I am 38 years old.
I was born in 1977, six months after “Star Wars” had been released in theaters. In those days, movies ran forever because there was no home video. So if you wanted to see it, you had to go to the local cinema.
Or in my case, the drive-in. That’s right, Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw.
Of course I don’t remember it, I’m not a Jedi, but I do like to think it made an impression.
The first Star Wars film that I can vividly remember seeing was Return of the Jedi. I have memories in my mind of seeing Empire Strikes Back, but I may, or may not, be creating them myself.
1983 was the perfect time for Return of the Jedi for me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Like an atom bomb going off in my skull.
The original Star Wars Trilogy is second only to Ghostbusters (1984) in my mind, as far as “all time favorite movies” go. This is different from “best movie of all time”.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
Lucas. Lucas, you idiot. I don’t even want to go into everything wrong with the prequels, or the redone original trilogy. I’ll just say this: Jedi Rocks.
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with my cousin, and he was describing this Jedi Rocks scene. By the time the reworked Return of the Jedi came out, I had already written off Star Wars, preferring to pretend like anything post-Jedi just plain didn’t exist.
As my cousin described the scene, I just simply could not believe what I was hearing. This had to be some new extra thing, separate from ROTJ. But it wasn’t. This was how ROTJ simply was now, for worse or for worse.
As my cousin said, the only explanation is that Lucas has a brain tumor.
And it was a perfect example of everything I hated about the prequels and the reworked trilogy.
I wrote Star Wars off completely until I heard about the “despecialized” editions (look them up) and that Disney was making a new Star Wars movie, and Lucas wasn’t involved.
I say all of this as a preface to my review. The backstory that, I’m sure, is very similar to many of you. Our personal histories with Star Wars that are as hopeful, and tragic, as the epic journey of Darth Vader to redemption.
This is the lens that I saw this movie in. The lens of someone who both loves, and hates, Star Wars. The lens of a person who, going into the cinema, is primed to both love the film, and be its harshest critic.
We are all the jilted lovers of Star Wars, aren’t we? Desperate for it to come back, but scared to death that it might hurt us yet again.
To begin the review, I want to offer this disclaimer:
Everyone has their own idea about how far information can go before it ventures into “spoiler” territory. I will not give away any major plot points, or surprises, or anything like that, but to talk about the movie, you must do just that: talk about the movie.
In other words, Buyer Beware.
Also, yeah, I saw it early. How? None of your damn business….
If I had to sum up the movie in one statement, it would be: “familiar, yet different”.
In the end, is that not what we want? We want to go back into that world, that galaxy that is long past and far, far away. This was one of the greatest sins of things like Jedi Rocks: we were startled out of that world.
The Star Wars movies, like any old grande dame film series, needs to make us feel warm and cozy. It’s a cliché, but it really does need to feel like visiting old friends. Even if the characters are new, they must seem familiar and fit a certain archetype. A satisfied smile and a warm feeling spreading from your belly needs to come over you when you first meet the good guys, or see Chewbacca. That said, the Star Wars movies are not known for their subtlety, nor should they be. The bad guys need to make us feel a sense of dread.
My feelings about the characters are mixed, for now. The Force Awakens is definitely a product of its time. There are tough lady and minority lead characters, which is awesome, as far as I’m concerned. And the familiar characters are there, too, which is good. In fact, there was a point in the film where it felt like my whole body realized, “Wait. These are those same characters.” It’s hard to describe, but it took me awhile for it to sink in that I was actually, finally, seeing a new Star Wars film with Han Solo and Chewbacca in it.
But yet, the villains are not quite up to snuff, in my opinion. Instead of scary, tough, hardasses, we get an effete, conflicted beanpole with a complex. Don’t get me wrong, they are bad, downright evil sometimes, but in a sneaky bitch kind of way. I feel like Star Wars, to be true to the source material and the space opera serials that it was originally influenced by, needs bad guys that could stand toe-to-toe with Clint Eastwood in a dusty street somewhere.
And, while I’m not going to give away any plot points, it almost seemed like the plot of the film was just an afterthought to introducing us to the new characters. The characters, both old and new, are the point of the film.
Really, that is my only criticism. You’re going to see a Star Wars film, what can you expect?
Space battle dogfights? Check! As I mentioned, the movie is both different and familiar in that way. It’s always fun to see the new ships, and there’s tons of great TIE fighter and X-Wing action! Lots of classic Star Wars “Woohoo!”s also, which I personally loved. You’ll see ancillary characters, both old and new, and they are all awesome.
Lightsaber battles? Check! The lightsaber battles in this one are more sparse than in the prequels, and not as overwrought and ridiculous. This is a good thing, to me. The lightsaber action was more like the original trilogy. As in, a bit more realistic. I mean, I know Jedis basically have superpowers and all, but come on…
Cool locations that feel both familiar and different? Check! The locations in The Force Awakens will bring to mind the environments and locales of classic places like Mos Eisley and Endor. Critters and creatures from all over the Star Wars Universe mingle and go about their daily lives, and it’s cool and they all look cool and not Jedi Rocks-y at all.
Long shots, wipes, etc.? Check! The cinematography is great! Great shots of the landscapes that don’t linger too long, the space battles are shot well and so that you can tell what is going on, and the classic Star Wars/Kurosawa horizontal screen wipes are all present.
It also has some much-needed comedic breaks. The comedy is a little modern, for my tastes, and sometimes works, and sometimes falls flat on its face. Like a lot of people have said, the droids provide enough comedy. We don’t need any snarky, 21st century, internet wit that reminds us that we’re in a movie theater in the United States with a smartphone in our pocket. Still, the lighter moments are appreciated and are much more clever and subtle than Mister Meesa Peepee Poopoo from Episode 1.
I know this is, mostly, a glowing review, but yet I still feel like I’m conflicted about this film. I just came out with a weird feeling. I hate to say it, but it’s similar to how I felt after seeing Episode I. Almost like I’ve been punched in the gut.
I know a lot of you will feel the same way.
Like I said, the plot is an afterthought and the main purpose of this movie is just to set up the next few. They want you to like the new good guys and hate the new bad guys, and on that, they certainly succeeded.
In my opinion, it will be remembered more fondly than the prequels simply because it feels more like a classic Star Wars movie. It will take another viewing or two, and I already have tickets for tomorrow night, but right now I feel like it’s not as good as the original trilogy, but not as bad as the prequels or redone trilogy.
I guess that’s why I included that preface. These movies, and any that may come after it, aren’t gonna be as good as the original trilogy to any of us. None of them will make you feel like a kid again. It simply isn’t going to happen.
But that’s not such a bad thing. As my friend who also saw it with me said, “Overall I enjoyed it. Not life changing, and I’m thankful for that. Because if it was, it would mean I haven’t matured in the least”.
We’ll never see any Star Wars movie through the eyes of a kid. Unfortunately, we are all too self-aware, and have seen the prequels and too many other movies, to watch it and give it any kind of a fair shake.
Anyway, go see it. It’s well worth it. Then get at me so we can discuss, with spoilers.