Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New Star Wars Movie
[KINDA SPOILERS AHEAD]
Don’t let my subtitle fool you—I actually really enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I saw it twice and can’t wait to see it again! However, as one of the most highly anticipated films in decades and what will likely be the highest grossing film of all time in the next week (with every word I type it probably makes another $1 million), it was hard to put all my thoughts together in an unbiased film review — after all, I don’t want to be one of the few saying “it’s really not that good”. But what I know now is that as The Force Awakens has marinated in my mind over the past two weeks, I now know that I didn’t just like the film, I actually loved the film. Everything I initially took exception to I have now found justification for, and that’s how my review will unfold:
Star Wars was always meant to be adventurous and operatic, but most of all, fun. Sometimes it’s a cop out to describe a film as “fun” since it may imply there was no substance or emotional depth beneath the style and enjoyable pace. What Star Wars: The Force Awakens offers is both. At no point during the film was I uninvested in the characters OR bored of the action. Credit is due to all involved parties: the actors, filmmakers, editors, cinematographers, composers, etc. The Force Awakens rediscovers the simple sense of adventure and dramatic arcs that defined the original trilogy. There are no trade embargoes here—these aren’t the storylines you’re looking for! Instead, we get battles between good and evil, romance, power struggles and familial drama. And, lots of humor. Oh, how I missed Star Wars humor. The Force Awakens recaptures a spirit of fun and cheekiness, primarily aided by excellent newcomers Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) and of course, ever-scrappy smuggler heartthrob Han Solo (a spry 73 yr old Harrison Ford). Some have pointed out that The Force Awakens is basically a “remake” of A New Hope. To that I say – who cares!? There’s enough differentiation and enjoyment to be okay with some plot rehashing. The thematic addition of history repeating itself isn’t a bad thing, either. We see it in the real world, so to see it in the Star Wars universe adds some interesting relevancy.
If the CG glove fits… Here may be the most polarizing aspect of the new Star Wars film. The original trilogy has been praised from its initial release to this day for its usage of practical effects. The prequels were torn to pieces for their reliance on cartoonish looking CGI. While J.J. Abrams decided to stick closely to old school practical effects for many of the creatures and sets in The Force Awakens, there are still some additional motion capture creatures (a few of them significant characters) and of course, a fair amount of CG landscapes and aerial dogfights. The latter we can deal with as long as it looks good and not like Cartoon Network. The effects look fantastic and are thrilling to watch. But the CG characters, upon initial inspection, look a bit cartoonish and out-of-place. Films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series are more well-known for their CG characters, and so seeing characters that look like they’ve been pulled directly from those universes is a bit jarring and distracting. Of course, you’ll also wonder like myself why they designed the characters as they did, since there’s been proof that motion captured CG performances can benefit from excellent creature design (Avatar, District 9, Planet of the Apes, etc.). But let’s focus on these characters’ dialogue rather than their looks. They do serve a good purpose and are welcome additions to the Star Wars universe, and we’ll see how their involvement continues in one way or another throughout the new trilogy. And so, we must come to terms with the fact that we are in a CGI dominated film industry and that we should look for substance over style—both which failed for Episode I’s Jar Jar Binks. If I really think about it, if given the choice between seeing a new Star Wars character with more than a sentence of dialogue/few seconds of screen time be an extravagantly costumed actor or a puppet, or a motion-captured CGI character, I may choose the latter. The grass is always greener on the other side, and what we may feel we desire may look a little too much like a Muppets movie more than a modern sci-fi tale.
Come to terms with the story developments that make sense to the movies but aren’t what you had hoped for. The Star Wars films have centered on two primary themes since Empire Strikes Back — the relationships between parents and their children, and destiny. Granted, as I mentioned in the first section, these two dramatic themes are packaged with relative simplicity within a family-friendly adventure saga meant to be fun above all else. So when there’s a big or small plot hole, or a beloved character dies, just roll with it, cool? A New Hope came out at a time when the world wasn’t able to log online and post every little intricate detail about what makes sense and doesn’t make sense about the movie. There are, indeed, tons of plot hole and illogical things about the first movie. So, why rip apart the new one for similar reasons? The prequels weren’t bad because they had plot holes, or because there was an abundance of CGI — they were bad because stupid storylines were introduced that didn’t fit in the Star Wars universe and because the dialogue was idiotic at best.
With The Force Awakens, we’re treated to a film that celebrates the greatest aspects of a beloved franchise while introducing engaging new elements and characters who’ll become the newest great aspects as the story continues. I truly believe that now that the magic is back, we’ll get an emotionally charged follow-up in 2017’s Episode VIII that embraces the original trilogy’s family-oriented treatment of adult themes. Either way, As long as the story stays strong and Rey, Finn, and Poe are on screen, it’ll continue to be great.
If you didn’t already know, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in ALL theaters now.