I don’t consider myself a reviewer. Truth be told, I am a fanboy. And Star Wars is my ultimate currency. Case in point, I saw a preview screening of The Force Awakens yesterday. There were about fifteen critics in the theater with me. A discussion started up with a rather loud woman as she was questioning the relationship between Han Solo and Chewbacca. It started with how they first met, to why they stayed together for so long. It devolved into speculation that they were an interspecies couple. I am naturally introverted, but I couldn’t take the ignorance anymore. My inner nerd exploded in frustration. I interrupted her and asked if she would like to hear the backstory. Luckily she did. I simply explained that Chewbacca was a slave to the Empire and Han Solo freed the wookie from his servitude. This created a life debt that Chewie has maintained ever since, which developed into an amazing friendship. The look of awe in her eyes as she stared at an honest to god nerd was somewhat embarrassing, but allowed for a much needed epiphany. I was surrounded by critics who may or may not like Star Wars. I stood out like a sore thumb in my Boba Fett designer sweatshirt. Unlike most of them, I was there for my latest religious experience.
Why is this important? Because I am 100% biased when it comes to Star Wars. I often come off as a George Lucas apologist. But I also have extremely nerdy issues with what I consider continuity and logistical errors that include the extended universe. There was a time when I knew just about all there was to know in regards to the Star Wars universe. I lost a lot of that expertise when the prequels were released. Not from a a lack of interest, but more so because of time commitments. Many a nerd vehemently critiqued episodes I, II and III. I, on the other hand, love the universe that was opened as a result. There are several phenomenal books and animations from that era of Star Wars.
I say all this because once Disney bought Lucasfilm, the canon and thus my knowledge of Star Wars diminished greatly. I had zero knowledge of this new universe created for The Force Awakens and worse yet, I had preconceived notions because of the extended universe that no longer existed.
So with that very long preface, I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens yesterday (for reference, it was 2D, Non IMAX). Obviously I have been asked several times, “what did you think?”
That is a very difficult question to answer at this point. It’s not that it’s bad. But I also didn’t leave the theater overwhelmed with joy. It definitely left me with a lot to think about. Perhaps the best positive from the screening is I want more and I want it now. For the first time in a long time, the Star Wars universe is a blank slate and I find myself ignorant.
Here is what I can say with confidence. The Star Wars universe would be a lot better off and safer without the Skywalker clan in it. With that being said, the main thread of bringing balance to the force still exists. And needless to say, it is not in balance.
There is literally no better experience in the world for me than to watch a new Star Wars film in the theater. I don’t care what the final result is. The expectation is amazing and the first five minutes always transports me back to my childhood. Even when I first saw the prequels. Here’s a snapshot of the most recent experience. The Disney opening credits roll, which is slightly weird because I still expect the 20th Century Fox searchlights, but I digress. The Lucasfilm banner then sparkles into existence with its iconic intro music. Finally the John Williams score introduces the opening scroll. Every single time I see this for a new film, I get goosebumps and the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. This is the moment I relish the most. And this opening scroll was epic, immediately answering a lot of questions we have been asking since the film was announced.
This new film, although bringing back some of the original cast, introduces so many new characters and organizations that I was immediately confused. This is also where my lack of knowledge and my incessant need to know everything, hinders an unbiased critique. Case in point, the Empire doesn’t exist. Sounds simple enough, but it surprised me to find that there aren’t even remnants of it á la Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. Plus with all the stormtroopers and TIE Fighters in the trailers, I just assumed we were looking at a new Empire. Obviously that’s on me. Instead we have a new big bad group called the First Order, led by a mysterious figure known only as Supreme Leader Snoke. Likewise the Rebellion doesn’t exist. Why would it? But in it’s place we have the Resistance. Which begs the obvious question, how did we go from the events of Return of the Jedi to this new world of The Force Awakens? I have no idea. And that’s my problem. There are similar revelations that come off as confusing and somewhat retcon the universe. But as Obi-Wan tells Luke in Return of the Jedi, “So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”
The other major negative I will point to were what I would call the George Lucas cute moments. Somehow these moments were successful in the original trilogy. It could simply boil down to me being a child when I first saw them. Now they come off as cutesy annoying. Most of them are fleeting in The Force Awakens, but one in particular just seemed unnecessarily long. The scene occurs when we first meet up with Han and Chewie. I won’t spoil the events, but I felt like this five minutes of onscreen action did nothing to add to the overall film. I honestly have no idea why the sequence made it into the final cut, but it definitely felt like J.J. Abrams was doing his best George Lucas impersonation.
I don’t want anyone to think The Force Awakens was bad. Far from it. There were a lot of great moments. And I truly believe that this film will only get better upon further viewings and with more information from future films. I think Lucasfilm had a monumental task and they tried to accomplish a lot.
Here’s what I really liked.
The imagery and use of TIE fighters and X-Wings was beautiful. Although the galactic dogfighting was always great in the Star Wars films, we get to see up close fighting on planet and in close quarters. This just added a great level of intensity to the fighting. And even though the prequels are relatively new, there have been major advancements in CG technology since Revenge of the Sith and it’s one hundred percent evident with the action on the screen.
I thought the acting was fantastic. There were moments early on that were stilted and reminded me of certain elements in The Phantom Menace. I was really nervous this would be the tone for the rest of the film. Thankfully this was not true at all. John Boyega is phenomenal as Finn, a disenfranchised stormtrooper running from the First Order. Daisy Ridley, playing Rey, carried herself extremely well as a central figure in the story. Adam Driver was absolutely believable as the driven bad guy Kylo Ren. Domhnall Gleeson was perfect as stick up his ass General Hux. It was also great to see the return of the originals. Harrison Ford was fun, but Chewbacca really stole the show. Carrie Fisher was subtle, which is not usually a word associated with her, but her new turn as General Organa was tortured. And she pulled it off perfectly. This is not the Princess Leia we remember. C-3PO and R2-D2 add their unique mechanical take, but make no mistake about it, BB-8 steals the show when it comes to droids.
Something occurred to me as I was watching this episode. Star Wars, as it was originally meant to be, is a serial. These are stories meant to continue with little to no endpoint in sight. To date we have been trained to see Star Wars as having an ending that would bring balance to the Force. And with the prequels, we knew that story. We knew where those films would lead us. There was very little mystery in regards to that. But with these new films, we have no idea where they are going. We truly have a big fat ‘To be continued…’ staring at us every time the credits roll. I think this is why I’m having such a hard time wrapping my head around this newest installment. To steal from another great sci-fi franchise, the future is not written.
All in all, this film will stand solidly in the middle of the pack of the Star Wars franchise. Perhaps pulling even with Return of the Jedi if I was able to shed the nostalgia that goes with that film. I can’t wait to see future films and learn more. My biggest suggestion for all potential viewers, try to go in without preconcieved notions and expectations. Just enjoy the film for what it is, the long awaited addition to an amazing (new) universe.
I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Check out the trailer below:
I have had new insight with each viewing of the movie, s0 I created a new video for each experience. Check them out below.
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