WARNING SPOILERS PRESENT READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
I sit here writing this blog having just watched Episode VII a few hours ago. This was a day, up until a few years ago, I did not have a lot of hope would ever come. Since about 6th grade Star Wars has been a constant in my life. I was only a little baby when the original trilogy graced the silver screen and changed blockbuster films forever, but through my older sister’s love of Star Wars I also gained a love of Star Wars. We had the original movies, recorded off tv on VHS, and then eventually the THX remastered VHS copies and finally the Special Editions and I’d wager I’ve seen the original trilogy 5x as many times as I’ve seen Back to the Future which I’ve seen 5x as many times as any other movie. As I look around my living room I see a replica prop lightsaber, a Yoda Christmas stocking and a Slave 1 Christmas ornament. If I went downstairs I’d see a replica Vader helmet molded from the original “A New Hope” molds that I spent way too much money on. If I went to my bedroom I’d see a print of Minnie Mouse dressed up as Slave Leia, more creepy than neat, but once again just another memento of this wonderful universe created by George Lucas almost 40 years ago.
My high school and college years saw the arrival of the prequels. These were suppose to be “our” movies and the hype dwarfed anything before them or yet to come. When Darth Maul ignited the 2nd blade of his saber in “The Phantom Menace” trailer your imagination ran wild with possibilities. I will defend the prequels always for what they were and the impossible standard they had to live up to, but everyone knows for everything the prequels nailed, which there is plenty, they also got two things wrong. George Lucas took huge risks with the prequels, with story and plot, with new ways to make films, and a new level of CGI integration, and while it didn’t always pay off, you can’t say he didn’t at least try to make the prequels their own thing. It’s through the lens of these two very different Star Wars trilogies I viewed Episode VII.
The opening crawl answers a lot of questions right off the bat. The Empire is over, but a new tyranny, The First Order, has risen up to take its place (sound familiar?). Skywalker has vanished and the newly restored Galatic Republic is searching for his whereabouts. We get the impression it’s been a rough 30 years in the galaxy since the destruction of the 2nd Death Star. Immediately we are introduced to the new villain, Kylo Ren, as he raids a village on the planet Jakku searching for a digital map that will lead to Skywalker. JJ Abrams makes his first interesting choice with Kylo Ren. Throughout the movie he’s presented as kind of a fuck up. He is strong in the Force but doesn’t seem very tactical or competent. He wants to invoke Vader wearing a mask and a long black cape but he’s not really intimidating as much as he is mean. He throws tantrums and murders civilians for no apparent reason and he has severe daddy issues. Kylo Ren is not Vader or Darth Maul or even a Count Dooku, he’s closest to Anakin at the end of Episode 3. A powerful and dangerous out of control youth. One odd choice was Kylo’s master he reported to once in awhile, Supreme Leader Snoke, was a CGI kinda golem looking bastard. He totally did not work for me. I would take another emperor type in a hood any day of the week. This was probably my number one concern with the movie and more important future movies.
Kylo’s demeanor contrasts nicely with our hero and heroine, Finn and Rey. Rey is a tough as nails survivor who scavenges the desert for power converters to sell for food. She’s been waiting for her family to return for a very long time when she comes across the droid that contains the stolen plans, er I mean map to Skywalker. Finn is a deserter storm trooper trying to escape the only life he’s even known but scared out of his mind half of the movie. All three of these characters are about the same age, all three seemingly at a crossroads in their life and I like how JJ played this angle up a bit, giving us three very distinct characters who’s destinies, like any good Star Wars movie, are intertwined. Finn I thought stole the show while Rey is less wooden than Padme but doesn’t quite reach Leia awesome yet, she’s got two more movies to do so though and I think she’s on the right track.
Then we had the old guard. This really is Han Solo’s movie as far as the old guard is concerned. He’s was in a surprisingly large number of scenes and once he shows up in the story, he never really goes away. He waxes nostalgic about the Jedi and the Force and it comes off as pretty sincere. He slips into “get off my lawn” Harrison Ford a few times, but I think he did a great job at channeling his character from 30 years ago in a few particular scenes, especially the final scene between Leia and Han, or his best line in the movie “The Force doesn’t work like that!” Once again he gets drug into the Rebellion, er I mean Resistance and has to help deliver a droid to General Leia. Chewbacca is there as well, he’s played for a lot of comic relief, which is okay with me, I’m sure we’ll get some tearing arms of droids scenes in the next one. Carrie Fisher as Leia isn’t given a lot to work with, she has to stick around and look concerned in the war room, happens to her a lot I guess, but she does get two distinct different hairdos, so they kept it real in that department.
By the time the big fight at the end of the movie rolls around, Solo, Rey and Finn are disabling shields on a planet so Resistance X wings can make trench runs at a Death Star, er Planet Star? Hmm don’t remember what they called it, but its basically a Death Star built into a planet that works by draining its Sun to create an energy weapon. How does it reload after that planet’s sun is gone? We’ll have to wait for the new expanded universe to answer some questions. At the end of movie is the light saber fight, which all Star Wars movies end with. It wasn’t really what I was expecting at all, which is good. The problem is none of these people have really been properly trained with a saber so they present the fight as such. While the last fight we saw on screen between Anakin and Obi Wan looked like it took weeks to choreograph, parts of this fight looked as if JJ tossed these kids a prop saber and said okay go hack at each other. Kylo Ren has taken a pot shot from Chewie which was a clever way to have a “fair fight” with two people that have never wielded a saber before. It’s brutal and not elegant and clearly everyone is in need of training which sets up nicely for the next movie.
And oh boy that next movie cliffhanger. Rey tracking down a war grizzled Luke at the ruins of a Jedi temple and handing him his old saber (the one that fell down the hole at Bespin btw ?!?). Mark Hamill sold me with just the look on his face. I think the guy really does believe he’s a Jedi, for some reason Star Wars resonated in this guys mind and all the pretense and baggage just isn’t there at all, he looks at Rey with pain and hope at the same time, killer acting without saying a word, bravo.
So my final verdict on Star Wars: The Force Awakens…of course it was awesome! The new characters were compelling, the old characters were serviceable and there was a new cantina band that played space reggae. As I not so subtlety pointed out in the review, Abrams borrows heavily from “A New Hope”, from the McGuffin to the climax. I’m not 100 percent sure how this sits with me at the moment. Of course I enjoyed the movie, but the constant throw backs to “A New Hope” did take me out of it a few times, literally thinking, he’s ripping off Lucas, sly dog. The prequels reached for the stars and probably got burned, where this movie played it pretty darn safe, but maybe you end up just Luke warm at the end ;). If you’re making a Star Wars trilogy for a new generation though, then what better movie to rip off really, and there is plenty there to make the movie its own. From cross guard sabers, which somehow totally worked btw, to the star fighters having their battles right over the planet surface inside the atmosphere, the imagery is on point, including all the planet hopping locale change up that is a trademark of the series. Right now at this moment Episode VII, sits as my 4th favorite Star Wars movie, but ask me again after I’ve seen it 25 more times, it won’t take that long.