It took a few weeks, but I finally got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night. I didn’t try to avoid spoilers over the past few weeks, so I didn’t exactly go into it with “fresh eyes,” but it was still cool seeing it. I’m absolutely glad I saw it in theaters, though it wasn’t IMAX and wasn’t in 3-D. Those screenings are somewhat limited in Sedalia at this point…
Overall, I thought it was “good.” I wouldn’t say it’s a “great” film – just “good.” There are actually elements of the movie that were legitimately “great,” including the acting and special effects. Unlike the Prequel Trilogy, which was largely terrible (with the possible exception of the third one…), the acting was solid among the new and old cast. As everyone knows at this point, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were all back in varying (or even limited) capacities in this movie, and did a good job evoking their characters from the Original Trilogy. However, I was especially impressed with the acting chops of the new cast and how well they fit into the universe. Oscar Isaac was perhaps the best-known actor on this list, but newcomers like John Boyega and Daisy Ridley really stole the show, wiping away the stench of Hayden Christensen in the Prequels (ew…).
With regards to the effects, again, J.J. Abrams relied more heavily on practical effects this time around, unlike George Lucas in the Prequel Trilogy, who had nearly every scene in front of a green screen. Sure, there was a ton of CG in The Force Awakens, but it wasn’t over-done this time around. CG characters were better integrated into the background. Buildings were inserted into actual, live environments rather than having the entire environment built on a computer. It was much easier to “fall into the world” watching this movie, as it was easier to convince yourself that everything you were looking at on the screen was real.
My main gripe with the movie concerns the story. It isn’t that the story is “bad” – it isn’t. But it’s absolutely derivative. Perhaps I was clouded by post-release articles, when everyone was talking about it, but The Force Awakens is absolutely a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope. Not shot-for-shot, but in the critical story beats, it’s totally that original movie.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Rebels find some critical information that they’re trying to keep away from the bad guys and store it in a droid. That droid, on a desert planet, happens to find a young person who also happens to, we come to find out, be “strong in the Force.” That person hooks up with a “bad guy with a good heart” kinda person, as well as an “older mentor,” as they try to return this stolen information to the Rebellion. All the time, they’re being chased by a evil guy in a black mask that can Force Choke you. I’ll stop right here to limit potential spoilers, but seriously, take all those characters I just mentioned and continue on through A New Hope and you’ll know what happens.
Now, does the story follow it exactly? No. Some things happen in a different order. There are also gratuitous scenes in this movie that are intended to evoke the original movie (like when the two main characters, Rey and Finn, happen across the Millennium Falcon, on that desert planet that they happen to be on), and obviously those scenes wouldn’t have existed in the first movie. There’s a great deal of nostalgia here, definitely, but that’s most of what this movie has going for it.
Which is to say, if nostalgia is what you’re looking for, The Force Awakens has it in spades. It’s intended to make you feel like a kid again, seeing Star Wars for the first time. It’s intended to remind you of what made you like the Original Trilogy and why no one (except demented, horrible people…) like the Prequel Trilogy.
But it isn’t an original story. Heck, A New Hope wasn’t even an “original story,” as it was just ripping off the classic “Hero’s Journey” monomyth. But it at least put it in a sci-fi setting with a budget that could really wow an audience.