6 months ago I wasn’t counting down the days to this film’s release.
3 months ago I remembered it was coming out soon and I told myself, “ok, 12 weeks to go.”
A month ago I started counting days, and by the time December 15th rolled around, I was counting minutes in my work day, hours before the next day, all the way up to 1230 am on Friday December 18th, when I finally saw it. And going in, I was afraid. I sensed much fear in me. I was afraid I might have one of these
However, I came out of the film with one of these
The hype machine Disney built was masterfully engaged, giving us just enough to tantalize but not overfill us before the actual event. Raising enough questions and evoking enough nostalgia while not giving us too much too quickly. And that technique was mirrored in the film itself.
Just the right balance of old and new. As if Abrams was a force user, trying to balance the light and dark.
And this movie, though logically and formally not quite perfect, perfectly knows its place in the star wars continuity and excellently fulfills its purpose in taking us forward in the saga of the Skywalkers and Solos while bringing the best of what came before along for the ride.
There’s so much to talk about, so much that has been written about how JJ Abrams’ film used what came from the original filming techniques to its advantage, it’s almost overwhelming to even address : The use of conventional film and practical effects in the movie to evoke an older feel, the cinematography cues from the original films, the music score incorporating old themes, etc. All these were used masterfully to frame our experience as a Star wars fan attending the film with the following intent: as Star Wars fans (JJ included) it’s what we wanted.
But was it too much of what we wanted? Critics have pointed out that plot point for plot point, this film is almost the same as Episode 4. Rey’s arc through the story is quite similar to Luke’s journey. Kylo’s character arc with his father is a mirrored version of Luke’s and Anakin’s. Sure there are new characters, but they are doing the same things as the old characters. Is this too much fan service?
I think fan service would have meant not killing Han, meant rekindling the romance between he and Leia, meant having Luke jump into Yoda level Jedi action at the first sign of the dark side, meant cameos from Lando and Boba Fett and ::shudder:: even Vader himself. It would have been very easy to go overboard, especially for a fanboy like JJ, but they were smart(ish): they reigned it in a bit and it worked. Sure there were plot holes and inconsistencies which have been analyzed, and a movie should be judged by how well it sticks to the rules it sets down. But Star Wars is a fantasy, and the story of heroes and their journeys, and I think this film should be judged more on how it kept those merits consistent and true than on how the hell the Star Killer base could be so conveniently navigated and why it could destroy 5 targets with one laser in another solar system and yet be seen by heroes in an entirely different solar system all at the same time. (Trying to control the science nerd in me now!).
If this was a Star Trek movie, this scientific inconsistency would be unforgivable ( and the way JJ handles the science and consistency is his Star Trek reboot was not the greatest) but Star Wars is fantasy, more akin to LOTR, than anything like Star Trek, which is science fiction, so these details don’t matter as much in relation to what makes the movie work well to its audience.
So how well did our heroes do when judged by how their journeys played out in relation to the theme of the film? What is the theme of the film? Well, let’s see. Most of them were fearful and cowardly at the start, except for Poe Dameron. His arc as a character was minimal. He was more of an optimistic showpiece. He is confident and strong, even in the face of mental torture from Kylo Ren, and stays that way to the end.
But as for the others, here we go!
Finn wanted to escape the First Order and run away. Rey was afraid if she left Jakku she would never see her family. Han was afraid to face his family after he failed to save his son from the dark side. Kylo Ren was afraid he would never be strong enough to kill his father and pursue his dream of embodying the qualities of his grandfather. Leia was afraid piecing her family and probably afraid of letting the fledgling Republic and Resistance down. Luke is off somewhere being afraid of who knows what? His failure? His own power? Kylo’s power? Snoke’s?
This movie is about fear. And overcoming it.
And how did the characters do that? Finn faced the First Order to get Rey. Rey left Jakku, helped the Resistance, faced some very scary new force powers and hunted down Luke. After admitting his failure as a father to Leia, Han faced down his son and died trying to get him back. Kylo faces his fear of the light, represented by his father, resists it, and kills him, fulfilling his desire to embody Darth Vader’s strength. Leia didn’t stand up to anyone or do anything really, except lead the Resistance against the First Order, but that’s her comfort zone. That’s what she does. Though a strong act in itself, it didn’t put her in a new place, give her something new to conquer. She didn’t go after Kylo with Han. She didn’t go after Luke either, so she’s the only one that didn’t face down here fear here. As Luke triumph over his fears, well, that remains to be seen.
So on the merits of staying consistent to a theme set down by the character flaws of 5 leads, and moving the characters along a fantastical hero’s journey, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is 4 for 5, which isn’t bad at all! Too bad the one character that didn’t face up to the fear had to be a princess. Guess we still haven’t moved the needle on that one.
As for the future, though both Episodes 4 and 7 have many parallels, they are products of different generations and therefore they have a whole galaxy of different places to go. As JJ will not be directing the next film ( though he will be a producer) there will be different stylistic and plot directions that shall take hold, and we will hopefully see an even more diverse and expansive Star Wars galaxy develop, taking us in new directions with the new characters to new places while at the same time keeping what we love about Star Wars alive: its brilliant score, its amazing practical and digital effects, its wry humor, its hope for redemption, the thrill of an adventure that means something to both the child and the grown up in us, while letting the memory of who and what came long before surround it, penetrate it, and bind it together; but not define it.