Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

Director/Coscreenwriter: J. J. Abrams

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By Roderick Heath

Here there be spoilers.

And so it begins. Again. After months of feverish anticipation, it finally came down to me amidst a movie theatre filled by fans, many dressed as their favourite Star Wars characters. Some recoil from the way such popular material can suck up all the oxygen of cultural discussion, but I can’t help feeling enormously cheered when surrounded by people who love a story and a way of seeing so much that it inspires them to throw out the usual rules about how we’re supposed to treat the products of imagination in real life. Amidst such cultish fervour, however, it can also be hard to formulate an objective opinion. J. J. Abrams now lives out the dream of so many in the audience who saw the first Star Wars back in 1977 in relaunching the series for a new time and generation, skewing it back toward his understanding of what made it great in the first place. Abrams is, of course, the former scribe of TV shows, including Lost and Alias, who graduated to making films with the nervy action thriller Mission: Impossible 3 (2006), the big, fun, rather dumb rebooted Star Trek movies, and his best to date, the deeply personal, if derivative, semiclassic, Super 8 (2011).

Auteurist scruples may wince at the prospect, but then again, just as George Lucas was so ready to remix his favourite old movies into something for himself, the time had come, apparently, when someone can do the same to Lucas’ model. The new Star Wars entry comes weighed down with a colossal amount of expectation amongst many hardcore and casual fans, most of who want to bury the memory of Lucas’ prequels that I spent so many digits exploring recently. I like the prequels, and my set of expectations are inevitably different. I’m a fan of the series, of Lucas as a filmmaker, and of fantastic movies in general, a set of loyalties that can converge neatly—or twist in gruelling discursions.

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The Force Awakens nonetheless studiously hits all the right notes from the outset— the classic title swooping away from the camera, the expository screen crawl, the first glimpse of something awesome deep in outer space. In this case, it’s a Star Destroyer appearing as a silhouette against a planet and disgorging a swarm of smaller space ships like some monstrous arachnid. The crawl does a fair job setting up the essential story: the Republic is faltering, a bunch of Imperial holdouts calling themselves the First Order are on the march, and Luke Skywalker has disappeared. First Order jackboots, including new dark lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Stormtroop commander Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), are chasing down dashing X-wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who’s on a mission to retrieve a map that may show Luke’s whereabouts. Poe receives the map from an old rebel adherent, Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow, pitifully wasted), on the desert planet Jakku, but Ren and his thugs arrive, forcing Poe to hide the map in his droid BB-8 just before he’s captured. The First Order thugs massacre Tekka and his fellow villagers, but one Stormtrooper, whose only moniker is FN-2187 (John Boyega), is disgusted with the slaughter. He helps Poe escape Kylo’s clutches, albeit not before Kylo uses his skill with the Force to extract the map’s whereabouts. Poe gives his rescuer a proper name, Finn, based on his number, and they escape in a TIE fighter. The craft is damaged, and they crash-land on Jakku. Finn thinks Poe has died and starts searching for BB-8 alone, only to be adopted quickly by venturesome young salvager, Rey (Daisy Ridley). Duo and droid flee First Order forces, and eventually hijack an old, battered spaceship found lying about a Jakku junkyard. Whaddaya know, it’s the Millennium Falcon.

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The Force Awakens works well up to this point. Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac are able to create likeable heroes and strong repartee with surprising fleetness, setting up this fresh roster of characters in the context of a new era whilst also counterpointing the story beats of the very first Star Wars film in a way that feels apt to the basic patterning that has dominated the series. Rey is, like Anakin and Luke Skywalker, the product of a desolate environment and even more hardscrabble existence, and Finn recalls Han Solo and Lando Calrissian in his determination to do right in spite of a morally compromised past. BB-8 is an ingeniously designed and executed new droid who has to bear all the heavy lifting of cute appeal in this edition, for precious little kid-friendly whimsy will be allowed to slip through tightened fanboy security. Isaac, in particular, is instantly convincing: his natural charisma and swagger, so often damped down in more earnest performances and films, makes Poe a real focal point — so, of course, the film leaves him out of its middle act. Abrams’ insistence on returning as much as possible to “practical” special effects, replete with model work and life-size mock-ups, pays the most obvious dividends. The physical world here has texture, and the technical production is magnificent, every ray gun blast and engine noise registering with thrumming force, every spaceship seeming real and tactile. If Abrams achieves nothing else, it might be that he does something similar to what Lucas, Spielberg, and the other Movie Brats accomplished in their day for his own contemporary cinema: reinvigorate the love of craft and sense of film production as a near-religious event.

Chewy

Rey and Finn’s first adventure in the Falcon, dodging TIE fighters inside the strewn wrecks of cast-off Imperial death machines, is dynamically staged, and carries thematic force—the world of the old Star Wars films is now a dramatic scrap heap, a legendary time given way to an age of fractious decay needing new blood and gumption. But The Force Awakens starts to go awry here, too. The arch touch of finding the Falcon in such a circumstance is wittily purveyed, but segues into a desperately flimsy reintroduction for Han (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who have just returned to their old lives as smugglers because, as Han says at one point, it’s “the only thing I was ever good at.” You’ve gotta be kidding me, Abrams. Han and Chewie, appearing in a big, junky smuggling ship, zero in on the Falcon and pick it up. They hold off some disgruntled clientele and marauding monsters in a sequence that comes across more as a big-budget Red Dwarf gag than Star Wars-grade fare, and Abrams gets to do one of his trademark breathless but unimaginative run-about-hallways action scenes. The best news is that Ford is at the top of his game here, slipping back into Han like a second skin and tossing off his bluffs and grouchy quips with sublime ease. But this is part of the problem, too. Howard Hawks, one of Lucas’ masters and models, knew very well that he couldn’t utilise John Wayne the same way in El Dorado (1966) as he had in Red River (1948), and apart from Han’s tentative reunion with Leia late in the piece, there’s little convincing sense of character development. Abrams offers the juice of seeing an old friend, but with the dispiriting corollary of finding that old friend is still a screw-up. Of course, there’s a reason for this, such as it is.

Hux

It’s not surprising that Abrams is confident in making a continuation that gives us “what we want.” Any experienced TV writer learns quickly how to move onto a project and mimic the qualities that sustain a successful show. Here that honed skill is matched to a fan’s fetishism for the look, sound, and tenor of the original trilogy. The Force Awakens bends over backwards to operate like someone just took all the old Star Wars toys out of your bottom drawer and started playing with them again, at the expense of developing Lucas’ fantasy world in any meaningful way. Spent the last 30 years wondering what the rebuilt Jedi Order would look like, how Han would take to being a war hero and husband to a princess, what the rebuilt Republic would be like? Abrams answers these questions by negating them, hitting the reset button and returning the narrative to comfortable, fan-service postures. Luke’s in narrative purgatory, the Jedi are a nonstarter, Han’s gone rogue again, and Leia’s now a general, which means she does the same thing here as she did in the finale of the original—stand around watching glowing maps. The Republic is up and running once more, but fragile, and the First Order is being fought by “the Resistance,” which is basically the Rebel Alliance with a mandate, still scrappy, outmatched outsiders. The First Order looks, sounds, and operates exactly the same as the Empire though they seemingly have none of that entity’s resources or purview. Having experienced two giant variations on the Maginot Heresy already with the Death Star, here is, well, another Death Star, except it’s been constructed inside a planet and is called the Starkiller base: “It’s bigger!” Han cracks, a touch of knowing self-satire that doesn’t actually excuse the laziness of the story. The First Order have an overlord who’s come out of nowhere named Snoke (Andy Serkis)—wow, there’s a terrifying villain name—and looks like a bigger, even pastier and nastier version of Emperor Palpatine. His underlings Ren and Phasma are joined by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, overacting something shocking) to duke it out for most incompetent bad guy prize.

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The emotional element for many in seeing Han, Chewie, and Leia again after so many years presents Abrams with a ball he can’t possibly drop, and he doesn’t. Nor does he do anything interesting or enriching with it: Han and Leia stand around swapping a few feels, and then we’re off again. The habit of reviving iconic characters only to make them mere furniture or to bump one or two off for shock effect is one comic book readers mocked decades ago, and Abrams lets himself be drawn into the same trap, as indeed he already did on his Star Trek films. One of the major spoilers or whatever here is Kylo Ren’s identity: in a motif drawn from the expanded universe novels that followed the original trilogy but tweaked for the sake of independence, Kylo is actually Ben Solo, Han and Leia’s son, who’s fallen under the spell of the Dark Side. The absolute signature moment of the original trilogy was, of course, the revelation by Vader that he was Luke’s father. Think about that moment, how brilliantly powerful and climactic it was, how dramatically staged. Here, we learn Kylo’s real identity in a throwaway piece of exposition spouted by Snoke. Lame scarcely covers it. Kylo keeps Darth Vader’s melted helmet as a totem in his bedroom to spur his longing to become a worthy heir to the Sith lord’s power. Driver is competent in the role, but anyone who critiqued Hayden Christensen’s rather more complex performance as Anakin Skywalker should not have the gall to call this anything more persuasive. Indeed, the film badly lacks a truly potent and charismatic villain, someone to shock the narrative into feeling like anything more than a wire hanger to drape callbacks and footloose action on.

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I know this might sound rich coming from a guy who defended the writing of the prequels, but the script of The Force Awakens is weak in many respects. It struck me to be about three or four drafts away from optimal, and contains many familiar clichés of Abrams’ writing style—and contemporary screenwriting in general. Lawrence Kasdan might have been hired to give the script some gloss of familiarity with the original characters (he’s credited as cowriter along with Abrams and Michael Arndt), but too much of the film has Abrams’ rather more mechanical, weakly balanced sensibility. In its desperate need to get off to a high-powered start and stay in that gear, the sequences that have to bear the weight of character and story development, particular in the middle act when our heroes takes refuge in a bar run by gnomic alien crone Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), take on an awkward feel, at once rushed and laborious. Maz is a fascinating example of how an attempt to reproduce an element of the original trilogy (Yoda) finished up as a bland and forgettable placeholder, someone to nudge Rey along her path toward finding her inner Jedi and nothing more: no one will remember a thing this character says or does. Also, why net an actress of Nyong’o’s quality for such a fruitless aspect of the film? The film sets up a tension whereby Finn fears the inevitable moment when his Stormtrooper past will be revealed to Rey. The moment comes. There’s no payoff. We wait for Han and Leia to be reunited. They’re reunited. And we’re done. Compared with the way Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) wove Indy’s reunion with Marion as a screwball bickering scene in amidst thunderous action, this is strikingly witless. Indeed, for all the faults of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was a far more accomplished film than this in acknowledging aging heroes and weaving in legacy with derring-do.

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The Force Awakens is a paean to popcorn movies as an ideal, and it moves along with such rollercoaster verve and good spirits that it does fulfil that ideal to a great degree. But something’s been lost. For Lucas, even at his lowest ebbs, the Star Wars mystique was about something more, something richer and more conceptually challenging. The acting is “better” here than in the prequels, but largely because the actors are called upon to do much less complicated things, in that increasingly common pseudo-screwball, TV-influenced manner where they all but trip over their dialogue from having to rattle it off so quickly. Boyega and Ridley give mostly confident, broad performances where they nail what their characters are supposed to be doing in any given scene, as much as the script is clear about who they are and what they’re thinking and feeling, which isn’t as often as I’d like. Boyega has a good sense of humour and he conveys Finn’s anxiety well, a particularly neat turn from an actor whose most notable previous role, as the hapless leader of the gang of posturing toughs in Attack the Block (2011), was defined precisely by a lack of self-humour. But at no point was I ever convinced that this character had ever been ruthlessly trained since childhood as a killing machine and then discovered his humanity. This is actually a very cogent example of something I was getting at in my comments on the prequels, where Lucas tried so hard to make his characters operate according to the laws of his invented universe rather than dumping easy avatars into that world, which is exactly what Abrams and company have done. Ridley, who suggests this year’s model Keira Knightley, is sometimes a plucky lass with a line of good-golly-gosh faces and sometimes an omnicompetent Sarah Connor type, and the film is remarkably cagey—or lazy—in telling us who she is and how she got this way. A couple of the bad guys sneer about her being a scavenger, but this feels more like regulation screenwriting apparatus than a real goad to her class rage. Nonetheless, I liked Finn and Rey as protagonists: as this revived series goes on, they might be allowed to take these roles to some interesting places. Or maybe not.

Capture

I’m not sure what, if any, authentic emotional level Abrams works on, except for his love of classic Gen X action and scifi flicks, and the originals in this series above all. The sprawl of Lucas’ references was vast. Abrams’ take on Star Wars refers to almost nothing outside itself, except with some vague suggestion of an Islamic State programme of all-consuming absolutism behind the First Order, as well as the usual Nazi-authoritarian stuff. Given the post-Romanesque world of the collapsed Empire, there was a good opportunity to give the overarching narrative shape by referring to tales of Charlemagne and Arthur, rather than the Greek and German myths used in the original sextet. One of the best heroic images in the film, when Poe leads in a flight of Resistance X-Wings to battle like charging paladins or knights of the Round Table, grasps this concept. There’s also a hint of Excalibur surrounding the light saber left behind by Luke, which Rey finds hanging around in an odd place (but convenient for Abrams, who still has a poor sense of how to get characters around points A, B, and C) which seems to now choose its owner. But the really alarming side of The Force Awakens is that it completely lacks any kind of fresh, motivating frame of reference or core idea, or at least, none that’s allowed to make itself apparent. The original films never let concepts get in the way of a good story, but they were held together doggedly by Lucas’ carefully parsed underpinnings. It’s enough for Abrams that a character goes from zero to hero; that’s his and Hollywood’s current idea of mythic resonance. Some critics have congratulated this film for precisely the absence of mythological preoccupation. Go to hell, I say; then why am I watching this and not the 300 other action-adventure franchises out there?

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Abrams and his team have gone to great lengths to merely dress familiar things in new garb: here’s a new Emperor stand-in, here’s a Darth Vader wannabe, here’s a second-string Luke Skywalker, without pausing to let any of it breathe or gain substance. The original film took nearly an hour to leave Tatooine in the course of charting the events that set Luke on his journey, passing through stages of surprising stillness and quiet, evoking the meditative edge that often bubbled unexpectedly to the surface in places throughout the sextet. Lucas’ Jedi were thinkers and feelers; everyone here is a doer. Abrams grazes similar moments of horror to the death of Luke’s aunt and uncle and Anakin’s mother in noting the First Order’s violence, but it’s impersonal and offstage. Many branded the prequels as overly light and lacking grit, but The Force Awakens is actually far more blithe and evasive about the impact of violence. Many similarly derided the introduction of the idea of the midi-chlorians as a source for the Force as a misguided demystification of Lucas’ spiritual aspect, but here Abrams and company do something worse as the film reaches its climax and Rey literally gets her Jedi knight moves on in the course of battling Kylo. The whole point of the original trilogy was the process of developing the mental and spiritual discipline required to become a Jedi, and the prequels studied what horrible results could come of the process failing. To Abrams, it’s become just another cheap power fantasy.

Han Solo

The Starkiller base wipes out a few planets a la the destruction of Alderaan, but whereas that was Leia’s home and an immensely brutal act registered through her reaction delivered with a political purpose of tyrannising obedience out of Imperial subjects, here it’s just some places that get wiped out for no particular reason other than, well, the story needs to make us dislike the baddies some more. Such is the film’s great technical in-your-face bluster and swiftness of movement that the weakness of its story structure and designs is nearly obscured. Return of the Jedi saw the rebels embarking on a rather limp plan to foil their enemies’ defences, but that plotline now looks positively Machiavellian in cunning compared with the way Han and Finn take out the Starkiller base’s defences by holding Phasma at gunpoint and threatening her into lowering the shields. So much for these fanatically committed agents of evil. The second great spoiler here is that Kylo, when Han finally confronts him, kills his father, in a sequence deliberately reminiscent of the death of Obi-Wan in the original. That scene was wrenching and shocking in part because Lucas never really suggested it was going to be so momentous. Here Abrams telegraphs what’s going to happen so blatantly that I couldn’t feel even a flicker of surprise, or even much sadness. By this stage, Han is just another moving part amongst too many. But I did like the flicker of interesting ambiguity that strays into the scene—does Han realise what’s in Kylo’s heart and willingly sacrifice himself, or did he trust too much?—which lends the film momentary depth by offering the one vignette that isn’t plying the obvious.

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The Force Awakens is spectacular, of course, but there’s a difference between spectacular and spectacle. Spectacular is flash and impact; spectacle is lucid and grand. Lucas aimed to give a touch of the sublime in his sense of the cosmic, and so often had a poetic edge to his visuals to counterpoint the kinetic ferocity. His frames spoke of his love of the fantastic, his desire to share with the audience a sense of things vast and strange, even when his words failed him and his movies skidded. Nothing like the romantic vistas of Attack of the Clones get a look in here, and Abrams’ way of evoking the same kind of yearning in Rey as once possessed Luke, so eloquently captured in the famous sunset shot of the original, manifests as her watching a spaceship take off, without anything like the same sense of visual rapture conveying inner meaning. The Force Awakens deploys the same lexicon of fantastic images as Lucas created, the scale of his war machines and the martial vigour of the space battles and final light saber duel. But Abrams has no gift for spectacle, and apart from the few brief visions early in the film, like the wrecked carcasses of Star Destroyers and their cavernous innards, no grasp on the dreamlike sensibility that coiled throughout the original sextet, no feel for the dark and hushed places that often live in the corners of that fantasy world where the heroes often found some of their truest threats.

Luke

Abrams has been consistently improving as a director, and he restrains his messy instincts here to a great degree, imitating Lucas as much as possible. Yet his images never escape the realm of mere prose. The final battle sequences forget entirely about the space war raging above the heads of the duelling young warriors, and the Starkiller base blows up with scarcely a raised eyebrow: there’s no sense of the dramatic shape that made the original’s finale so enthralling. Here it’s just more cool, pretty things going zap and boom. Even the scene I praised earlier, of the Resistance’s charge, kind of comes to nothing. Finn and Rey’s attempt to bring Kylo down really gains strength, but this is then spoilt by Abrams’ need to give too much too soon. I’m being churlish to a deliberate degree, I’ll admit. The Force Awakens is a beautifully produced, solid, fast-paced and entertaining space adventure movie. But on some level, for all the familiar paraphernalia and exacting tribute, I felt like it was barely a Star Wars film, but rather just another imitation, Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) with more money. The film finally wraps up with a coda that is, on one level, excruciatingly clumsy, but also intriguing, as Rey confronts Luke at his hidden abode, an ancient Jedi temple at the edge of the ocean, his grizzled and battered face suggesting the hells he’s been through coping with the aftermath of his awful triumph. It’s telling that merely the sight of Mark Hamill’s face captures exactly the note the film has spent more than two hours trying to strike.

  • Bob Clark spoke:
    17th/12/2015 to 4:37 pm

    Hm. This is a movie I’m skipping, being a auteurist at heart, something I learned from thus very series. I’d just as soon see this as smile on Twin Peaks sans Lynch, Mad Max sans Miller, Watchmen sans Moore, Metal Gear sans Kojima. It’s good to see a detailed and cogent take on its facets, though, instead of being blinded by nostalgia. I’ll see it if I want to be part of the conversation. Until then, my feelings can be best summed up as such

    Sorry for the shameless plug. But I can’t afford shame.

  • Roderick spoke:
    17th/12/2015 to 9:16 pm

    Bob, that was fun. Thanks for sharing it (reminded me, in a way, of a few anime shows with the Star Wars imprint on them from my childhood). I fully understand your reluctance to engage with the new chimera, although I admit I never had such scruples that could overcome my curiosity and fond hope. I still, after a fashion, recommend the new one to you as an adventure film. To a certain extent, the problems of the new edition relieved my anxiety over the status of the prequels – suddenly their achievements and aura of specificity seemed all the more solid.

  • Bob Clark spoke:
    17th/12/2015 to 9:37 pm

    You recommend? Careful, Rotten Tomatoes will rate you as Fresh…

  • Natalie spoke:
    17th/12/2015 to 11:05 pm

    I had a bad feeling about JJ from the start. And the rumors with the trailers confirmed my fears. He already ruined Star Trek with his silly ANH remake 1.0 and now he’s turning the last creative saga that remains into another sleek blockbuster franchise with yet another remake of ANH. What’s funny that even the good reviews (i.e. the majority) all say the word “remake”, “reboot”, “pastiche”. And yet no one is bothered by that. Why??? What the fuck happened to the movie criticism? Are they all on Disney’s payroll? Why was SW ANH lauded for being a never before seen spectacle with fresh and original ideas but now we’re celebrating same old, same old? Why is everyone complaining about the lack of originality in modern blockbusters but at the same time not welcoming it? What the fuck is going on? Have all the creative forces left Hollywood for TV/Netflix/Amazon?

    Haven’t seen the movie yet (probably won’t until next week, not in a hurry) but judging by the trailers the cinematography is pretty but lacking Lucas’s eye for a detail. The backgrounds are blurred as if made for TV. This will not hold up on repeat viewings.

    Just to comment on a few points:

    “Driver is competent in the role, but anyone who critiqued Hayden Christensen’s rather more complex performance as Anakin Skywalker should not have the gall to call this anything more persuasive.”

    I’ve always said Hayden is underrated for his performance (and so was Mark, by the way). I’m doing the saga marathon and even at his weakest in AOTC I haven’t seen a single scene where I can’t read his face and understand what he’s feeling at the moment. Maybe he’s not a very nuanced performer but neither is he wooden. He also nails the Tusken camp/confession scenes, Ruminations, “What have I done”, anything with the young Vader and the Immolation – basically, all the crucial character development scenes. He even has some chemistry with Portman in AOTC and most of their scenes in ROTS are good, too. He had the most challenging job in SW and did an overall admirable job. It seems to me, most of the fans’ complaints came from their indignation at seeing future Vader as moody or whiny or overly emotional. I guess they’d have preferred a charismatic antihero with funny one-liners.

    And at least he stopped whining after joining the dark side (unlike, apparently, Kylo/Ben).

    “I know this might sound rich coming from a guy who defended the writing of the prequels, but the script of The Force Awakens is weak in many respects. It struck me to be about three or four drafts away from optimal, and contains many familiar clichés of Abrams’ writing style—and contemporary screenwriting in general.”

    That’s what you get when you rush the production. They tossed Lucas/Arndt’s treatments soon after the buyout then worked with Arndt for a few months on a new one. Arndt asked for 18 months while Disney was only willing to give them six. Arndt left (doesn’t want to compromise his vision, good for him) and Kasdan and JJ had to finish it themselves. I guess they didn’t have time to come up with anything better than yet another ANH remake. Kasdan even fulfilled his weird desire to kill off Han (he’s his favorite character, believe it or not).

    “Given the post-Romanesque world of the collapsed Empire, there was a good opportunity to give the overarching narrative shape by referring to tales of Charlemagne and Arthur, rather than the Greek and German myths used in the original sextet.”

    Lucas already used Arthurian myths. In ANH, Luke receiving his father’s lightsaber is an obvious callback. It’s even more obvious in the PT, where Anakin (literally, a knight) and Padme (his lady) and their illicit affair bring down Camelot. That was cleverly done but apparently lost on most fans who could only gripe about cringeworthy dialogue (as opposed to “laserbrain” and “nerfherder”, I guess).

  • Rosie Powell spoke:
    17th/12/2015 to 11:36 pm

    The lack of originality in “The Force Awakens” is amazing. I’m just astounded by how much of the plot seemed to be a rehash of “A New Hope”. But this is J.J. Abrams we’re talking about. Why should I be surprised.

  • Will spoke:
    18th/12/2015 to 5:56 am

    Wow. A passionate, almost angry review. I have seen it twice now and went in with reservations after finding some of JJ Abrams other efforts, most notably Super 8 and the two,Star Treks to be flawed both in terms of being overly derivative and unoriginal in style, and having numerous plot holes. Super 8 seemed to evoke both Spielberg’s vision of 1970s U.S. suburbia and ET, except that the alien, somewhat jarringly killed and ate people! As for JJ’s Star Trek reboots,,the messy call back to Wrath of Khan, was a sign of things to come.

    As for the new film. In some respects I think you are being too harsh. The film is amusing and watchable, which is more than can be said for the prequels, where Lucas’ ambitions failed in the execution, though that might be a heretical opinion here. I also,think Kylo Ren is an engaging character, perhaps more so than the whining Anakin. But some of the problems you point out are valid; Poe disappears for an entire act, major reveals, character deaths and events seems to have no consequence. Finn is good yet his shift in character is poorly explained. And don’t get me started on the weird poorly explained post-Empire politics or the utter preposterousness of the starkiller base (though the laws of physics were never a strong point in any Star Wars film). At times it seemed like there was a last-minute script rewrite or some scenes were removed, odd.

    Put aside your prejudice, your fanboy loyalty to Lucas, and see it. It is watchable. Some us perservered with the prequels hoping that it would get better. It did not. So see episode 7, give Disney your money, and see if it is no better than Marvel’s film factory. Maybe episode 8 will get it right, by taking us in a new direction story wise and being compelling. After TPM I hoped that ep 2 and 3 might achieve this. Let’s try again…

  • Natalie spoke:
    18th/12/2015 to 7:29 am

    I’ll take whiny Anakin (or Luke) over fans whining over them or SW since 1980. I know we live in a culture of cool where no young man is allowed to complain or be overly emotional but I prefer honesty over the quips of a typical superhero movie.

    Seriously, I might be wrong but for some reason it’s always men who complain about Anakin. Children and young adults identify with him. Women might dislike him for other reasons but I wonder if he reminds the fanboys about themselves and they hate him because of it.

  • lydia spoke:
    18th/12/2015 to 10:12 am

    lmao @will

    whatever. anakin solo didn’t die for this.

  • Natalie spoke:
    18th/12/2015 to 10:36 am

    Just a note: kudos for using Episode VII in the title since Lucasfilm doesn’t do it officially

  • Roderick spoke:
    18th/12/2015 to 11:09 am

    If there’s nothing else we can count on it’s that Star Wars can still work up our passions.

    I would underline again that I have said this is a good, solid, fairly entertaining film, and I don’t want to turn it or Abrams into what the prequels and Lucas have been, whipping boys for general discontent. But I reiterate that I found it highly disappointing because of the lack of fresh ideas or new dimensions and the stolid obviousness with which it purveys the brand. It’s a definite criticism and yes, I did feel driven to create a counter argument to the inevitably prevalent one that this represents some kind of restoration of the Star Wars creed: it is, but only its most superficial components. And it’s also true that Abrams as consistently revealed his limitations when it comes to this sort of thing, but he does that blend of fast pacing and glib wit in just such a way that tickles Hollywood. Also, one thing I didn’t quite comment enough on in this piece: Carrie Fisher is really screwed by this instalment.

    But let’s face it, most people essentially told Abrams and Disney what they wanted, a safe-feeling retread that restored the original mode. I agree, Will, there’s still plenty of opportunity ahead for a more enriched development. But given the way a lot of modern franchises tend to run around in circles – behold, Marvel – for fear of abandoning any precious fragment of their lucre-spinning lore, I do wonder. I’m not unshakeably loyal to Lucas, but recently I’ve really come to focus on and appreciate what he tried to do with the prequels, and above that what a great eye he has. Kershner and Marquand had good eyes too, better than Abrams, but it’s Lucas who understands how to balance motion and composition better than almost anyone working in current cinema.

    Natalie, you are of course right that there are already Arthurian motifs in the original films, including, as you say, the forbidden romance and the structure of the Jedi. Certainly it’s also there in the Skywalker lightsaber, but then again this element is also present in the Nibelungen too, and such swords are a constant motif of classical myth (Lucas’ Joseph Campbellian studies at play there). This is the first time any kind of animate will has been associated with it, and the finale where the lightsaber obeys Rey rather than Kylo is much more clearly Excalibur-esque. But I maintain my point – utilising the Arthurian myths more directly in their social dimension as a process of stitching together a new force of law and justice in the galaxy could have been a wise organising principle here, but Abrams fumbles it to the degree he understands it all. I do have to agree that the script does seem like a product of rushed development. As I said in my piece on the prequels, I think Hayden Christensen struggles with the sometimes clashing demands made of him, but reducing him to a “whiner” is more than a bit unfair. He’s also brave, loyal, dedicated, often philosophical, tortured, murderously angry, and emotionally unstable. Many men with similar traits became high-ranking Nazis. By comparison, I just felt Kylo was another modern Hollywood baddie with daddy issues. (Also, you might have a point about the reminding thing, Natalie).

    For a critic whose feelings on The Force Awakens are pretty close to mine and takes many similar issues, I point to Richard Brody’s at The New Yorker.

    And yeah, well, the title is formatted exactly the same as ever, so why not. I can understand Disney wanting to lose the numeric though – by the time you’re getting to the seventh of anything you’re risking sounding overdone, and with more prequels on the way, what would they call Rogue One – Episode 3.4?

  • J.D. spoke:
    18th/12/2015 to 10:30 pm

    Another thoughtful, well-written piece, Rod and you make some excellent points but I have to respectfully disagree with some things you said.

    “for Han (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who have just returned to their old lives as smugglers because, as Han says at one point, it’s “the only thing I was ever good at.” You’ve gotta be kidding me, Abrams.”

    Well, there’s more to it than that. If you recall, Han explains to, I believe it is Leia, that after they failed to save their son from going over to the Dark Side, unable to cope/deal with it, Han and Leia split, each dealing with it in their own way – hers was to immerse herself back in the Rebellion (now called the Resistance) and his was to go back to his smuggling ways – the gag here with the pirates is that old habits die hard and Han is still adept at pissing off all the wrong people, which I thought was a fun way of integrating him and Chewie into the narrative. And, I will admit to tearing up a bit when I saw Ford give that look when Han first sets foot in the Falcon after all these years, which made me wonder just how much of it was acting on Ford’s part.

    “apart from Han’s tentative reunion with Leia late in the piece, there’s little convincing sense of character development. Abrams offers the juice of seeing an old friend, but with the dispiriting corollary of finding that old friend is still a screw-up. Of course, there’s a reason for this, such as it is.”

    I think you’re glossing over this. Han has changed but it isn’t necessarily conveyed in the dialogue but in how Ford carries himself throughout the film and the occasional, world-weary looks he gives. Having a son and one who has gone spectacularly bad, has changed Han and you can see it etched on the occasional pained expression the forms on Ford’s weather-beaten face. With just a look, the actor conveys a huge planet of regret that hangs over Han and this is what motivates him to go with Rey, Finn, et al to Starkiller Base. Maybe he can reach his son before it is too late and get him to change his ways but we know that this pure folly and it will only end in tragedy.

    “Here, we learn Kylo’s real identity in a throwaway piece of exposition spouted by Snoke. Lame scarcely covers it.”

    Except that maybe it wasn’t meant to be some earth-shattering revelation. Perhaps that was the point. I think the more impactful revelation will be Rey’s backstory, which is intentionally kept vague in this film but I have my suspicions that it will turn out she’s Luke’s daughter, which would certainly explain her inherent affinity for the Force.

    “Driver is competent in the role, but anyone who critiqued Hayden Christensen’s rather more complex performance as Anakin Skywalker should not have the gall to call this anything more persuasive. Indeed, the film badly lacks a truly cogent villain, someone to shock the narrative into feeling like anything more than a wire hanger to drape callbacks and footloose action on.”

    I think that this is a rather unfair comparison. Christensen plays one of the film’s protagonists over two movies while Driver is the antagonist in one movie (so far). I think Ren is more than a simple one-note villain thanks to his backstory and Driver’s impressive performance. Here’s a guy filled with anger at being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force and his parents weren’t there to help him for reasons we don’t quite know. There is a tragic arc to his character over the course of the movie because there is a glimmer of good still in him but it disappears in the scene where he confronts and kills Han. Driver is particularly good in this scene as you can see the glimmer disappear forever in the facial contortions that play over his face. Compare that to the cool-looking but ultimately bland baddie in THE PHANTOM MENACE, Darth Maul. We know nothing about who he is or what motivates him and so when he is dispatched at the end of the movie it means nothing. Ren is a much more compelling baddie because he has very powerful motivation for what he’s doing and it should be interesting to see how that plays out in the next movie.

    And as far as actors go, Driver is ten times the actor Christensen is with the latter being hopelessly wooden (he’s as vanilla as they come) and then saddled with equally uninspired dialogue for most of the prequels and directed by a man who is notoriously poor at directing actors! Say what you will about Abrams, but he knows how to work with actors and get good performances out of them.

    “But at no point was I ever convinced that this character had ever been ruthlessly trained since childhood as a killing machine and then discovered his humanity.”

    I think that’s the point. I got the impression that this conditioning never really took that Finn never really bought into it but went along out of fear and being cut off from his family and everything he knew. I get the feeling that he hasn’t been a Stormtrooper for very long when we first meet him and that battle Jakku may be the first time he’s seen any action. It would certainly explain his reactions to what happens.

    “he film is remarkably cagey—or lazy—in telling us who she is and how she got this way. A couple of the bad guys sneer about her being a scavenger, but this feels more like regulation screenwriting apparatus than a real goad to her class rage.”

    Again, I think this is done by design. Her backstory is purposely vague and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is fleshed out more in the next installment.

    “but here Abrams and company do something worse as the film reaches its climax and Rey literally gets her Jedi knight moves on in the course of battling Kylo. The whole point of the original trilogy was the process of developing the mental and spiritual discipline required to become a Jedi, and the prequels studied what horrible results could come of the process failing. To Abrams, it’s become just another cheap power fantasy.”

    I disagree. I think that Rey is adept at fighting Ren at the film’s climax because these abilities are inherent in her and come to the fore in tandem with her awakening Force powers. I also think she fights the way she does out of necessity and getting caught up in the moment. I do think the film does a good job of showing her powers emerging in bits and pieces over the course of the movie but never lets us forget that they are still in their infancy and she’s got a long way to go before she’s mastered them or else she would’ve been able to finish of Ren.

    “Here Abrams telegraphs what’s going to happen so blatantly that I couldn’t feel even a flicker of surprise, or even much sadness. By this stage, Han is just another moving part amongst too many.”

    I think you’re being a bit harsh, here. Yes, Abrams telegraphs it a mile way but it also gives an impending sense of doom as we realize before it happens that Han isn’t going to survive this confrontation. Why it works for me is the performances of Ford and Driver who transcend the dialogue, esp. at the silent moment of the killing blow. The look of hurt on Ford’s face really affected me and the way Driver conveyed the final eradication of anything good was very well done, IMO.

    I do agree with some of your criticism – the marginalization of Leia and Poe’s convenient disappearing act during the middle of the movie only to show up later a la deus ex machina. I didn’t actually mind the carbon copy plot lifted from A NEW HOPE. I got the feeling that this was also by design as if Abrams and Kasdan were trying to say that the baddies stubbornly refuse to learn from the past and are therefore condemned to repeat it like some kind of perverse intergalactic GROUNDHOG DAY. This certainly holds true in actual history where politicians, military leaders, et al make the same mistakes time and time again with the same results.

  • Roderick spoke:
    18th/12/2015 to 11:24 pm

    Well we’ll have to agree to disagree JD. The film should have damn well made time to explore Rey, Finn, and Han more properly.

  • Steve spoke:
    19th/12/2015 to 11:23 am

    Thanks for writing this, Roderick. Had the same feelings, point for point.

    Really enjoyed the first half, suspending disbelief in spite of the script’s conveniences and abstractions. In the second half the more familiar it became, the less I enjoyed it.

    Killing Han Solo will prove to be a detriment to Star Wars over time. Probably not to its box office, but the saga’s story satisfaction as a whole. It wasn’t earned. Far better to have made him (and Leia) suffer for what they had made, and shown us that, so that we could suffer with them.

  • Eric Marcy spoke:
    19th/12/2015 to 2:28 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this! You sum up my thoughts almost perfectly! My brother, sister and I grew up loving the entirety of the Saga, prequels and original trilogy both. We were incredibly disappointed by “The Force Awakens” because, for all of the reasons you list, the film didn’t expand our imaginative conception of the universe and the narrative arcs in the way George Lucas did. Lucas took us to new places, dazzled us with new sights and sounds in an ever growing galaxy, while giving us profound mythical and moral insights. Episode VII’s universe felt incredibly small by comparison. While we loved Rey, Poe and BB-8 as characters, we never got to see them go anywhere thematically or literally new because JJ and company obviously felt immense pressure to appease the prequel/Lucas-haters, and I didn’t realize how profoundly I would miss George and his unique vision until we walked out of the theater, looked at each other, and were forced to admit “that was good, but it didn’t feel like Star Wars.” And that is the most damning thing I could possibly have said about this movie.

  • Roderick spoke:
    20th/12/2015 to 6:03 am

    Hello Steve, Eric. Thank you and my condolences for joining me in this disappointment fest;

    Steve, I don’t know how much killing Han will hurt the franchise – it does serve a solid dramatic purpose even if it does rob the series of an essential pillar, and probably Luke is more valuable on the level of pure plot. But I fully agree that the death isn’t earned. In fact it just seemed like a Screenwriting 101 touch to me, the compulsory big death to cap the second act, and a rather cheap way of giving the audience an emotional shock. I also agree the film should’ve been about Han and Leia’s crucifixion rather than depicting it glancingly. In fact, I feel the first film of this trilogy should’ve been about Han and Leia losing Ben to the dark side. Passing over such dramatic events as we hear about in clumsy synopsis dialogue just seems like a cop-out.

    Eric, yes, I know what you mean about this world seeming much smaller, and ditto with the sharp realisation of just how much Lucas’ vision had given this series meaning. Lucas used his more modern effects to try and give us a fully functioning world in the prequels, whereas here we’re back to frontier gallivanting with a neat set of easily codified new protags. Abrams might have more of a certain, glossy, cynical brand of professional wisdom than Lucas, but that’s no substitute. Indeed, as I’ve been paying attention to the responses to this piece and polling acquaintances, many have had similar feelings that this, for all its pizazz and surface fidelity, just isn’t Star Wars.

  • Natalie spoke:
    20th/12/2015 to 10:59 pm

    “. In fact, I feel the first film of this trilogy should’ve been about Han and Leia losing Ben to the dark side. ”

    See, Lucas portrayed Anakin’s descent into darkness over the three prequel movies – yes, including Menace (listen when he says “I’m a person and my name is Anakin” – lack of control over his life clearly bothers him, his dark look at Mace, attachment to his mother that causes fear that leads to anger, etc. Even when he says he dreams about becoming a Jedi and freeing the slaves. At this point, he’s innocent and wants power to help others, but it’s already important to him and when the Jedi Council talk about him being the Chosen One, it’s obviously going to affect him. He knows nothing about greed – but he will, in Episode II. It’s all there, if people are willing to pay attention, instead of nitpicking everything. Even the visual and audio clues are all there, corresponding with the protagonist’s (and the galaxy’s) state of mind.

    I’ve been doing the saga marathon and it’s really illuminating to see the transition from the bright colors with darker undertones to the clouds and uncertainty of AOTC and finally the darkness of ROTS. The music follows along, of course: Anakin’s theme, the Duel of the Fates, Across the Stars and Anakin’s betrayal/Battle of the Heroes. There’s a reason why children have no problem understanding Star Wars before they become cynical about acting and writing.

    While Anakin’s downfall is not flawless by any means, it’s still a brilliant and unique subversion of the Chosen One trope so prevalent in our culture. It also works well for people watching it I-VI who don’t have preexisting expectations about what a young Vader should do or look like. Alas, Lucas still got slammed and since the corporate committee running Lucasfilm these days is not about taking risks I doubt we’ll ever see anything as bold and daring as the prequel trilogy.

  • Pinko Punko spoke:
    21st/12/2015 to 11:09 am

    Rod- I saw it last night because I wanted to read what you would write about it. I don’t want to be as shameless as Abrams in attempting to mimic something that has come before, but I feel seemingly exactly as you do here. My thought last night was in all the previous movies there was a feeling that the galaxy was vast. In Ep. VII, I kept wondering if all of these planets were around the corner from each other, and why they would go with such a spitballed, first draft script.The episodic/chapter feel for the original movies (Ep 4 had prologue, Tatooine, Death Star, final battle) was something that worked because there was space and time in between each- this one felt like a multiplanet set of events was happening in real time- all distance entirely elided.

    I think many aspects of the prequels were flawed in execution, but the framework/plot of how a master manipulator might come to power all really actually worked. I enjoyed watching Ep VII at points but the feeling that “nothing here makes any sense at all” dominated. Movies can be childlike and can operate with kid logic but when they operate via adults aping kid logic to create a simulacrum it is just not going to work. This is not a film that will be enjoyable to revisit in a year or so. The main difference for me from the prequels is that I want to see the next one because I like the two main characters starting from the present- realizing that each of their backstories is massively undercooked.

  • Cory S. spoke:
    21st/12/2015 to 2:53 pm

    Roderick,

    Thank you for writing this review and your deconstruction of the Prequels.

    As much as I love the prospect and possible arcs of both Kylo Ren and Rey, your review is pretty much on point. In essences, this is the biggest meta, fan film of all time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Abrams already remade A NEW HOPE and half EMPIRE STRIKES BACK with his first STAR TREK film. Still, I was hopeful Abrams would go another route, given that he’s been given the keys to the kingdom. Alas, I wasn’t the least bit surprised as the film unfolded. When you botch the simple political landscape explanation of a STAR WARS film right from the very outset, we have a problem. You couple that with spending upwards of 250 million dollars of Disney’s money and you go to basically the same places found in the Original Trilogy while George Lucas, with 315 million of his own money, takes us to at least 12 very distinctive worlds through out the Prequels, you have failed as a director of a STAR WARS film. That doesn’t even take into account using ILM in the year 2015 instead of ILM of the past.

    From frame one to the end, this film feels like the worse STAR WARS film by far. And yet, Kylo Ren and Rey kept me from outright panning this film. And I think the reason for this is that, if I had to bet money on it, I’d be willing to bank of the fact that these two characters, however changed they are, are the two things that survived Lucas’ outline that he sold to Disney as part of the package. To me, they feel very much like Lucas STAR WARS characters.

    Still, beautifully written review on this film. This needed to be said.

  • Anthony L. spoke:
    21st/12/2015 to 10:26 pm

    Jaw dropping, Roderick. Can’t believe I only just now stumbled on your site. I just love how your analysis heroically ditches the one-note rhetoric of deciding what a movie is in favor of the careful inventory of describing all a movie does.

    In a day when armchair film critics viscerally pass blanket judgments, assigning hasty scores out of ten on surface-level evaluations on the pretext of objectivity, precluding the exploration of nuance with their rhetoric, it is so refreshing to see someone put so much thought and effort to actually give art its due space for sparring.

    You have a new fan.

    All the best,

  • Roderick spoke:
    22nd/12/2015 to 11:11 am

    Thanks, guys, for your kind words. Seeing such enthusiasm and real hunger for engaged commentary has made these pieces even more fun than I thought they would be.

    Natalie; well, as you know, I’m totally on board with the cumulative intelligence of the depiction of Anakin’s downfall. Kylo’s tale didn’t necessarily require such a lengthy retelling, but I kind of think Abrams and the rest of the team have really cheated themselves of some real dramatic meat in exchange for an enjoyable action film. Han’s death would’ve been far more deeply shocking and effective, for one thing, if we’d seen something like their normal relationship, and more ambiguity about how that scene would turn out therefore had been introduced. One thing’s for sure, Kylo is not going gain any real stature unless Rian Johnson does something really remarkable in the next episode.

    Pinko Punko; yes, that sense of shrunken horizons really does seem to have struck many. It certainly did me. I mean, Abrams gives those brief visions of the planets the Starkiller base takes out, which mean virtually nothing (and it’s not that hard – consider how A New Hope encapsulates a real sense of horror not through visuals but in dialogue).

    Of course, the repetitious story can and will be justified by the filmmakers and proponents via that quote from Lucas himself about it being a poem that rhymes. But the prequels managed to rhyme without actually recycling story specifics, but rather motifs: I think a musical metaphor is more appropriate – the themes counterpoint. Its also interesting how at the time A New Hope seeemed like the last word in full-ahead cinematic pacing, but now the way it obeys basic tenets and cleverly spaces its dramatic developments seems inescapable.

    Oh, and the Huffington Post’s list of the plot holes in the episode is quite exhaustive and entirely correct.

    Cory S: I’m not sure if I think this is the worst Star Wars – it has none of the low points of The Phantom Menace, but then again, doesn’t ever equal the crackle of its high points either, at least not for me (watching the final battle of Rey and Kylo, although it’s pretty well done, I couldn’t help but think of much more physically dynamic and elegantly shot the fight with Darth Maul was). Again, Kylo failed with me as a point of interest, but I agree that both he and Rey feel like carryovers from some better version. And, indeed, they are certainly thin variations on characters in the expanded universe novels – Kylo a variation on Jacen Solo and Rey a combination of Jaina Solo, Mara Jade and maybe Ben Skywalker (I know their tales in outline but perhaps someone who’s read the books can comment more fully).

    Anthony L: again, thanks. Of course, most fully pro critics are charged with basic responsibilities, like trying to describe a kind of median of the public they’re writing for. I don’t have to worry about any such thing.

    Actually I wish I’d come out even stronger in defence of the specific stylisation in the prequels now. I finally even struck on a comparison for it: the prequels are like Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible Parts I & II to the original trilogy’s Alexander Nevsky – same atmosphere, some vision, but even more intensely composed of their own specific logic and aesthetic, one that turns some off and fascinates others.

  • Pinko Punko spoke:
    22nd/12/2015 to 4:07 pm

    Emo Kylo Ren twitter account has been making me laugh about the film (https://twitter.com/KyloR3n). I’ve been thinking even more about it- Lucas made some bad choices regarding what was actually a reasonable framework in the prequels (no need to outline them again)- with TFA there are good choices (actors) decorating a cheap/flimsy framework. I think this film will be thought of like American Beauty- well regarded by many while watching or just thereafter but with a great evaporation of critical support.

    I had time during the film to come to this conclusion because there was a medical emergency for a patron- house lights went up at THE climactic scene with Han Solo and then movie limped to a pause in the Ren/Rey fight. [patron ended up seemed to be OK; left with paramedics]. I thought to myself that I did want to see the end of the movie, but instead of feeling OK or positive about possibly having to see the entire film again, I really only wanted to see the end. This was sort of shocking- and that is when everything came to the surface. I suspect Abrams will claim he wanted the same in media res feel (aping Empire Strikes Back), but that is so foolish- Empire was built on a movie four years prior, similarly distant in past plot wise. Abrams has many times flipped shows with “one year later” cold opens where the narrative trick is the slow reveal of what happened. 30 years time and no reveals on top of nonsensical machinery internal to the film. It gets worse and worse the more one things about it.

    I also wonder about the false/alternate notes in the trailers. I wonder what the reasoning was there?

    About Rod’s point of the Darth Maul battle in TPM vs Kylo/Rey. In some sense this makes sense- we are not sure of either of the states of training that Kylo/Rey have, but this goes to issue expressed by many. How is it that the first six movies spend so much time on importance of training and what it means, and how much time it takes etc etc, and then we have battle involving characters that have never touched a light saber before, and a supposed adept who can’t seem to do anything quite right.

  • Natalie spoke:
    22nd/12/2015 to 8:28 pm

    Well we know ROTJ is widely considered the least favorite in the OT largely due to the Death Star rehash and the ewoks (granted, Harrison and Carrie were not at their best either). Even though TFA has no ewoks it’s a lot more derivative of IV-VI (and even bits from the prequels) so I’ll doubt it’s going to hold up very well on rewatching a few years from now. Depending on what’s going to happen next in the trilogy, this one might end up as the one people skip during the marathon (other than Han Solo’s scenes) and skip to the meat of the story, kind of like some people do with TPM and even AOTC. Which I think is rather silly because those chapters, flawed as they are, actually work very well as a setup for the rest of the saga. I’ve read a few reports from the saga fans who watch Star Wars I-VI for the first time and it’s interesting to see their reaction to Episode III when the seemingly predictable story of the Chosen One gets turned on its head along with other hell that gets unleashed (Luke and Vader’s connection is still more well known than Anakin/Vader’s).

    I’ve noticed the OT, the PT and the saga bluray sets have been best sellers on Amazon for many months now – I think one good effect of TFA is that it’s put all of the classic saga into spotlight again. In time, the prequels have a good chance to be more appreciated by those who wont’ have to deal with 16 years of expectations. Already there’re a lot of younger fans who grew up with the prequels and related media and don’t care about what the 40-year old geeks think.

    Someone on theforce.net suggested the prequel trilogy may be On Her Majesty Secret Service of the Star Wars franchise – a movie that wasn’t very well received due to a big flaw (to some) of not having Sean Connery and, instead, having a far less charismatic Lazenby (who wasn’t really all that terrible IMO) but now often showing up at the top of fan lists due to its other strengths, such as a story, cinematography and a great Bond girl.

    The first half of the original saga will certainly stand out from the typical blockbuster franchises especially since I doubt Disney will ever have the guts to remake the story of the personal and political downfall considering how risky and tricky it is. They seem to be in the business of remaking/rebooting the OT now.

  • Eric Marcy spoke:
    23rd/12/2015 to 12:12 am

    @Natalie, It stands to point out that even in ROTJ, at the very least, Death Star II isn’t the primary threat (and its ability to destroy planets hardly touched on), but rather it acts as a symbolic weapon used to set the trap for the far more important plot point: the temptation of Luke Skywalker and eventual redemption of Darth Vader. Even when the Death Star trope was reused in the OT, at least Lucas did it slant, working towards different ends. TFA doesn’t even bother to do that.

    You make a really good point about the long-term reception of the prequels. I wonder how much the perceived backlash has to do with the original OT purists having dominated the outlets of expression for so long, with those raised on both the prequels and the originals, like myself, only recently coming to have a powerful voice in the discussion. Unfortunately, it appears our resurgent defense of the prequels was too late to prevent this fan-service.

  • Pinko Punko spoke:
    23rd/12/2015 to 2:07 am

    I would say that in this series, it is not “fan service” that is really a problem- space opera adventures should provide that certainly, and one that does so in a particular vein or tone that allows humor and can be friendly to a number of ages is not servicing fans- it is hitting its target. Haphazard execution or sloppiness that is accepted by a fraction of the audience because they appreciate other features does not mean that “fan service” was the problem- I think what it means is that the product is sort of a shallow facsimile of what at least I would have wanted out of a film. I would argue that TFA is an example of shallow fan service, while Ep 4/5 were examples of exceptional fan service- as they created the fans in the first place.

  • Natalie spoke:
    23rd/12/2015 to 11:03 pm

    @Eric, I feel there will be a reevaluation at some point but not any time soon (unfortunately, I feel that Lucas will be like one of those artists not fully appreciated during their lifetime).

  • M. Marshall spoke:
    24th/12/2015 to 1:16 am

    At least Hayden Christensen was pleasing to look at. How can anyone believe that Adam Driver is descended from Hayden, Leia and Han when he looks like an aardvark? Expanded Universe artists managed to make Jacen Solo share a resemblance to Han.

  • Natalie spoke:
    24th/12/2015 to 10:24 pm

    Hayden was handsome and could pull off the fallen angel look, too.
    I know talent is more important, but surely they could have found someone who’s both talented and handsome?

    By the way, Rey looks like a hybrid of Padme and Shmi, good casting in that instance.

  • Robert spoke:
    27th/12/2015 to 5:55 pm

    Great writeup, Rod. We so often line up on these sorts of movies that I fear being labeled a fawning acolyte. Still, point for point, I agree. Saw it last night and my general feeling walking out was “Abrams is good at giving me new images with the old stuff, but terrible at giving me a new story I can enjoy.” Just one case in point: Finn is a fun character to watch, but he’s NOT the character the story needs – his backstory is so rich with possibility but his goofy faces and for-laughs-only comments rendered him a refugee from the inevitable Star Wars sit-com we’ll probably see sometime around, say, 2025. He and the ultimate overall impact of the movie, for me, was a big budget version of the feeling I got from watching the kids’ zombie movie at the end of Super 8: cute but not the real thing. Clearly, many feel differently.

  • Roderick spoke:
    29th/12/2015 to 8:52 am

    Robert, I sadly must agree with you about Finn. He’s fun but he’s out of place, an emblem of Abrams’ wrong ideas, his underlying ignorance of how this particular enclosed fantasy world works. It’s to Boyega’s credit that he made me like Finn regardless. I too worried about the fawning acolyte label, so perhaps I should be grateful Abrams played true to form in so many regards. Honestly, I could barely believe it when I started detecting so many of his usual weaknesses; but there’s no reason the material should have elevated him. But now I’m not even sure I liked this as much as his first Star Trek.

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