Star Wars: The Franchise Awakens!

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterAt long last… after all the hype, all the talk, all the anticipation, and all the waiting – I had to avoid great, sweeping swathes of the internet to evade the rampant spoilers – I finally saw Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens! Whoo!

I can’t help feeling a little late, as pretty much everyone and their dog has long since posted their reviews of this movie, but better late than never, eh?

So, what do I think of it?

Well, there’s a lot of love, and more than a little hate, all over the internet. Two sides, one coin, I figure, and both sides have some pretty good justification for their stances.

It’s worth noting, we can’t help comparing it to six other films. It’s a bit much for any single film to be compared to two complete trilogies, but it’s unavoidable. Still, it holds its own. For my own comparison, Force Awakens absolutely rises far above the prequel trilogy, improving what they did right (visual effects and action sequences) and skipping what they did wrong. I’d put it on fairly even ground with the original series. It has its flaws, but those are entirely of its own making, and most of what the first three movies got right (practical effects, emotional highs and lows, even connection with the characters), Force Awakens did with a more evolved approach to storytelling. Translation: it did what first three movies did, but better.

It’s saturated with homages to the original movies, as if J.J. Abrams and the rest decided to open their new trilogy with a statement of “This is the real Star Wars, George Lucas! This is what we liked about it!” I can see how that could feel tiring after a couple of hours, but I loved it! It was so much fun! And for having so much of the original trilogy within this single movie, it remains its own creation, with its own identity. It’s sort of like looking at a child and seeing their parents within them.

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

“We have no idea where that idea would come from.”

Which is an oddly appropriate metaphor, I’d say. We have three or four particularly important younger members of the cast, and at least three of them have serious issues with who they are and where they come from. Skating around spoilers as much as possible, their assorted issues are what drive each of them, and much of the plot, and carry the themes of the movie. Indeed, it’s the characters who carry this movie overall, rather than the effects (a rather pointed advantage over the prequels).

But even that is a double-edged sword. When the characters fail to carry their own weight, that’s when the movie trips up, practically falling flat on its face. When failures in question are the most beloved heroes we recognize from the original Star Wars trilogy… well, no one likes seeing their heroes fall, ya know? At least, not without seeing them get back up. Oh, and we get awkward, unfulfilling exposition too. So, basically, we’re loving the next generation, but it seems the previous generation utterly failed, which seems to be a recurring thing with Star Wars, ya know?

There was one character, roughly a thousand years old, who refers to the struggle against the Dark Side of the Force as “the only battle.” We’ve seen Obi-Wan’s generation fail and get slaughtered, and now we’ve seen Luke Skywalker’s generation win a great victory only to lose everything all over again, which is really depressing to think about. Especially when a good chunk of their eventual failure is simply because the next generation of villains is deposing them. So what hope do our younger heroes have now?

"It took six movies, several decades, and large piles of bodies to defeat me, and still your pitiful little heroes are fighting my Empire, and losing! Mwahahah!"

“It took six movies, several decades, and large piles of bodies to defeat me, and still your pitiful little heroes are fighting my Empire, and losing! Mwahahah!”

It makes for a very dark and jarring texture to the film, a bit like Revenge of the Sith or Empire Strikes Back, but so much more potent. That’s carried over to the villains in general, now able to actually do evil, merciless things in cold blood, on screen. The stormtroopers were a dangerous collection of enemy soldiers, while Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader Snoke, and General Hux were clearly all zealous disciples of darkness. Kylo Ren, especially, was a frightening enemy, but with a volatile temperament I could see becoming his exploited weakness. Mind you, I was expecting something more out of Phasma, the female villain, but she was secondary to the others.

The villains are definitely what make this a PG-13 movie. It’s a very accurate rating, for once, by the MPAA. On which note, I think George Lucas’ title, “Shadow of the Empire” would have been much more fitting than “The Force Awakens,” ya know?

There are a few other things, including some unresolved gaps in the story structure that make me suspect these new movies will play out smoothly as a single epic, and some campy moments (that concluding scene left something to be desired…), but overall, I still had great fun watching this movie! As I said about the characters, they carry this film. The relationships between Finn, Rey, Po, and BB8 are especially great, and believable. Most of them haven’t known each other for long by film’s end, but they go through the fire together, and that can forge some strong bonds pretty quickly. Those bonds prove significant to the plot, the conflict, and the themes of light and darkness.

All in all, we have a highly enjoyable adventure that spans worlds as the war between good and evil plays out on a very personal level. There are worse recipes to follow in storytelling! 🙂

I am rating The Force Awakens at 8 stars out of 10, being pretty darn good but with some telling flaws.

Grade: B-Plus!

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2 Responses to Star Wars: The Franchise Awakens!

  1. Abby says:

    nice review Michael! you write beautifully. and nice job keeping your review spoiler-free!

    Like

    • Merlin says:

      Thank you! Though, I must admit, when I was writing it up the first time, there were a number of spoilers… which made it plodding and dull, so they had to go! 😉

      Like

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