Nothing beats New Years with the family. Especially when that includes two sets of grandparents eager to look after the baby so me and the Mrs. can watch Star Wars. This is the first movie we’ve been to in a long time. A long time. Did it live up to the hype and hope? Read on.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt
Quick Review: Abrams knows how to make a fun ride and works well with a thick mythology. This almost makes this a perfect match. There is a lot of fun and go with perhaps a too short supply of mysticism. Unfortunately for all his fun action sense, Abrams never seems to know how to properly end a movie. This movie wraps up in a way that can best be explained with a shoulder shrug and grumbling that the force did it. Basically what you would expect. Fun without wowing. Better than the prequels by a huge margin without coming too close to the original trilogy.
Spoilers lurk below!
Analysis: Now, before anyone gets me wrong, I did like this movie. There are some super performances. My take away favorite was John Boyega as Finn. It helps that he also struck me as the most rounded of the new cast. He almost made me cry. Daisy Ridley also delivered a solid performance, but she had a little less to work with. And there is adventure and fun dripping all over the place.
But, I’m not sure if it adds up to much more than a fun popcorn movie set in the Star Wars universe. And maybe that is all it needs to be. But I think we’d all be lying if we didn’t admit we want more from this franchise.
Just looking at the sides involved in the conflict of the movie gets me a little confused. There is the Republic, which comes from the Rebellion. And the First Order (which is a name that doesn’t thrill me) that springs from the Empire. But then there is the Resistance that is against the First Order. Then what is the Republic doing? And how is the power balance? These are questions that we pretty much get given in the opening scene of Star Wars, but are completely lacking here. At the end of the movie I don’t know if the Republic exists in any form.
One new thing about this movie might have more to do with me. I think this is the first Star Wars movie where I am older than the main cast. Which isn’t necessarily a problem. They are kind of doing Star Wars, The New Gang thing where all the members are young and hip and learning all the things the original cast learned. Like Saved by the Bell. And this works for Finn and Rey, and, heck why not, Poe. But, the bad guys all seem so young. Kylo Ren and not-Peter-Cushing-at-all just seem like babies. Maybe I’ve just hit the point where I don’t see how someone who could (on-screen) be as young as college-aged or even high school lead a threatening campaign against the universe. Or maybe that is weird and was just cheap casting because more and more executives believe no one wants to pretend to be older than 25 anymore.
But really, the big problem with this movie is the ending. Every thing else, sure, why not. But the ending. And I don’t even mean the death of Han Solo. Although they felt far to obvious. It was such a throwback to Star Wars that it really robbed itself of the surprise that it was obvious the film was striving for. (Although, that death also read as Harrison Ford doing one, and only one!, more appearance in a Star Wars film.)
What really shook me up was Ren vs. Rey. The whole movie was a poem about Ren as an evil powerhouse doing evil because evil. And sure, Rey is a strong and gifted plucky youngster who has a secret strength in the force. And both of those are so Star Wars my teeth hurt. But in the climactic fight Rey wins. Because the Force. It doesn’t matte that she has never even held a lightsaber before. She wins. Because the Force. And because Abrams doesn’t know how to properly end a movie.
I could ramble on about how The Force Awakens feels very much like an RPG rather than a movie. The main characters even have their own class system. I could comment on how perhaps Star Wars works better with a clear cut main protagonist instead of chopping things up between three and losing focus. I could even mention that mysterious parentage is a part of Star Wars that should be put away for a while and certainly not occupy two of the main characters (and I’m not even counting Finn because I assume his parents don’t matter.)
Wrap Up: At the end, it was a fun movie. It doesn’t hit that sweet spot of the classics but it also isn’t a terrible drudge like the prequels. The cast veers closer to the age I associate with Disney Channel graduates and the Big Picture elements of the story fall apart if you look at them too close. If it weren’t for the Abrams ending, I’d probably be a lot happier.