The first part of this blog is SPOILER FREE. I’ll warn you when that changes.
Well, like seemingly everyone else on the planet earth with a movie theater within fifty miles of my ox-cart track, I’ve seen (or plan to see) the new Star Wars movie. It’s been a long wait. And, like many others, my response to the film is intensely personal. The film itself, the experience of it, the shared emotions in the dark–they belong, powerfully, to me. This film series has been important to us (I know it isn’t everybody, of course, but I’m addressing those to whom this matters) for very a very long time. The original Star Wars came out when I was 14 years old and locked in the deepest depths of my science fiction affliction. And at that time there was nothing much that was truly new. Mind you, my friends and I had a smorgasbord of superb books to read, such as Vonnegut, Bradbury, Asimov and Verne, and television ran Dr. Who and Star Trek reruns which we absorbed like sunlight into our bodies. But a lot of it, great as it was, was kind of old. When Star Wars arrived, the universe changed. My family was driving to a Florida timeshare on opening weekend. I managed to convince my parents to stop at a Florida mall and shop for two hours while I walked across the parking lot to see Star Wars in the movie theater there. Along with several gangs of friends, I ended up seeing Star Wars thirty-six times in its first run, to the point where we could recite every line of dialog and began to actually glaze over during parts of the movie (Oh, Jek Porkins, how much abuse you took). Star Wars, whether by design, the Hero’s Journey, or plain blind luck, plugged into the main circuit cable (to borrow one of my favorite lines from Apocalypse Now, here) of who we were and carried us away on its x-winged chariot. We knew every glitch, every continuity mistake, every illogical or coincidental turn, and it didn’t matter. It was perfect. And it was ours. And it was mine.
I’ll say this now. I love Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It isn’t perfect by a long shot, and I’ll have a lot to say about that in the Spoilers section below. But I do love it. Why? Because it successfully captures it, that wonderful it, that indescribable, ecstatic, Star Wars it. After enduring three Star Wars films (episodes 1, 2, 3) that misfired horribly, we came home. Plugged back into that main circuit cable George Lucas built for us, the pleasure is titanic, and all internal mistakes are peripheral and forgiven. We, every single one of us, own the film like it was made for only us. I was lucky to see TFA at Disney’s El Capitan theater in Hollywood on Thursday night, with its wonderful projection system and a crowd of respectful, elated fans, and everyone was so happy because they were so excited, and because the film was speaking to all of us so deeply, on such a personal level, and, regardless of age, reaching out to us from our childhoods.
Below is my discussion of the film. It contains SPOILERS.
Once again, SPOILERS below.
Okay, I’ve only seen the film once so far, so my thoughts are more first-impression than anything else, without the benefit of finding explanations about anything that confused me. I have not read any reviews of the film because I wanted to spill this out of me first, flawed and lacking reflection as it might be, but uncontaminated.
I loved the movie. Let’s make sure you understand that. What follows is rambling fan chatter. And it involves SPOILERS.
Star Wars: the Force Awakens, like any film, has its problems. But like a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend, you still love it despite its flaws, even for its flaws, as you do a person. Below is a quick, first-impression list of things I liked, disliked or simply noticed about the movie.
1) The movie structure is too similar to the structure of Star Wars: A New Hope: I haven’t watched the two films to measure this exactly, but it seems like TFA is too close to a connect-the-dots parallel of the original film’s plotlines. Let’s take the journey of Rey, for example, and see how it matches up with Luke’s journey in the first movie. Rey/Luke is an orphan of uncertain parentage on a remote, desert planet. A droid carrying secret, vital information drops from the sky and Rey/Luke rescues it from a scrap scavenger. Pursued by evil forces, Rey/Luke escapes the planet aboard the Millenium Falcon. Rey/Luke is proven to be strong with the Force, is given his/her father’s light saber (I’ll get into that later), meets an alien teacher and has his/her mentor killed by a man he once trusted who has turned to the dark side, and with the help of new friends blows up a round death star This revisiting of the original hero’s storyline is intentional but I thought they repeated it with a bit too much gusto–perhaps a point or two as touchstones would have been better than copying almost wholesale.
2) Rey is Luke’s daughter: though J.J. Abrams and Disney announced they abandoned all canon beyond the original six movies to begin afresh with TFA, it still appears to be the story of the original heroes’ children. I’m not familiar with all of the endless story development which occurred in the wildly expanded Star Wars universe canon, but I know the children of Luke, Han and Leia were heavily involved. Kylo Ren has been revealed as Han and Leia’s son, Ben, and the hints seem pretty heavy-handed that Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker and a yet-to-be-identified mother. She possesses Luke’s immense capacity for the Force (especially if the mother is still Mara Jade), receives his light saber from Maz Kanata (and experiences powerful flashbacks and more, including a memory of herself as a child wailing as her father’s space ship leaves–surely her father is Luke who, after retreating to a remote planet and starting a family, realizes his presence is now endangering his wife and child.) The final trilogy is probably designed to feature an ultimate face-off between the children, and if so, it seems like Rey must be Luke’s offspring.
3) GREAT action and lightsaber battles: superb action sequences. I loved the battle over the lake at Maz Kanata’s pirate hideout, which changed things up by feeling more like a WW2 dogfight than a space battle. And the final lightsaber scrap between Rey and Kylo Ren on the collapsing snowy planet was gripping and epic.
4) How did Rey and Finn aboard the Millenium Falcon manage to bump into Han and Chewie on the freighter? Doesn’t the Millenium Falcon have proximity sensors/warnings? There are a few lines about Han and Chewie searching for their ship but it seems bizarrely coincidental. And where did the two groups of space pirates suddenly come from? That whole sequence confused me, with the groups facing off and the accidentally released monsters, and I don’t know what purpose it served the story in general other that trying to add tension and action. But this also ties into my Point 8, below.
5) Did it HAVE to be another Death Star?: Yeah, I don’t remember the name of the new bad guy super-round-planetoid super blaster, but it is essentially an upgraded Death Star. When I saw that, I did ask myself why they couldn’t come up with something else fantastic and new, especially since they are already copying so much of the first movie’s storyline, including a separate insertion mission to disable part of the weapon’s system and the final blow being delivered by X-wings in some form of a structural trench.
6) Rey is a great hero: She is. She’s both vulnerable and gutsy, a great new hero for the series. Great performance by Daisy Ridley. In fact, I though all of the performances were top notch.
7) Great humor, but the nods to the earlier films are too numerous: I laughed a lot in the movie, in the places designed to make us laugh, but I also thought that the obvious and constant cute references to the first film sometimes disrupted my own engagement with the current story–maybe they could have thinned those out a bit and scattered them through all three films?
8) Does Han Solo’s appearance mess things up a bit? Did he force Kylo Ren to reveal himself too early?: Lastly, I’m gonna suggest something which even I hate. As presented, was Han Solo’s role necessary to the plot of the movie? I love Harrison Ford and Han Solo so It hurts to write this, but I’m speaking technically, not emotionally. Of course I want Han Solo to be there. Two things, though: the presence of his character crowds out the development of Finn and especially Poe Dameron, who will obviously take over as the Han Solo type once Han is gone. And, is Han even necessary to the story as he appears in TFA? It was great to see Han and Leia–don’t get me wrong–but I felt like their quest slowed down the narrative drive of the movie. Han really does very little to move Rey along on her journey that another character could have done, and the Han-Leia story line forces the reveal of Kylo Ren’s identity way too early for my taste. Wouldn’t it have been better to leave Kylo Ren inside his mask until the third film, as with Anakin inside Darth Vader, to maintain the same mysterious, ominous aura as Darth Vader? And why does Kylo wear the helmet? Darth needed his helmet. Is Kylo just hiding? Wouldn’t it have been better to bring Han and Leia in on the third film to effect the same heartwrenching reveal and their quest to save their son?
9) Okay, one more–Luke Skywalker’s appearance at the end was EPIC: Rey’s journey to find Luke and his cinematic appearance was a fantastic bit of filmmaking and a great landing pace to await the next film in the series. His reaction to Rey handing him the light saber also has added meaning if he is aware that she is his daughter (I’m dang sure she is.) Also, if Han and Leia had not been in this film (and the whole parents seeking son and Kylo reveal-Han death was saved for a later film) then the only appearance of an original would be this last moment with Luke, and that would have made it even more powerful.
There are a few of my thoughts. I love the movie. Author Chuck Wendig called Star Wars: the Force Awakens a love letter to the original Star Wars. I couldn’t agree more. It has a few story issues, glitches and coincidental turns and it can’t escape hewing too tightly to the structure of the original film. It doesn’t matter. It has finally arrived. It is perfect. It is mine. And it is ours.