[Statements, opinion, and views expressed in this column are those of the author named and are not necessarily those of the EllwoodCity.org and Thought Process Enterprises team.]
[The following review contains no spoilers.]
I didn’t have high expectations for “The Force Awakens.” I’ve learned over the years that setting the bar too high leads to sitting in the theater in confused disappointment as the credits roll. After all, how good could a seventh movie in a series be, especially compared to the incomparable glory of the original trilogy?
I can’t say I’ve been waiting 30 years for “The Force Awakens,” but I did see the original Star Wars in the early 90’s, before I had seen a single action-packed, CGI heavy movie, and my childhood imagination was indeed swept away to a galaxy far far away.
As an older child, it was fun seeing the prequel trilogy in the theater but over the years, my excitement over Star Wars simmered and died. The originals were long ago, and the prequels were bogged down by cheesy dialogue, uneven humor, terrible pacing, bad character development and slaughtering… younglings. Plus Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mole creeped at me throughout “Revenge of the Sith.”
Beyond that, the most exciting aspect of the entire prequel story, the Clone Wars, was told through a cartoon series.
So when I found out George Lucas’s hair had sold George Lucas’s franchise to Disney, and J.J. Abrams was directing the next movie, I was nonplussed. But as I went to the theater 4:30 on Sunday, only to find out the showing was sold out and subsequently bought tickets for a 7 showing, I was refilled with childhood excitement at once again being swept away to a world of lightsabers and quirky droids.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
The Force Awakens isn’t just a good movie, it’s as close to being on par with the originals as possible. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in theaters in at least eight years.
J.J. Abrams gave fans what we wanted: the return of iconic characters and settings with equally interesting new elements. There were no annoying animated sidekicks, long Senate negotiations or painfully angsty romances, and I’m very pleased to say that no midi-chlorians made an appearance.
This was a bit of a surprise as Abrams didn’t do a stellar job at the helm of the Star Trek reboot. Lens flare, too much action, uneven humor and a shocking lack of comprehension of what Star Trek is actually about contributed to that.
On the other hand, the camera work for The Force Awakens was outstanding, especially during the lightsaber fight which more closely resembled an actual historical sword fight than a dazzling display of inhuman acrobats.
It goes to show that having a good director that actually likes the franchise is more important than merely having a good director.
Abram’s second Star Trek installment, “Into Darkness,” more or less undermined the thematic integrity of the franchise by casting Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the whitest humans alive, as Khan, a canonically Sikh character.
Meanwhile, The Force Awakens introduces us to two new heroes, one is black and the other a woman, reflecting the social changes between the 80’s and now. Indeed, women on CinemaScore under the age of 25 actually gave the movie a higher rating on average than other demographics.
The villains are still evil British people in Fascist uniforms, which still makes sense.
Oddly enough, the movie didn’t have that much action and that was by far part of its success. A standard action movie of today is more concerned with how many explosions it can fit into a two plus hour movie, rather than plot and character development. By this point in the 21st century, we’ve seen enough big buildings blow up, vehicle chases and one guy killing 20 paper Mache opponents to last a lifetime.
Unlike the paradigm of today’s action movies, the Force Awakens didn’t feel like a trip through an empty green room. In “Revenge of the Sith,” when Obi-Wan Kenobi has no reaction to General Grievous pulling out four light sabers, it might be because Ewan McGregor was looking at absolutely nothing when the scene was filmed.
Despite CGI coming a long way in the past fifteen years, it’s still no substitute to using real-world sets. In “The Force Awakens,” most of the locations seemed like…locations.
While the movie was definitely derivative of the original Lucas trilogy in both plot and aesthetics, that’s really what we wanted all along, and the repetition seems more like history iterating itself in a predictable but believable fashion rather than a lack of imagination on the part of the creators.
Disney, Abrams and the cast, old and new, refilled a cynical heart with a child’s sense of wonder. And that’s the greatest Christmas gift anyone can receive.
On behalf of myself and the rest of the Ellwoodcity.org Staff, Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. See you Monday.