I recall the feeling still,
The fascination and the thrill
Of seeing something fresh and new,
Of satisfaction sown with skill.
I remember it; don’t you?
Over time, the feeling’s stayed.
The prize is praised; the piper’s paid,
And yet I wait for even more,
For further fun that will not fade,
Another epic to explore.
Waiting is rewarded, yes,
And yet I feel I must confess
I doubt if ever it will be
That future favorites and success
Will bear the same delight for me.
MPAA rating: PG-13
At last, I’ve seen the biggest movie of the year, combining two of my favorite things, Star Wars and J.J. Abrams’ directorial talent. Ever since I heard Abrams would direct the next entry in the Star Wars canon, I knew he was the right guy for the job. Lost is phenomenal, his Star Trek reboots were sheer fun, and he has a special talent for both visual storytelling and character-building. Here, he brings it all to George Lucas’s beloved space opera franchise, the continuation of the story last visited on film in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, the film that has been endlessly marketed and hyped for over a year now, and…I’m left divided.
Some spoiler-free reviews I’ve read have been the “oh-my-gosh-this-movie-is-just-so-great-and-wonderful-I-could-burst” type, but most seem to be the “this-is-a-really-good-movie-but…” kind of opinions. I wanted it to be the former, but sure enough, it’s the latter for me. Time to think it over has only deepened my ambivalence. On the other hand, my mom (with whom I saw it) has grown more displeased with it. She saw the original Star Wars in the theater eight-and-a-half times and, based on the reviews, had high hopes, which weren’t exactly dashed but at least unfulfilled.
Let me try to explain my feelings about Star Wars: Episode VII. I won’t get into specifics, but I’ll probably go into more detail than some reviews, so a warning for those like me who have tried to remain spoiler-free. First, the Light Side. Like so many critics have said, The Force Awakens does feel like the original trilogy, a little less polished than the prequels and with far more humor and natural dialogue. Abrams’ talent with ensembles comes through, balancing both the new characters and old with fresh concepts and proper nostalgia. Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Leia, Peter Mayhew as the apparently ageless Chewbacca, and (barely) Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker all make triumphant returns, and despite the thirty-two-year hiatus, it feels as if they never left. Of the new cast, Daisy Ridley’s heartfelt Rey and John Boyega’s excitable Finn are the standouts, dropping hints at guessable but unconfirmed backstories that will surely play a larger part in the inevitable sequels. The backstory we do get is that of Kylo Ren, the Darth Vader wannabe whose conflicted allegiance to the Dark Side keeps him interesting, even as the other villains are given little to do. While many have complained about the underuse of various actors, the most overlooked to me seemed to be Gwendoline Christie as Stormtrooper Captain Phasma; like in Mockingjay – Part 2, Christie oddly lands a role in a big-budget blockbuster and then has hardly any screen time. Those secondary players who do get screen time make the most of it, including Oscar Isaac’s daring pilot Poe Dameron and, of course, the cute beachball droid BB-8. I also enjoyed seeing Ken Leung (Miles from Lost) as a Resistance admiral, a token actor from Abrams’ past work.
There, I liked it, right? But then, the Dark Side makes itself felt. For one thing, it’s sad that, within thirty years, the galaxy is right back in the middle of tyrant-battling war, with the Republic barely present. In addition, with the exception of Episode III, which everyone knew would be dark and tragic, all the Star Wars movies end with a thrill, whether it be a smile of success or an urge to learn what’s next. While both types of thrill are attempted, they are overshadowed by a climactic blow to the childhood that hit my mom especially hard. When the credits had finished, we didn’t leave the theater reveling in the glow of a great movie; we left in silence, trying to digest what J.J. Abrams had done. It makes for potent drama, but it stings nonetheless.
In addition, the story itself becomes weak in its attempt to pay homage to the original Star Wars. Plot elements are recycled a bit too often, and the originality suffers. There’s a wanted droid with important hidden information; there’s a cantina full of exotic aliens; there’s a desert planet (Jakku, not Tatooine); there’s a planet-destroying weapon; there’s a black-masked villain reporting to a holographic uber-villain (head of the First Order, not the Empire); there’s a Jedi apprentice turning against his master; there’s a close shave with a tentacled creature; there’s the difficult scene I mentioned that recalls Darth Vader’s run-in with Ben Kenobi; and there’s a mission to blow up the enemy base, which is even cooler and less simple than the Death Star’s destruction. There’s also a deleted star system, a la Attack of the Clones. For all their faults, the prequels always presented something new, even if the new didn’t please fans. In trying to appeal to everyone’s nostalgia for the original trilogy, the writers made the story far too similar. I wonder if Episode VIII will feel like The Empire Strikes Back.
At this point, I can’t tell if I’m trying to be honest or overly critical. It’s still a fantastic action-packed movie, the one we’ve been waiting for for decades. Despite the overly familiar plot points, I love everything original in The Force Awakens, from the new protagonists to the impeccable visual effects and awesome action. I still can’t decide where it ranks next to the prequels (I like them; sue me), but it’s certainly worthy of the Star Wars name. My mom and I will still see it many more times, and our admiration will surely improve. (She didn’t like Forrest Gump the first time either, and now it’s a family favorite.) I doubt The Force Awakens will ever have the same appeal as the original trilogy, but just as I grew up with the prequels, this is the Star Wars of the next generation.
Best line: (Han, about the enemy weapon) “How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that.”
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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