie and TV show made since, science-fiction and otherwise, has been Star Wars. Be it an attempt to reach Peak Special Effects or yet another rehash of The Hero’s Journey, they’ve been trying to catch that lightning in a bottle. Of course you don’t feel it’s original. It’s been cannibalized and recycled multiple times in the last four decades.

In 1977, there was nothing like Star Wars. In 2015, everything is Star Wars.

So you feel let down. Fine, that’s your right. I was too, a bit. But let’s not go tearing down quite so vociferously what other people – especially kids, kids of color, little girls – are enjoying and building future dreams upon. We had our trilogy. Let them have theirs.

Because I’m going to bet that, if you loosen up a little bit, to allow yourself to have just a little fun, they’re not going to mind you coming along for the ride, at all.

6 Comments

  1. I went to see this on it’s second day of release with my 7 year old son and we came out of the theater completely intoxicated. I haven’t walked out of a Star Wars movie laughing since 1983, and I was 9 at the time and thought Ewoks were hilarious. But this latest effort had, as you mentioned, a welcomed return to REAL humor (not just goofiness) and heart. I was stunned to read all of the negativity online afterwards, particularly the criticism taking aim at the movie’s unoriginal plot. While your argument above of everything since copying Star Wars has merit, I’m a bit confused by the general criticism at large. I feel like fans want their cake and eat it too. They want that feeling of nostalgia from nearly 40 years ago, but not too much. They want a feeling of wonderment that only comes with seeing something for the first time, yet their asking it from the SEVENTH film of a series. I’d say this movie slides comfortably into my top 3 favorite Star Wars movies. Mostly because, as a nearly 42 year old man, I don’t get much of a charge out of Ewoks anymore.

    • I don’t care much for the “Nerds ruin everything” argument (being an aging nerd myself) but I really wish nerds would stop proving it true.

  2. The only thing I was disappointed in was when Kylo Ren removed his helmut. When my initial reaction is “Hey, is that Napoleon Dynamite?”, I don’t think his casting worked for me. When I see it again, maybe he’ll come off better for me.

    The plot recycling didn’t bother me so much, because (a) Return of the Jedi had much more plot recycling and (b) they changed it up enough so that it *was* different. One thing I learned from watching–and rewatching (thank you, Criterion)–the Zatoichi film series: there are many, many ways to tell different stories with similar plots. I agree with Rob–this easily sits in my top 3 Star Wars films.

    The Force Awakens had a difficult mission–please the nostalgia of the adult fans who grew up on the originals, and provide wonder to a new generation of fans who have grown up on Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Maybe it went a bit overboard with the fan service, but Rey and Finn are *awesome* characters; hell, I want to see both of them more than what the older, cynical Luke is going to do in the next film. Seriously, Finn’s the best thing to hit the Star Wars universe since Bobo Fett. “He almost killed me 6 times already! Erk….which is okay!”

    Which is the long way around of saying I’m jacked for Rian Johnson’s go at the sequel.

    • And I can’t understate how much I appreciated the humor in this latest installment. When Oscar Isaac is chained up for interrogation, after a very pregnant pause and stare from Kylo Ren, Poe says “…Do I talk first or you talk first? I talk first?” That might be my favorite line.

      • Preparing us to pass the Smartass-Under-Fire torch from Han to the current generation. Pretty sneaky.

        I was much more willing to accept the movie on its own ground in a second viewing. To repeat the other statement I kept trotting out after the first viewing, “It’s nice to feel positive about Star Wars again.”

      • “I was in sanitation.” Han and Chewie: Wait, what? That, and the two stormtroopers who smartly turn around and walk away from Kylo Ren’s rage fest might have been may favorite moment.

        I just remembered where I first saw the guy who played Kylo Ren–a great guest shot on the last episode of a single season cop series with Jeremy Renner called The Unusuals. Now, I’m going to have to see it again, because Adam Driver played a quietly disturbed character in that episode to perfection.


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